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by Tim Beissmann

Charging motorists to use roads would decrease traffic congestion and improve the efficiency of our capital cities, a report claims.

The report, ‘Productive cities: Opportunity in a changing economy’ by the Grattan Institute, says the answer to addressing Australia’s traffic congestion problems cannot be solved simply by building new roads and ignoring the need to manage the demand for existing road space.

“A more efficient use of road space could be achieved by introducing a pricing system such as road-user charges, congestion charges or time-of-day tolling, as the Henry Review into Australia’s Future Tax System recommended,” the report suggests.

The report, written by Jane-Frances Kelly and Peter Mares, suggests a road-pricing system that makes the collective costs of driving more apparent at the time of travel would also encourage the public to think differently about cars.

“The spread of the internet and wireless technology – particularly smartphones – has already enabled the development of car-share schemes, real-time ride pooling and peer-to-peer car rentals.

“This is challenging the established view of the car as something owned and mostly driven by just one person, which sits idle when that driver is not behind the wheel.”

The report says a system of road-user charging would also go towards raising revenue to increase the capacity of the cities’ public transport, particularly buses – extending their reach and improving their efficiency and connectivity.

“While expansions of the heavy rail network require very large up front investments and take a long time to be completed, buses can be deployed more quickly at lower cost.

“Yet a bus will only travel as fast as the traffic around it, unless it is allocated separate road space through priority lanes and priority signalling.”

The report says the financial implications of allocating buses greater priority on city roads would be minimal, although admits that it and measures like road-user charging would require governments to spend significant “political capital”.

The City of London famously charges a £10 ($15) a day congestion tax for motorists to use inner-city streets in an attempt to reduce traffic and boost investment into public transport.