I’m very disappointed with the line one of the State’s largest employer associations, VECCI, is taking on road congestion charging. This issue was raised in a report prepared by consultants Acil Tasman for the Competition Commission’s (VCEC) inquiry into a State-based reform agenda.
Congestion imposes such a high cost on business – whether freight or personal business travel – that I’d expect the great majority of VECCI’s members would be better off with pricing. The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics puts the current cost of congestion in Melbourne at around $3 billion per year, rising to $6.1 billion by 2020 with unchanged policies.
VECCI says it is opposes the idea of congestion charging for three reasons. First, motorists already pay both the CBD Congestion Levy and the fuel excise. Second, there’s no spare capacity in the public transport system to take displaced motorists. Third, the economy can’t handle another tax on top of the forthcoming mining tax and the carbon price.
In regard to VECCI’s first objection, the obvious point is that these existing imposts on motorists aren’t working – many Melbourne roads are still congested at peak times. Despite the lofty title, the CBD Congestion Levy is actually a tax on parking. It’s only had a very minor impact on traffic because most drivers don’t pay it personally – their employers do. It isn’t in any event peak-loaded and of course it does nothing to manage the level of through traffic. And as per the name, the levy only applies to the CBD. The $0.38 fuel excise tax (no longer indexed) does reduce the overall level of travel by motorists, but has no appreciable effect on congestion because it doesn’t vary with the level of traffic or time of day.
So far as the “no spare capacity on public transport” objection is concerned, a congestion price only has to remove a relatively small number of vehicles in order to get traffic moving at an acceptable speed. The vast majority of motorists won’t come seeking a seat on the train – they will continue to drive but, rather than pay with time as they do at present under congested conditions, they’ll pay in cash. Their numbers may increase over time, but so will public transport capacity. Also, revenue from congestion charging should be applied to improving public transport and increasing capacity.
VECCI’s argument that the economy can’t handle another tax is about as nakedly political as you can get. Australia is one of the world’s most vibrant economies and has been growing for 20 years. Motorists, both business and private, can afford to pay their way. In any event, a congestion charge isn’t a tax — as the name says, it’s actually a charge. Motorists pay directly for the quantity of road space they use and get a direct and immediate benefit – faster travel. That means motorists who travel more pay more. It also benefits drivers from all income strata by enabling them to reduce delays when they make high value trips. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve noted before that only 30% of commuters who work within the Hoddle Grid – i.e. the area bounded by Spring, Flinders, Spencer and La Trobe streets – drive to work. However only a block or two beyond the city rail loop, the share of work trips taken by car increases steeply to 50-60%, and above.
Peter Parker at Melbourne on Transit offers an explanation. Using Metlink, he found a journey from Laverton station to Melbourne Town Hall in the morning peak takes 33 minutes. However if the Laverton traveller is bound for nearby Docklands (Waterfront City), the trip takes an extraordinary 54 minutes. Anyone travelling from Greensborough station to the same two destinations would have to allow an additional 29 minutes to get to Docklands and if travelling from Cheltenham station an extra 30 minutes.
In other words, once a traveller gets off the rail system in the CBD, further travel to near-CBD destinations is very slow. This is in part because the rail loop was not designed primarily to move people around the CBD and in part because trams are slow. Peter explains:
We have trams but unlike some compact European cities we don’t have a dense metro in the job-dense 2-5km core that allows for fast local travel. Instead for the ‘last mile’ we rely on slow surface modes, notably trams and buses, often without their own right of way.
Public transport’s mode share in the vicinity of Waterfront City is just 22%. This is despite the area having a frequent tram service. Given the huge investment in public transport in the city centre, any mode share below 50% is very disappointing, but the figure for Waterfront City is appalling.
I suspect there are two key reasons for the low mode share of near-CBD areas. The first is simply that the cost of driving and parking in these areas is still reasonably low – so workers drive because they can. Perhaps there’s a high proportion of workers in the CBD fringe whose status attracts a “company car”. Perhaps also there are more institutions like hospitals with shift workers who drive off-peak. The second reason is that movement within the city centre by public transport is too slow. That’s partly because the rail loop is not configured well for intra CBD trips and partly because trams are slowed by cars, particularly at intersections.
