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.