RACQ should push for demand management options such as congestion pricing

I was surprised by this view attributed to RACQ Executive Manager Michael Roth in the Brisbane Times article Brisbane drivers spend three days a year stuck in traffic:

Mr Roth said there were two ways to prevent worsening congestion rates – halt growth or build infrastructure.

Mr Roth notes that we certainly don’t want to halt growth so the only alternative is to build infrastructure, noting “congestion will increase unless we build infrastructure”. Unfortunately, the experience of cities around the world is that new infrastructure can provide temporary relief, but congestion returns in time, because the new infrastructure temporarily lowers the travel-time cost of driving and encourages more people to drive.

It has become obvious around the world in recent decades that it is desirable to consider demand management options such as congestion charges – e.g. as seen in Singapore and London – which are designed to manage demand in peak periods on busy roads. Congestion charging will discourage many people who are making low-value, discretionary trips during peak times.

Ideally, congestion charging on roads would be combined with bigger differences in peak and off-peak fares (and possibly a new super-peak-period fare) for public transport to encourage commuters to travel at less congested times. It may take some time to get the exact parameters right, but I’m sure transport demand management options would compare very favourably against the multi-billion dollar infrastructure projects that are typically proposed to deal with congestion.

I’ve previously posted on the desirability of considering transport demand options:

Govt should explore transport demand management options before committing to costly infrastructure

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14 Responses to RACQ should push for demand management options such as congestion pricing

  1. Totally agree.. it’s a conversation that needs to be had. Look to Melbourne who are also in similar discussions.

    We should also look at the congestion caused by parked cars on the road. Rather than building more roads, we need to remove static vehicles from very expensive roadways and open up more of the existing roadways to moving traffic.

  2. Katrina Drake says:

    Interesting and insightful blog Gene.

    If South East Queensland could solve its congestion problems – we certainly would boost our productivity. I weep when I see the productive hours lost parked on the Inner City By-pass and Coronation Drive, every peak-hour. Certainly this experiment is being played out in every city around the world, so there are many experiences to draw upon.

    To be fair to Mr Roth, when he spoke of ‘ build infrastructure’ – he may also have been including pedestrian ways, cycleways and public transport rail and bus-ways – as certainly some dedicated public transport to the neglected Western Suburbs would take a few cars of the road.

    Demand management options are interesting, as traffic comes with an inbuilt demand management system, congestion. If you put a value your own time, many drivers will avoid peak hours if they possible can. I certainly spend my time in more productive ways between 7 – 8:30 am and 3pm, and 4:30 to 6:00pm. If people value their own time correctly they will travel outside of peak. This has resulted in the peak ‘hour’ becoming longer and longer.

    When I stopped the daily commute, it was truly an eye-opener that I could buzz around Brisbane during the middle of the day, and that the CBD was only 20 minutes away, not the 60 minutes plus I had always experienced commuting to and from work

    One thing that has always amazed me, is how free the traffic is during the school holidays. What a difference it makes to get those kids of the road – but strangely none of them drive. I have always felt that this phenomenon needed further investigation. It is usually assumed this is because families are away on holidays, but working parents only have 4 weeks leave per year, so doesn’t fully explain the drop in congestion.

    I think a lesser known cause of congestion is the number of controlled pedestrian crossings with traffic lights, across major arteries. Where the flow of school children pressing the Walk button at controlled pedestrians crossing create standing waves in the traffic. These standing waves of congestion disappear during school holidays.

    I certainly think our planners need to think and study the cause of congestion more intensely and holistically, and that all layers of government and traffic control need to work more cooperatively to tackle congestion.

    Congestion has a negative impact on both participation, and productivity of the economy. There are big gains to be made if we can cure congestion.

    • Gene Tunny says:

      Thanks Katrina, some good points. The in-built demand management system you talk about doesn’t work well however because drivers don’t take into account their contribution to congestion and the impact this has on other drivers. Hence some sort of congestion charge is optimal. I’ll post on this again soon and explain.

  3. Katrina Drake says:

    Totally agree with removing parked cars from roadways – they just shouldn’t be there. All parking should be off-road road. Roads are for commuting, car parks are for parking.

  4. Katrina Drake says:

    Drivers need to learn, ” I’m not stuck in traffic, I am traffic” !

  5. stephen says:

    So many vested interests , so many blinkered opinions. People who can already do… all of those things So this actually becomes about “penalizing”people who can’t , to raise the overall costs . I thought that the role of economists was to try to design systems of smaller, cheaper, faster , better.

    In line with the concept of demand managing existing infrastructure lets explore how to get grossly underutilised facilities , eg tollways, up to volume ….. maybe frequent user discounts which should be easily managed would see enough people make that choice, at any rate it is cheap to trial, pretty much instant to achieve, and could have very significant benefits.

    The drive to make public transport so comfortable that it becomes some sort of rival for private transport was imho misguided.
    Ask a commuter …. list in order of preference
    cheap (peppercorn price) ticket
    frequency and reliability
    easy, cheap or free secure parking at transport hub

    The answer, for those that use it is a no brainer. People will happily stand on the train if the other 3 conditions are met..
    So instead of massively costly thought bubbles that will be deferred until breaking point, Can someone actually think about using what we have now to better effect,

    And … cordon tolling is so despised that no polly would be ever brave enough to do a campbel and by the time they did ….. who knows?

  6. Trent says:

    The conversation around traffic management options has to include an acknowledgement of the problems caused by decentralised housing opportunities (e.g. pushing people further out into the suburbs) but retaining a centralised hub for employment (e.g. the city).

    Could some of the funds earmarked for additional infrastructure better be used to create incentives for businesses in the CBD to shift to the population growth hubs such as Coomera, eastern Ipswich and Springfield, Logan etc and emerging communities such as Yarrabilba or Ripley?

  7. Jim says:

    Congestion is a major drag on the efficiency of our major cities and multiple policies are needed to fix it (better town planning, public transport, pricing, infrastructure investments, decentralised demand drivers, flexible work times/practices, staggered school starts, teleworking etc etc).

    But there is insufficient private incentives for most individuals or businesses to act as mass change is required before any benefits become apparent. Hence there is a serious role for the State and local government sectors to provide leadership. They could start by actively relieving pressure on the CDB, particularly as there are likely to be some win-win situations.

    The State Government could lead by example and simply ask the question, “of our 40,000 employees in the CBD, how many actually need to be located in the CBD?”. Based on Census and Qld Public Service Commission data, I suspect that around half of them do relatively generic administrative jobs that don’t actually require them to be in the CBD at all (this equate to about 7-8% of the total Brisbane CBD workforce). Why isn’t the State seriously looking at transitioning and outsourcing these jobs to office hubs in the suburbs and in regional centres? It would reduce pressure on the CBD (reduced congestion), reduce costs by avoiding expensive CBD rents, and provide significant social benefits to the workforce (people working closer to home).

    At least an option such as this would be a start…..

    • Gene Tunny says:

      Thanks Jim, yes, it should consider relocating public servants to office hubs in the suburbs. Of course, depending on which locations are chosen, that might make some of our friends in the public service grumpy!

  8. Yes Gene, applying a cost to time of travel would certainly sharpen the choices of drivers as to when they ‘need’ to travel as opposed to ‘want’ to travel on roads.

  9. Chris says:

    Hi Gene.

    I’ve researched quite a bit on congestion issues, particularly pricing, can I send you some work to consider posting on your blog page?


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