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Charge drivers for when and where they go

| 31.05,09. 03:31 PM |

Charge drivers for when and where they go

May 31, 2009

CHARGE motorists more for using city streets during peak hours than those who drive on suburban and country roads - that's how traffic expert and NSW Government adviser Professor David Hensher plans to solve Sydney's transport crisis.

Social costs of Australian road congestion will rise to $20.5 billion by 2020 - with Sydney accounting for $7.8 billion - estimates from the federal Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics show.

Professor Hensher, the head of Sydney University's Institute for Transport and Logistics Studies, recently presented his "Congestion and Variable User Charging" proposal - which involves satellite-tracking vehicles - to the Roads and Traffic Authority.

He recommends charging motorists for when and where they drive, and not simply the amount of fuel they consume.

Fixed charges such as registration should be abolished as they encourage driving because owners try to get their money's worth.

A congestion levy on cars entering the centre of Sydney would follow the model that has operated since 2003 in London, where he says traffic has fallen by about 30 per cent.

"The current pricing system is unfair," Professor Hensher said.

"Those who contribute more to congestion and pollution are not paying their fair share. Those who avoid congestion and use more environmental friendly cars are paying more than their fair share."

He proposes abolishing the federal excise of 38 cents a litre on petrol, as well as state fuel taxes. Instead, vehicles would be fitted with a satellite tracking device.

Motorists driving in peak hours in built-up suburbs, such as Mosman or Annandale, which have public transport alternatives, would pay more than drivers who travel through Galston or Camden or regional and rural NSW, where mass transit is poor or non-existent.

Drivers would swipe a "smart card" when buying petrol to determine their levy, which would vary according to use. "Many drivers would be much better off and would end up paying no levy because they live and drive in areas outside the zone," he explained.

The Dutch Government and Oregon in the United States are introducing variable user charging.

NRMA president Wendy Machin said before introducing such a system the state would need major upgrades to public transport, including services that ran across the metropolitan area, and not just to the central business district, as well as flexible working and school hours.

"Commuters would also need extensive and up-to-the-minute road and public transport information so that they could make informed decisions about how best to get around," she said.

Professor Hensher recommends ploughing some of the revenue from the levy back into roads and public transport. "The Government is planning 300 new buses for Sydney but it's not enough to keep up with demand," he said.

"If the Government puts a sufficient amount of the revenue back into transport, it will send a positive message to the electorate and recognise that those who pay should get a benefit."


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