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Monetary instruments and their impacts

Investigate the impact of road pricing systems on transport behaviour.
Personal and collective values influence our travel decisions. Holger.Ellgaard, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Climate change is exerting profound pressure on governments around the world regarding road-space. Issues of congestion, increased pollution and accident risk are leading to widespread reform on the measures adopted to address these problems.

Traditional instruments to collect funds from road users have focused on offsetting the construction, maintenance and external costs of transport infrastructures and operations via:

  • fuel and vehicle sales taxes
  • vehicle licensing/registration fees
  • parking charges.

Charges related to the amount and time spent using roads themselves are less widespread. However, increasing concerns related to climate change have redirected the ways funds are collected towards the management of travel behaviour.

Road user charges

Historically, roads have largely been viewed as a public good. Charging users for access to roads has many advantages from the perspective of governments and road authorities, as they apply to:

  • kilometres actually driven (thus incentivising fewer and shorter journeys, reducing congestion)
  • electrical and hydrogen vehicles that are anticipated to dominate fleets in the future.

Electronic charging systems based on vehicles’ geolocation allow for surge pricing in areas or at times of high demand, which can have a direct steering effect to reduce congestion peaks.

Electronic road pricing systems

The first city to introduce an electronic road pricing system for its central area was Singapore in 1975. Motorists pay a fixed charge each time or each day they pass a cordon around the restricted area. Across Europe, similar schemes are in place in London, Stockholm, Milano, and Oslo.

However, in many cities such proposals have been highly controversial with the voting public – for example, in Edinburgh the introduction of a congestion charge was rejected in a referendum in 2005 – and it takes a particular (though not unprecedented) measure of political bravery for politicians to champion such schemes.

While not always well received by everyone affected, the impact of road pricing systems on transport behaviour can be significant. For example, in London, it was estimated that the policy, first introduced in 2003, would reduce traffic by 50,000 cars per day, while increasing bus usage by 15%.

Criticisms of road pricing systems

Road user charges to combat congestion have received criticism in relation to their impact on low paid shift workers or other essential employees who may have to enter or leave the affected areas at odd hours or require their vehicle for job-related tasks.

Further, applying road user charges to particular areas or particular roads can sometimes have the effect of merely shifting the problems of congestion and pollution from one part of a city or region to another, as motorists seek alternative routes or destinations for their journeys. It is therefore important that road pricing systems are not implemented in isolation (where they are often criticised as mere ‘revenue raising’ measures), but as part of a broader strategy to make it easier and more attractive to move around without a car.

Your task

Are there road pricing systems in place in the city or region where you live or work? If so, do you believe they are having an impact on travel behaviour in favour of non-car modes? If not, would you support their introduction and in what form? Share your thoughts in the comments.

© RMIT Europe and EIT Urban Mobility
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Changing Urban Travel Behaviour for a Low-Carbon Transition

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