The CBD is one of those places where I think it’s very hard to justify commuting by car, given the enormous investment in public transport infrastructure and the extremely high accessibility it provides to the rest of the metropolitan area. It’s such a vital asset to the city as a whole and to the State that its amenity should not be despoiled by the noise, fumes and danger of too many cars.
The Melbourne City Council has proposed some worthwhile improvements, such as a maximum speed limit of 40 km/hr in the CBD (although I’d prefer 30 km/hr) and a plan to eliminate cars, taxis and vans from Swanston Street (although I fear the potential for pedestrian/cyclist conflict has not been fully resolved). Read the rest of this entry »
According to a report in The Age last month, new research published in the latest issue of Australian Planner shows that higher suburban densities are not a precondition for vastly better public transport. Reporter Andrew West says:
City dwellers have been presented with a false choice – live in apartments and enjoy good public transport or retain the house and land and rely on cars
The research by Dr John Stone and Dr Paul Mees contends that it is not necessary to intensify land-use across the whole city before significant improvement in both patronage and economic efficiency of public transport becomes possible.
They say the contribution made by urban consolidation “to recent public transport patronage growth is modest and makes little impact on the density of the whole urban region”. Most residents of Australian cities will continue to live in houses and suburban subdivisions that are already built so “alternatives to the car will need to be effective at existing urban residential densities”.
They argue instead for a ‘networked’ model of public transport. Improving the way existing public transport resources are managed – especially by providing higher frequencies and improving coordination between services and between modes – will yield significantly higher transit patronage in the suburbs without the need for broadbrush increases in density.
I’ve argued before that increasing residential density, by itself, will not necessarily increase public transport patronage significantly, much less shift travellers out of their cars in large numbers.
I’ve also argued that there are generally better gains to be had from using existing resources more efficiently rather than relying on strategies based around huge new infrastructure investments or massive land use changes.
And I think the idea of networking public transport is absolutely critical. By embracing transfers, networking provides faster travel paths to all parts of the metropolitan area than is possible by radial routing.
However it’s not obvious to me that ‘networked’ public transport, by itself, would have the sort of major impact on mode share in the suburbs implied by The Age’s report. I can see that it would make public transport much better for existing users and I’ve no doubt it would increase patronage, but I’m not persuaded that it would be enough to address the ‘false choice’ that The Age says Melburnites have been presented with. Read the rest of this entry »
One of the key themes of The Melbourne Urbanist is the need to price road space. Cars will be with us in one form or another for a long time yet, whether we like it or not. Autonomous travel provides enormous benefits but cars also have a dark side, so they can’t just be ignored.
I’m therefore pleased that Bern Grush from Skymeter, a Toronto company specialising in road use metering technology, has given me permission to publish the stylishly written Preface from his forthcoming book, (tentatively titled) Overcoming Global Gridlock.
The book is about the need for road pricing and how it can be achieved. Here he lays out the issues and challenges with the car. But a warning – this is not the standard anti-car diatribe you’ve read countless times before. He’s actually pro-car although, as he puts it, in a balanced way. Read on:
Overcoming Global Gridlock – Preface
“We have reached a crisis point with cars and trucks. We face mounting congestion. We need to reduce both emissions and oil consumption pretty much everywhere. In many countries funding for road building and maintenance is becoming ever harder to sustain. All the while, demand for personal mobility and goods movement continues to expand. And there is little to indicate many people are willing to give up the private vehicle.
If the autonomous vehicle has so many problems stacked against it, but demand for it is increasing, you can see that something has to give. This is predicted for the coming decade or two.
Cars are important to us. Judging by their use and abuse, the mile-for-mile preference we have for them over other forms of mobility, the growth in their numbers, the increasing number of vehicle miles travelled each year and a hundred other indicators, it is the car we are addicted to rather than oil. Oil is just one symptom. Most of the sustainability problem as it is now will survive the end of oil.
We can list a lot of bad things about our cars, but there are also a lot of good things. Perhaps the good outweighs the bad – I, for one, think that it does. There are a lot of reasons we have so many cars and there are many solutions offered to deal with their overwhelming ubiquity. We needn’t review those things here. You already have an opinion. You already like or dislike cars. I am probably unable to change your mind. You already have a car (or two) or wish you had one. Or perhaps you have even managed to get rid of yours. Or not yet. Read the rest of this entry »
I’m not aware of anyone who disagrees seriously with the contention that car travel is underpriced. The consequence of this inefficiency is we drive more than we otherwise would and more than is socially optimal.
