Saturday, June 11, 2005

Congestion charging

Ari is advocating London-style congestion charges for our major cities. I'm a bit more cautious, and gave some alternatives in my reply.

My fear with CBD-focused congestion charges is that they imply that rising car traffic is mainly a CBD problem and that congestion is the main problem that arises from a transport system that is too car-oriented.

On its own, without better public transport services and capacity, an entry charge would influence peoples decision making. This is fine if is encouraging a shift from car to public transport, but not if it encourages many (particularly from suburbs with limited public transport) to avoid the CBD entirely.

Even worse would be if such a charge was to distort business location decisions away from the CBD and towards American-style 'edge cities' or business parks. These are typically located off freeway off-ramps, remote from public transport infrastructure and are not built for pedestrians. Hence they are less accessible by public transport than inner-city areas, and so encourage people to drive.

An example is when the Coles-Myer headquarters moved from the city to a less accessible suburban location. Before the move most employees took public transport. After the relocation most drove, because public transport was so much less competitive.

Hence the planning and transport outcomes of an agressive CBD entry tax could be precisely the opposite of what we want. Transport is a metropolitan-wide, and not just inner-city issue, and a CBD congestion levy in itself isn't enough.

Instead I'd prefer a package of measures, applicable across the metropolitan area, including:

1. A metropolitan parking levy on parking spots (including those at suburban shopping centres)

2. Abolition of planning requirements requiring developers to provide a minimum number of off-road parking spots

3. In return for 2 above, developers to comply with 'walkablility' principles and contribute towards public transport

4. Changes to salary packaging rules, to include public transport passes and removing perverse incentives to drive company cars.

5. Petrol taxes that decline in proportion to distance from the CBD

6. Caps on the number of parking spots

7. Improvements to public transport to boost services and capacity.

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