Many see traffic jams as a fact of city life, but its root cause is overuse of a common resource – the urban road network. Putting a price on access to roads at busy times could encourage individuals to change their travel plans, according to this report.
Most roads are nominally ‘free’ to drive on, resulting in demand for many roads that exceeds capacity at relatively predictable times. This means that motorists do in fact pay – in wasted time – to drive on ‘free’ roads at peak periods, which disrupts the flow of people and goods in the economy, harming productivity and growth – as well as frustrating all road users.
New South Wales has taken a first step in adopting time-of-day pricing on the Harbour Bridge and Harbour Tunnel. In theory – unlike paying in time, which is wasted – the money paid by motorists to drive on busy roads at peak times could potentially be redistributed to ensure no one is worse off. Some potential compensation mechanisms currently available to governments include cutting taxes on vehicle ownership or use (such as registration or fuel excise), adjusting income taxes, and investing in alternative transport options for those ‘tolled off’ the roads.
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