Road pricing the way to ease traffic woes

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 April, 2007, 12:00am

Traffic congestion and poor air quality are problems in big cities the world over and, one by one, they are turning to electronic road pricing as a solution. As London, Singapore, Stockholm and others have found, it is the most effective way to end the chaos and clean the air.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is the latest top official to be convinced of the benefits. As part of a package of measures to make his city a more environmentally friendly place in which to live, he has suggested that an US$8 road toll be implemented in busy parts of Manhattan between 6am and 6pm on week days.

The proposal has to be approved by the state legislature and it is not being wholly embraced by New Yorkers. Like people in London when such a scheme was introduced there in 2003, the idea of paying for what was once free strikes a raw nerve.

But as Mr Bloomberg pointed out in putting forward his plan, a growing population, more anticipated vehicle pollution and a lack of space to build new roads requires an unorthodox solution. Reducing traffic in busy parts of the city by making drivers pay to use the roads was a tried-and-tested approach elsewhere.

So, too, it should be for Hong Kong, yet officials have stalled on such an idea in favour of harbour reclamation so that roads and tunnels can be built. A study into electronic road pricing concluded in 2001 has still not been published by the government. Instead, officials have opted not to push such a scheme, which has been described as a 'drastic restraint measure'.

Building more roads does not reduce traffic; instead, it encourages more road users. This, in turn, increases air pollution, 25 per cent of which comes from vehicle emissions.

Hong Kong was a world pioneer in electronic road pricing, testing a scheme from 1983 to 1985 with much success, but eventually shelving it due to opposition from motorists. Singapore took the baton in 1998 and has become the global model to which London and other cities have turned.

Mr Bloomberg has rightly been convinced that this is the way ahead for New York. It also should be part of our city's strategy.

Officials should be looking to a comprehensive road management scheme comprising road pricing and more use of public transport as a way of alleviating congestion and improving air quality. More reclamation and roads are not the way ahead.