The issue of road pricing comes up quite frequently in the comments on this blog and it’s certainly not something we’ve shied away from in the past – though I find myself a bit frustrated by how polarised arguments over road pricing become:
- Its advocates think it’ll solve all transport issues, tend to ignore its potential negative side effects and think we should do it tomorrow if only the politicians had some guts.
- Its detractors think it’s the worst thing ever, will price the poor off the road and forces us to pay for roads we’ve already paid for.
Both sides miss the point I think. Let’s start with the arguments in favour of road pricing, which are nicely summarised in this TEDx video from Jonas Eliasson:
I like the points made around how a relatively small change in the number of vehicles along a certain route can make a big difference to its level of congestion and how often we just need to accept that an issue (like transport) is really really complicated and instead of coming up with a grand plan to “solve it” we should rely upon little incentives and nudges that can lead to better outcomes. It’s also very clear that road pricing is very effective at reducing congestion.
What I always find interesting though in road pricing debates is to look at the cities where schemes have been successfully implement, and to think about their existing public transport (especially rail) systems at the time of implementation. Let’s take Stockholm for example, which has the excellent Tunnelbana system:
The situation in Singapore is similar as well, with excellent public transport alternatives to driving available throughout the city-state.
Maybe it’s just a coincidence that cities which have successfully implemented road pricing schemes also have superb underground rail systems, but I tend to think that’s not the case. I don’t know whether it’s because the population looks more kindly on road pricing schemes when they know there are high quality alternatives, or whether it’s because those adversely affected are a pretty tiny minority or whether the presence of the underground rail system meant – in more of a technical than political sense – the alternatives exist to enable the scheme to be implemented in a way that doesn’t generate a lot of negative consequences.
Because of this, I do tend to think that the chances, or even the merits, of introducing a road pricing scheme to Auckland before the CRL is in place, is a risky business. Particularly a scheme which created some sort of cordon around the city centre like what’s been done in London and Stockholm. So perhaps overall my feeling is that road pricing is a good idea, once we’ve got the good alternatives in place.