A new study published this week by Australian public policy think-tank, the Grattan Institute, outlines the benefits of congestion charges and time-of-day tolling for Australia’s largest cities.
The Institute's Productive Cities report claims that building more roads or expanding existing roads alone will not curb congestion.
“It is not enough to rely solely on building new roads without also paying attention to managing the demand for road space,” the report reads.
“A more efficient use of road space could be achieved by introducing a pricing system such as road user charges, congestion charges or time-of-day tolling.”
The report highlights the use of inner-city space, stating that a person who drives to work is effectively taking up twice as much space: their office cubical and their parking space.
The report also says the “avoidable” cost of congestion in Australia’s capital cities was estimated at $9.4 billion in 2005 - a figure projected to grow beyond $20 billion by 2020.
But alternatives to inner-city driving appear limited, the report claiming that the existing train networks in most cities aren't a genuine alternative.
“Sydney track capacity has been reached on several rail lines during morning and evening peaks,” the report says.
“Brisbane’s inner city rail network is expected to reach capacity in 2016, while Melbourne’s major tram routes and a number of peak-hour bus services are regularly overcrowded.”
The report also says the number of Melbourne trains reporting overcrowding has risen steadily since 2006.
NRMA's Peter Khoury spoke with TMR on the situation in Sydney, which currently has time-of-day tolling but no congestion charge.
“Motorists already pay enough tax through the fuel excise,” Mr Khoury said. “Time-of-day tolling doesn’t work as the Harbour Bridge has shown; people drive because they have to.”
“Taxing people doesn’t change their behaviour or encourage them to use public transport, which is already struggling to cope.
"People compare Sydney to cities like London and New York all the time, but London has The Tube and New York has the Subway – we don’t.”
Michael Ross from Queensland motoring body RACQ said that time-of-day tolling would make no difference in Brisbane as the roads have not reached capacity yet.
“The RACQ is open to looking at an inner-city congestion charge, as long as it isn’t just another tax," Mr Ross said.
“For example, Brisbane’s 'Clem 7' toll tunnel is only running at 25 percent capacity. The current toll is too high and the time benefit unreliable."
"If the toll was removed and a congestion charge put in its place, it would encourage more people to use the tunnel and thus, improve congestion.”
RACV's Brian Negus told TMR that Melbourne motorists already pay too much tax and that a congestion charge should not be lumped on top of those taxes.
“A congestion charge added on to what is already a dysfunctional road system is a proposal we would reject,” Mr Negus said.
“But we need to start the discussion on a different form of charging for road use and what the funding arrangements are for the revenue.”
“The charge should be a fair one, and revenue should be directed to all forms of transport, including public transport.”
More suburban housing developments and moving jobs to where people live were the main solutions suggested in the report, which found that less than 10 percent of jobs in Sydney could be reached within a 45 minute drive.
A similar report was released in the United States by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania last month.
The Wharton report also called for congestion charging in US cities, particularly New York, noting that London, Stockholm and Singapore have already successfully introduced congestion schemes.
“The failure to adopt congestion pricing in New York was a huge setback,” report author Professor Gilles Duranton said.
The Wharton report says managing travel demand, rather than increasing road “supply” is the most effective solution.