It’s used in Singapore, Stockholm, London and Milan, but in Australian cities the mere suggestion of road user pricing is tantamount to political suicide.
Regardless, the Committee for Sydney has released a report advocating the demand-side mechanism, which, while unpopular, it sees as the solution to Sydney’s worsening congestion crisis, which has burdened the city with eight of Australia’s nine most congested roads.
The analysis undertaken by CfS found that road user pricing wasn’t just a “nice-to-have” option, it was indispensable in tackling congestion.
“Our research has found that, across every international jurisdiction analysed, any methods to reduce congestion that doesn’t include road pricing will fail,” Committee for Sydney head of strategy Eamon Waterford said.
One benefit of road user pricing is that as well as disincentivising unnecessary trips, the revenue generated from such a measure could be funnelled back into transport infrastructure, whether road or rail. In London, for example, the first 10 years of congestion charging raised £2.6 billion (AU$5.1 billion), with just under half directed to public transport, road, cycling and walking improvements.
The Committee said the current environment around transport infrastructure was too polarised and ideological, and residents of Sydney were the ones left suffering. It has more faith in the community than the government seems to have, though, arguing that Sydneysiders would “support whatever transport mode or intervention is shown to be required to meet the city’s needs”.
Projects that were “genuinely necessary, fit for purpose, cost-effective and maximised returns” would get support of constituents, it argued.
The report is in opposition to the current NSW government’s supply-side only response to congestion, where the solution to congestion is to build more roads, such as the controversial $16.8 billion WestConnex project.
While WestConnex is not mentioned in the report, there is analysis of why supply-side strategies like the project tend to fail due to “induced demand”, where additional capacity attracts additional users.
“Wherever supply-side strategies have been attempted, it has been shown – and not just academically but in the lived experience of commuters – that if you build it, they will come,” the report says.
The report also finds that an increase in public transport capacity, while necessary, is not alone sufficient to solve congestion.
“This is because potential road users become actual road users when they assume that the roads will be less congested because the new rail or bus infrastructure will divert drivers onto mass transit,” the report says.
CfS is calling on the NSW state and federal governments to conduct a review into road pricing to work towards finding the best model for Sydney and Australia, as “one size does not fit all”.
“We recognise that business leadership will be required in this conversation because this is not an easy topic for politicians, but we have to make progress on this key agenda, and we have to move fast,” Mr Waterford said. “The evidence globally is that road pricing is our best tool to address congestion.”