The idea of road pricing is that drivers should pay the real costs they impose on others through traffic congestion, pollution, noise and carbon emissions.
There’s also another force at play here which exacerbates the problem of excessive driving. There are some costs that drivers actually do pay – standing costs like depreciation, insurance and registration – that are “disconnected” from the perceived cost of travel.
A person deciding whether or not to drive somewhere will tend to take account of the cost of their time plus petrol, but they usually don’t perceive the standing costs. This under-estimation promotes more driving.
There have been various experiments with road pricing, such as the well known Singapore and London central city cordons (giving rise to amusing interpretations such as this one by Boris Johnson). However this is a technologically outdated approach – transponders and/or GIS technology mean it is now feasible to charge motorists in relation both to distance and traffic conditions i.e by location and time.
A driver who paid a price for a litre of petrol that included both external and standing costs would have a strong incentive to drive less. A gauge on the dash showing the total cost ticking over with every kilometre would provide an even more powerful nudge to think long and hard about the wisdom of driving.
Road pricing can be thought of in simple terms as a two-part per kilometre tariff that recovers both external costs and those standing costs that can be disaggregated. One part is a charge reflecting the general cost of using the roads. The other is a variable price reflecting specific costs like congestion in peak periods.
There are potentially some important benefits for the wider community from road pricing: Read the rest of this entry »
It might seem counter-intuitive, but you can’t increase public transport’s share of travel significantly unless you simultaneously do something about cars. Yet this simple relationship is usually ignored by governments and lobbyists alike.
Back on 23 August I looked at the question of how our cities could grow larger but still be liveable. Public transport has a vital role in meeting this challenge, but the task is daunting. Notwithstanding current overcrowding on the train system, public transport’s share of all motorised travel is only around 11% in Melbourne and a little higher in Sydney.
The standard recipe for increasing transit’s share of travel is to offer a better product. This is popularly thought of as more trains and more light rail (only occasionally more buses).
It usually involves providing some combination of greater route coverage, higher frequencies, longer operating hours, faster speeds, better connections, more information and higher levels of comfort and security.
Improving quality seems a self-evident solution. After all, the area of the city with the best public transport offering – the CBD – is also the area where public transport scores best against the car. For example, 43% of all motorised work trips to the inner city in Melbourne are made by public transport and this study suggests the figure for the CBD is probably upwards of 65%.
This strategy works – but only up to a point. Consider, for example, the Melbourne inner city municipality of Yarra. It has a pretty high standard of train and tram services, yet 86% of all motorised weekday travel by residents of Yarra is still made by car (or 74% when walking and cycling are also included). Read the rest of this entry »
Almost everyone recognises the weakness of our current car fleet in the face of climate change and peak oil, but no one seems to want to do much about it. Most of the focus is on expanding public transport and increasing urban density – at first glance this sounds good, but even on the most optimistic view cars are going to be the dominant mode in Melbourne for a long time yet.
For example, the Victorian Government set a target in Melbourne 2030 to increase public transport’s share of motorised trips to 20% by 2020 (it’s currently around 11%). The report of the Independent Public Inquiry into a Long-Term Public Transport Plan for Sydney, which was released earlier this year, aims to increase public transport’s share of all travel in Sydney to 25% over the next 30 years (currently around 16%) and walking and cycling’s to 10% (page 152)*.
Even if petrol prices suddenly went stratospheric, it would take decades to expand public transport ‘s capacity to a level where it could handle the majority of trips. And it would still have to compete for funding with other areas of serious need like health, education and social housing. This would be more complicated if dramatically higher petrol prices were accompanied by a severe contraction in economic activity. Read the rest of this entry »
Imagine you’ve just been elected Premier. You carried the electorate on a simple but radical two-promise platform: (1) to prohibit alcohol and (2) to shift all travel out of cars and onto public transport.
The Party is solidly behind you. Members agree that both alcohol and cars are bad for the individual and bad for society. You’re lauded as a reformer.
But you’ve not long been in office before you discover just how entrenched car use is in your largest city. Just 10% of trips are made by public transport and 90% of households have at least one car. Less driving would make the community better off but you quickly discover how much people like doing things that are bad for them and bad for others. You have a stiff drink.
