Congestion charge in Australian cities

The number of vehicles on the road rises inexorably, as do journey times, as do carbon dioxide emissions. It was Ken Livingstone who led the way with a congestion-charge gamble for London that Tony Blair and his cabinet were frightened of endorsing. Now that it has proved a success, ministers seek to proclaim it as their own, while cities across the UK and further afield prepare to emulate it.

That's the leader in this week's New Statesmen, a left-of-centre British magazine.

And it is absolutely correct. This is a problem that we are equally afflicted with in Australia. Our major cities are becoming clogged, smokey, avoid-it-if-you can eyesores, and the 'livability' that we used to pride ourselves on is declining. So much of it is due to the car obsession that the western world seems to have.

It's about time that Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane seriously considered a London-style congestion charge. The positive effects would be enormous: less congestion leading to more efficient public transport leading to less pollution leading to our cities being healthier and more vibrant places.

For a long time, ideas like this have been exclusively from the Left, pushing the environment and social responsibility lines. There's no inherent reason why the Right can't be equally supportive, appealling to the user-pays principle in the use of roadspace as well as the internalising of many negative externalities. The charge need not be revenue-raising - discount car registration fees by the amount of revenue the congestion charge will generate.

Here's what the Business Council of Australia had to say about it (via The Age):

In the inner-metropolitan area, where space is hard to find for additional roads and even public transport (although tunnels can be used), congestion charges must be an important part of the traffic management mix. Not to utilise them is to condemn inner-city areas to eventual gridlock at certain times.

So if lobby groups on the right and left are on board, we have a good international example, and the problem continues to mount, let's get it onto the agenda. BRING IT ON.


Anonymous said…
Damn straight. It would be nice to see the major parties start championing ideas like this one.
Peter Parker said…
I'd be cautious about building a London-style financial moat around the CBD, at least until public transport access is better from all suburbs.

It could be yet another factor in favour of suburban office parks and against the CBD when companies are considering where to be located.

Things like the Coles HQ relocation (where most workers switched from PT to driving) are the very things we wish to avoid.

Instead I'd prefer a package of measures, including:

1. A metropolitan parking levy on all parking spots (including those at suburban shopping centres)

2. Abolition of planning requirements requiring developers to provide a minimum number of off-road parking spots

3. In return for 2 above, developers to comply with 'walkablility' principles and contribute towards public transport

4. Changes to salary packaging rules, to include public transport passes and removing perverse incentives to drive company cars.

5. Petrol taxes that decline in proportion to distance from the CBD

6. Caps on the number of parking spots

Rgds, Peter
Ari Sharp said…
Peter, you're being too nice to the dear polluting road-filling motorist. Let's not fiddle around on the edges with 'walkability principles' and alternations to building planning requirements. Instead, let's get to the nub of the problem. Too many cars are in the CBD, and it is a product of the low cost of travelling and parking there. Even in suburbs with exceptionally good PT, many motorists still drive into the city. Why? Cos it's cheap.

Nothing inherently wrong with decentralising the placement of businesses, provided that the new locations are PT friendly. As I understand Melbourne 2030, suburban hubs are being encouraged, with good PT infrastructure, which can house high and medium density commercial and residential areas. Better than squashing more in an already-cramped CBD.
Peter Parker said…
I wouldn't say I'm that nice to the motorist, given I support fewer parking spots, pay parking in the suburbs, dearer petrol, better public transport and road facilities that give pedestrians and PT right of way ;)

I agree with Melbourne 2030's thrust to develop around rail hubs, but only if this is at the expense of office park-type development.

Even moving a workplace from the CBD (which is accessible by PT from all directions) to Kew, Caulfield or Camberwell is bad for PT.

On paper these areas are well served by PT, but in practice access is only good from some directions. Even if you lived in some areas comparatively nearby (eg Caulfield South) driving would be far quicker. Whereas if it was still in the CBD PT would be competitive.

The only way this can be turned around is to levy parking in the suburbs (as well as the CBD) and use the money to improve public transport.

I am not necessarily opposed to a CBD toll, but worry that it could just shift congestion to immediately outside the tollgates, and not reduce car-dependence in the suburbs.


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