Opinion Pieces: Pricing and Revenue Allocation

Professor David Hensher
Professor David Hensher

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.

Photo: vsjj.blogspot.com

March 2012

Attracting people to public transport will always be a major challenge, and in many situations where we promote the maintenance of a particular percentage modal share, we appear to be doing no more than fighting to keep the share at around 10-15%. The real ‘enemy’ is the car and despite claims to the effect that total car kilometres are dropping a little bit, public transport initiatives are at best protecting government objectives in respect of overall modal shares. This is admirable, but hardly enough if we really want to grow modal share and reduce car use.

Hindsight is a nice thing to have, but how often have we all indicated that we will never make public transport more attractive until we make the car less attractive, and at the same time we must have a much wiser view of what kinds of public transport services will be sufficiently attractive to enough current car users for them to switch out of the car. I suggest that the following common sense views are consistent with initiatives that are necessary if we are to rebalance the modal shares to give public transport a better future:

1. Recognise that Australian cities are low density with a significant number of origin and destination pairs being circumferential (i.e., not radially centric).
2. Recognise that public transport will not attract current car users unless it can deliver connectivity and frequency that will make a non-marginal difference to door-to-door travel times at times that suit.
3. Investing in a few transport corridors in cities will have very limited impact on road traffic congestion.
4. Public transport that is not spread widely in a metropolitan area will not have a noticeable impact on public transport modal share.
5. Spending heavily on one or two public transport projects is unlikely to impact on traffic congestion unless the services have a large physical geographic coverage.
6. Continuing to avoid a serious review of road pricing will support the relative attractiveness of car use (despite the levels of traffic congestion in many cities).

To add some light on what might happened if we introduced an additional road pricing charge on top of existing charges for car use, I evaluated, using ITLS’s transport planning model system (called TRESIS), what might be the outcome if we had a 10c/km charge for cars in Sydney. We find that this reduces overall car use by 6%, which is enough to remove most of the bad traffic congestion in the Sydney Metropolitan Area. This will give car users some serious travel time savings per trip, while at the same time contributing over $3bn per annum that can be used to fund new public transport investment.

In the discussion paper released on 24 February 2012 by Transport for NSW on the Long Term Master Plan it is stated that “Road pricing schemes internationally have different objectives. In considering what pricing mechanisms should be used or whether they are appropriate the road pricing debate needs to centre on the objectives that we are seeking to achieve, the extent to which they will achieve the priorities identified for the future and the impact on the customer who is paying for the service being delivered, including the quality of the service that is provided. Governments and communities around the world are all grappling with the issue of road pricing and what role it plays in supporting a more sustainable transport system.” (Section 8.2.2, page 92). If one of the objectives is to reduce traffic congestion so as to make our cities more livable while investing into public transport, then the example above must surely show real promise in achieving that outcome – it delivers quicker trips on the road while funding much needed public transport. Is there another set of instruments that can achieve this? I doubt it.

Food for thought.