For all their talk about sustainability, your predecessors knew the electorate loved cars. The former Premier talked-the-talk about public transport and even threw a few paltry dollars its way, but at the end of the day she didn’t do anything that would come between voters and their cars.
Eager to get started, you begin your quest to reduce car use by investing massively in public transport. You mortgage the State budget for the next 50 years in an endeavour to provide high quality, metro-style public transport across the entire city. Travellers without access to a car, like school children and tourists, think you’re God. CBD workers think you’re Gary Ablett. But you fail to notice that most of them either don’t vote or don’t live in marginal electorates. Read the rest of this entry »
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).
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.
The Premier wants a Melbourne which encourages the transformation from a mono-centric to a multi-centred city, “so that people can work closer to where they live”. He goes on to laud Melbourne as “a city we’re all proud of – ‘a city of villages’, a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.”
I’m not completely sure what he intends but I wonder if he’s thinking about “urban villages” where the great bulk of jobs are filled by local residents who live at density and walk to work. This is an old idea in planning and the Victorian planning department ran strongly with the idea in 1996.
Whether or not “employment self-sufficiency” can be achieved in practice depends on the level of geography. If we look at Melbourne from a regional perspective, most people already work in the same region in which they live (other than for jobs in the CBD) – see this paper by Kevin O’Connor and Ernest Healy. The median journey to work time in Melbourne is consequently a reasonable 30 minutes by car (55 minutes by public transport, reflecting longer trips to the city centre).
However achieving something like “self-sufficiency” in employment at a smaller geographic level is hard. There are a number of reasons for this.
One is the increasing complexity of households. In two income households both parties frequently work in separate locations, so they either elect to live near one member’s workplace (and if so which one?) or they select a compromise location. Children who continue to live at home after they’ve entered the work force have no flexibility to live closer to where they work. If changing jobs involves a change in job location then that adds another layer of difficulty.
Another reason is that the journey to work has declined in importance as a determinant of where people live. It now accounts for only one fifth to one quarter of all trips, as people travel a lot more for other purposes than they used to. There is now less reason to live near work. Other factors like the level of local amenity seem to be an increasingly important determinant of the residential location decision. Read the rest of this entry »
The current upgrade of Melbourne’s Ring Road (the M80) provides an unprecedented opportunity to implement a form of peak period congestion charging in Melbourne.
Designation of one lane as a toll lane during congested periods would offer a higher speed for vehicles paying a fee. They would not necessarily enjoy the maximum permitted speed – a time saving of around 15% seems sufficient.
A toll lane would offer clear economic benefits. In particular, it would enable high value trips, which currently suffer the same delays as comparatively low value trips, to be made faster. In the US these sorts of lanes are called High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes but I prefer something like High Value Trip (HVT) lanes to emphasise the underlying efficiency rationale. The ‘price’ or toll varies with how many vehicles use the toll lane to ensure it provides an advantage while optimising the level of use. Read the rest of this entry »
In response to my post last Tuesday, Melbourne will be a car city for a long time yet, a reader asked for my views on the role of cycling in Melbourne.
I have a particular interest in cycling, not least because I’m a keen recreational cyclist and commuted religiously by bike for a number of years. I think cycling has a small but significant role to play in meeting Melbourne’s transport needs but my ideas are a little different to the conventional view.
Despite record sales over the last ten years, bicycles account for just 0.9% of all weekday kilometres travelled in Melbourne, so their present contribution to saving fuel and reducing carbon emissions isn’t large. That figure includes recreational cycling too, so we don’t know how many of these kilometres actually replaced car travel.
Bicycles are more competitive for commuting, where they are used for 2.9% of work trips. The journey to work, however, only accounts for around one fifth of all trips in Melbourne, so again we’re not talking big numbers. Read the rest of this entry »
The Federal Government’s State of Australian Cities 2010 Report was released yesterday. It says the avoidable cost of traffic congestion in Australia’s capital cities was $9.4 billion in 2005 and is expected to rise to $20 billion by 2020.
What can we do in a city like Melbourne about congestion? There are four basic ways to address the issue:
- Increase road space
- Shift travellers to a less-congested mode
- Suppress demand for road space
- Manage the level of demand
The first approach involves building more road capacity e.g. new or widened freeways. However people seem to have an almost inexhaustible demand for travel, so as soon as a route gets faster due to added capacity, it pretty quickly fills up again until once more it becomes congested. Read the rest of this entry »