Congestion tax must cover entire road network

Congestion charging must be applied to all parts of the road network, leading transport academic says

By Brad Gardner | September 30, 2010

Any congestion charging scheme must be applied to all parts of the road network, according to a leading transport academic.

Professor David Hensher has warned against governments taking a piecemeal approach to alleviating clogged roads in and around cities.

Hensher, who is the Director of the Institute of Transport and Logistics at the University of Sydney, says it is a "no-brainer" that any tax must cover the whole road network.

"Once you start putting it on bits of the network it’s going to be a disaster because there are a lot of negative implications because people will switch to the free bit. That will become clogged," he says.

"You’ve only got to look at what’s happening in Brisbane right now with the tolls. You can go and get a photo of an empty toll road and a clogged free road."

The Clem7 toll tunnel in Brisbane has struggled to attract motorists, with the operator warning it might go broke within a year if traffic levels do not improve.

"Charging bits of the road, and I’ve said this for years, is mad. Charge the network as a whole otherwise you’ll never get the benefits of all roads," Hensher says.

Treasury Secretary Ken Henry earlier this year recommended a congestion charge in his comprehensive tax review.

Henry wants a variable pricing system introduced in major cities, on tolled roads and other congested parts of the road network which adjusts based on time of day and traffic levels.

"In practice, this means a variable tax that rises at peak periods, falls away as usage falls, and zero when there is no congestion," the review says.

It says existing registration charges do not account for the full impact motorists have on the road network, such as causing traffic delays, damaging roads and polluting.

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