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Mar 22, 2013

Road-pricing reform could ease congestion, lower ‘user pays’ temperature

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The introduction of road-pricing reform is suggested by the University of Sydney’s Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies founding director, David Hensher, as a viable solution to the South African National Roads Agency Limited’s (Sanral’s) e-tolling woes.

For some time, Sanral has been aiming to introduce e-tolling on Gauteng’s 560 km freeway network in the face of extensive user resistance and litigation. However, the National Assembly recently approved legislation, paving the way for the implementation of e-tolling on the Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project.

Hensher, who is also a professor of manage-ment at the University of Sydney, in New South Wales, Australia, said that paying for roads is a global phenomenon and is resisted by users worldwide.

Speaking on the theme ‘What type of road-pricing scheme might appeal to voters and decision-makers?’ during a recent University of Johannesburg seminar, he pointed out that while citizens had no problem paying for water and electricity, they regarded roads as a different commodity and, therefore, most roads worldwide were underpriced.

Hensher, an advocate of road-pricing reform, stressed that South Africa could save citizens valuable time and money if it accepted this revenue-collection method, and noted that there was a difference between road tolling and road-pricing reform.

Road-pricing reform involves doing away with some existing road-related charges, such as car registration, because new charges, such as congestion tax, are added. Hensher pointed out that it was fundamental that government prove to the public that the revenue raised from road-pricing reform was destined for useful causes to the benefit of society.

He said: “To make road-pricing reform more attractive to the public, using cars has to become less attractive,” highlighting that successful road-pricing reform required adequate public transportation. “There has to be a viable alternative to decrease the number of cars on the roads and ease congestion.”

Henscher added that, while rail investment was important to ensure a successful road-pricing reform strategy, its implementation was a time-consuming process. A bus system, such as the bus rapid transit (BRT) systems completed or under con-struction in certain areas of South Africa’s largest cities, could, therefore, be a timely solution to help reduce traffic congestion while rail infrastructure was being expanded.

The Department of Transport has made it clear that BRT systems are crucial to the success of South Africa’s transport system. The roll-out of the City of Johannesburg’s Rea Vaya Phase 1B has been delayed until at least June, pending negotiations with the taxi industry and several bus companies, which are expected to form a bus-operating company to run the system, states roadside assistance provider AA.

Further, Hensher noted that road-pricing reform should not focus on whether the public paid enough for road use, but rather on whether the public paid for the “appropriate” road-pricing initiatives.

“It is possible to design a road-pricing system in which the users are better off paying for a congestion charge or an emission charge.”

The aim of a congestion tax is to reform the set of charges for road use and set kilometre-based charges to reflect traffic conditions, resulting in road users saving time.

“Users have the choice to either use the roads during peak times, and pay, or drive during off-peak hours, thereby decreasing congestion.”

He noted that if drivers wanted a subset of kilometres recognised as off-peak kilometres, they would have to buy an on-board vehicle meter box, which was affordable, but should preferably be provided by government. Off-peak kilometers should not be charged, resulting in road users being rewarded for helping to decrease congestion on the roads.

“Not all working citizens need to arrive at and return from work during peak times. “Many have the option of arriving at work and leaving earlier or arriving later and leaving later. “In addition, employers should trust workers to work from home and introduce flexible working hours,” Hensher said.

He further noted that government needed to ensure adequate budgets for road maintenance and that cars, especially trucks, had to be better maintained to ensure fewer breakdowns on the highways.

“When first implementing road reform, countries have to start with infrastructure that is already in place and modify it in line with a longer-term objective.”

Hensher also stressed that the public needed to move away from using “emotional language” and that the media should support road-pricing initiatives: “Words such as ‘congestion tax’ should be changed to ‘reduction benefit charge’.”

He noted that interest in congestion charging was gaining momentum, as cities worldwide struggled to reduce the effects of increasing traffic congestion on the ‘liveability’ of cities. However, despite the implementation of a wide array of travel-demand management initiatives, few had had a noticeable impact on the levels of traffic on the road networks of global metropolitan areas.

“Building more roads is not an effective solution to solving road congestion . . . an efficient road-pricing scheme is needed to ensure prosperous and liveable cities,” Hensher concluded.

Edited by: Tracy Hancock
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