Book News: March 11th, 2008

By Alex Bowerman

National road pricing has effectively been parked in the layby to await a climate change in public opinion, but a number of councils are considering local implementation as an effective response to traffic congestion. This paper critically examines the case for road pricing and discusses the optimal scale of charging systems. It examines a number of charging systems, including the M6 Toll, the London Congestion Charge and road pricing in Singapore.

Road pricing presents an opportunity to get more value for money from both existing capacity and new capacity. However, policymakers should also consider other means aimed at the same ends. In particular, pricing roads on a project-to-project basis is a more surgical tool for solving individual congestion problems, and would provide a way for the UK to build on practical experience. Perhaps the greatest benefit, however, of a more manageable strategy is that it can be put into action in a matter of months, rather than nearly a decade. With congestion increasing year on year, further delay will prove very costly.

As well as the upfront costs of congestion such as time and fuel consumption, there are external costs such as accidents, air pollution, noise and climate change. Greater recognition of these costs and more experiences by travellers of the benefits of congestion-free journeys is likely to lead to greater public acceptance of road pricing.

The paper is available from the Institute of Economic Affairs.