Friday, December 09, 2011

Will Congestion Fees Solve Delhi's Traffic Problems?

Article below from The Guardian quotes, "This will help reduce congestion … [and] encourage people to use public transport".

How much of this is possible with the limited public transport in place? Compare with the public transport system in Singapore and London, Delhi is not close to the required capacity to warrant a shift from cars to bus or metro, by introducing a congestion fees. Toll roads and fuel taxes aside, congestion fees system requires an enormous scale-up in the current public transport system to make it work and see some tangible results in reducing congestion and related air pollution.

(an interesting response from Cornie Huizenga, attached after the article)

Articles on congestion pricing


Delhi Plans Congestion Charge to Ease Gridlock

No one could fault the plan for lack of ambition: to tame the choked streets of India's notoriously chaotic capital by imposing a congestion charge modelled on that in London, Singapore and a handful of other cities.

The Municipal Corporation of Delhi, the authority charged with providing civic services to the city, hopes to introduce a system to levy a 150-rupee (£2) fee on cars, motorbikes and even rickshaws entering central areas during the day.

"This will help reduce congestion … [and] encourage people to use public transport," the head of the authority, KS Mehra, told local press. Lorries will be made to pay a higher fee.

A congestion charge has existed in Singapore since the 1970s and various systems have been successfully introduced in London, Rome, Milan and several Scandinavian cities in recent years.

Authorities in Beijing recently said they were considering congestion charging, and other Chinese cities such as Shanghai and Nangjing are reported to be interested. But no city of the size and complexity of Delhi has attempted to introduce such a scheme.

Few doubt the necessity of radical measures in India's capital. Construction of a metro system and measures to boost the use of buses has barely slowed the increase in traffic in recent years. A decade of rapid economic growth and a broad distaste for public transport among the expanding middle class means there are now 6.8m vehicles on Delhi's roads, at least twice as many as five years ago.

Gridlock is common and, during winter, heavy smog leads to accidents, respiratory diseases and mass flight cancellations.

Other Indian cities such as Mumbai, the country's commercial capital, are considering similar measures. The Delhi scheme would first be implemented in areas around the historical old centre.

But experts are sceptical. "If you look at what is already in place to reduce congestion, such as toll gates around Delhi, they make the problem worse, not better," said Rumi Aijaz, of the city's Centre for Policy Research thinktank. "Even if the proposal is accepted politically, the necessary infrastructure simply isn't there."

The tolls on key roads linking Delhi with satellite cities cause huge traffic jams. Occasionally they are the focus of protests that can turn violent. Aijaz said a broader strategy to tackle traffic in the city was necessary. "There has to be a range of measures to manage the issue. Nothing done in isolation will work," he said.

Experts point out that one serious problem is a lack of proper licensing or law enforcement in Delhi. Driving permits can be bought illegally and laws that should ensure safe driving and a smoother traffic flow are routinely ignored.

Fines for traffic violations can usually be avoided by paying a small bribe to police officers. There are few cameras, although a Facebook page asking irate commuters to post their own photographs of offenders has met with a massive response.

Senior police officers said charging would be a positive step – if technology to avoid queuing was introduced. But even if the practical obstacles can be overcome, the support of the infamously fractious "delhiwalla" – inhabitants of the city – will be hard to win.

Some shopkeepers welcomed the move, but their customers were less enthusiastic. "People are already reeling under taxes … we don't need any more," Mamta Choudhary, a teacher who regularly shops in one of the areas designated for the new scheme, told the Times of India newspaper.

Ram Thakur, a 45-year-old manager who spends up to two hours a day in traffic driving from the satellite city of Faridabad to his office, said no amount of charging would make him give up the small car that he bought a year ago. "I started on a bicycle and I've taken buses for 20 years. Now I am a car owner and life is very much nicer. I am not giving it up to go back on buses or bikes," he told the Guardian.

Dr Robin Hickman, an expert in urban transport at London University, said that implementing a congestion charge in Delhi would be "extremely difficult. "It would probably be a better option to increase tax on fuel in the city and invest the funds generated in public transport," Hickman, who has worked in Delhi, said.

Dear All,

It is interesting to read this. I just am back from the annual UMI meeting on urban transport in Delhi. As far as I know none of the keynote Indian speeches and presentations made reference to this.

I think that the article is significant in the sense that it points at a growing awareness in Asian cities that it will be hard, if not impossible, to revert the current pattern of growing un-sustainability of transport systems, associated with rapidly growing vehicle fleets merely by investing in public transport and promoting NMT.

Increasingly, cities seem to be willing to put in place demand management measures to restrain the growth in number of vehicles and their use. Evidence of this is for example the decision of Beijng and other cities in China to follow the example of Singapore and Shanghai who for more than 10 years have had a vehicle quota system. The economic success of these two cities clearly demonstrates that restraining the number of vehicles does not undermine economic growth.

A quota system can be implemented more easily and it is cheaper to administer. If it is operated on the basis of an auction system it can also generate substantial funding which should be a major contribution towards improving public transport and NMT, except in the case of metro's which are more expensive. In Shanghai, about 100,000 car licenses are auctioned each year resulting in about $ 600 million in income.

The basic underlying premise is of course that road space is not a free commodity and that access to its use by cars can be regulated in the same manner as other parts of the city such as land for construction where public lands are sold/leased or taxed for private development and the proceeds are used for developing schools, hospitals etc.


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