Opinion Pieces: since 2007, Prof. David Hensher has written an opinion column in the Australasian Bus and Coach magazine, where he monthly discusses a lot of different transport-related hot topics. In this section we are revisiting these columns.
Many motorists argue that they pay enough anyway. But do they? There is enough evidence to suggest that they do not, for if they were being charged to use the roads at a level that is efficient then we would avoid much traffic congestion. Many politicians still believe (as a result of their actions) that roads should be free (toll roads being the exception); however “free” roads are not really free – the choice is between paying with time and frustration, or with money. Feel free to oppose it, but do not complain about the traffic. Opposing efficient pricing means you are choosing to endure continual congestion problems.
What we need to do in sorting out the pricing challenge is not to add a congestion charge on top of existing charges, but to undertake a complete overhaul of the entire charging regime, with options to replace some of the fixed charges (e.g., annual registration) with a usage charge based on kilometres driven by location (and vehicle emissions), so that those who obtain the greatest benefits (such as time savings) should contribute proportionally. This then would be a fair system in contrast to the current system of registration and fuel taxes, which is far from fair. Pundits who claim a congestion charge is not fair should carefully think about how fair the existing system is? Why should we all pay the same registration fee for a class of vehicle when we all travel different annual kilometres on the roads, at locations where congestion varies from nothing to significant?
The future of public transport must surely be linked to this tragedy of the commons if one believes in the adage that ‘to make public transport more attractive we have to make the car less attractive’.
Food for thought
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