Should rail commuters pay a congestion toll?

Melbourne’s peak train services are overcrowded and have been for quite a few years. Given the high costs that peak period commuters impose on the rail system, wouldn’t it be more efficient and more equitable if they paid more for their tickets?

After all, the capacity of the system is determined by peak demand – all those trains and the associated infrastructure and personnel required to handle the peaks are under-utilised or sit idle for the rest of the day and on weekends.

Too crowded to get a seat?

As would be the case with congestion charging on roads, a charge on peak hour train travellers should reduce over-crowding (congestion) by suppressing travel, moving lower value trips to off-peak periods and encouraging shifts to other modes. Passengers who continued travelling in the peak would make a larger contribution towards what it actually costs to get them to work.

I’m prompted to think about this issue by a proposal to levy a $0.50 per trip surcharge on customers of Washington D.C.’s Metro system who use or pass through the network’s busiest stations during the busiest period of the peak. If approved, the congestion toll would apply from next month. Read the rest of this entry »


Why did the NYC road pricing proposal fail?

This paper is an object lesson in the pitfalls of attempting to introduce cordon pricing. Written by Bruce Schaller from the New York City Department of Transportation, it analyses Mayor Bloomberg’s failed 2007 congestion pricing proposal (it was ultimately blocked by the State legislature).

Opposing views on congestion charging (click to enlarge)

The key message is that gaining support for pricing proposals requires more than showing the social benefits – it is necessary to persuade individual motorists they will be better off. The New York experience shows small groups can have great influence – only 5% of workers would have paid the toll.

The author also argues that the best prospects for successfully implementing road pricing lie in initiatives like High Occupancy Toll lanes (see my previous post on this topic in relation to Melbourne) as motorists are less likely to feel they will be disadvantaged.

This table is a neat summary of the key views of proponents and opponents.