Reducing road congestion: A reality check

  • Stopher P
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Abstract

For some little while now, transport policy seems to be focused on massive relative increases in public transport ridership and reduction of car use, resulting in a hoped-for reduction in road congestion. Starting with concerns with vehicle emissions as far back as the mid-1980s, and moving now into more of a focus on greenhouse gases and congestion, current transport policies are aimed at reducing two perceived externalities of increasing car use-vehicular emissions and congestion. This paper seeks to check the reality of these policy directions and question whether these are desirable, let alone achievable end states. The paper starts by looking at congestion and questions whether or not it is intrinsically bad. The negative and positive aspects of congestion are explored. The concepts of accessibility and mobility are discussed, particularly in relation to congestion and capacity increases, with the idea of trying to understand better what capacity increases or increasing congestion do to these two measures. The expectation must be that congestion levels are likely to continue to increase into the future, both as a result of increasing population and also increasing real wealth and changes in preferences. This section of the paper concludes that it is within the power of the market place to offset some of the negatives of congestion. In the next section of the paper, the potentials to increase public transport ridership are examined. An illustration is provided of the likely impacts of achieving a doubling in public transport ridership in a hypothetical city. It is found that the effects of such an achievement would be relatively small on the overall congestion of the road system, and that these effects would also be likely to be fairly short-lived. At the same time, the investments that would be necessary in the public transport system are enormous, and there is relatively little likelihood that one could achieve such an increase in ridership within current development patterns. The paper also addresses the potential of congestion pricing or road user charges to impact congestion. It is concluded that charging motorists a politically acceptable amount will probably still not make significant impact on overall system congestion, while the potential for serious impacts on the economy become large if the charges are made sufficiently high or the area covered is made sufficiently large. In the final section of the paper, a number of policy directions are put forward as suggestions for how to deal with the issue of congestion, capacity, and the declining share of market of public transport. These policy directions are not generally the ones that are being pursued today. The issue of congestion pricing is revisited, and a case is made for a kilometrage charge on road users to replace most current licensing schemes. © 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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Authors

  • Peter R. Stopher

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