How pricing road use can ease congestion
The cities of the world are being overwhelmed by traffic. From Paris to Jakarta, urban residents and commuters are confronting traffic conditions that are becoming increasingly unbearable. Few issues worldwide elicit such universal reactions of frustration and impotence from citizens and politicians alike as the seemingly futile effort to fight gridlock.
Without radical reforms, this situation will only get worse. The growth rate in motor vehicles is projected to exceed vastly the growth in new roads in nearly every country in the world over the next several decades, causing congestion to rise even further. In Western Europe, for instance, it is forecast that gridlock will rise 188 percent on urban roads in 2010.
Congestion is a huge drain on the economy. Its costs include unpredictable travel times, environmental damage, property damage, delays, and lost production. In OECD countries alone, the cost of congestion now amounts to nearly three percent of GDP, or about US$810 billion. In Asia, the situation is even worse. In Korea, for example, the cost of congestion is now about 4.4 percent of GDP.
What can be done? Many strategies have been tried: building more roads, trying to change land use patterns, encouraging people to make greater use of public transport, and so on. None of these has prevented traffic bottlenecks from getting worse. Only one strategy has demonstrated any serious ability to make a lasting impression: road user pricing. Unlike traditional toll roads that have been in place for years with the primary goal of raising revenue, one of the main purposes of most of today’s schemes is to ease traffic congestion.