Road pricing projects have been implemented in many parts of the world, notably in the Czech Republic, Germany, Singapore, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. A scan team from the United States traveled to Europe and Singapore to meet with transportation officials involved in implementation of road pricing programs and to learn firsthand about their approaches and practices.
The scan tour was sponsored by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NHCRP). The 10 members of the multidisciplinary scan team included transportation professionals from four State departments of transportation (DOT), one regional transportation agency, FHWA, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), and private industry.
The team met with officials from Berlin, Germany; the Czech Republic; London, United Kingdom; Singapore; Stockholm, Sweden; and The Hague, Netherlands, from December 7 to 18, 2009. The face-to-face visits enabled participants to gain a deeper understanding of each host country’s history and context, the goals and objectives that were established, how road pricing was designed to address transportation and policy objectives, and the hurdles that were faced and how they were overcome. The exchanges provided an opportunity to gain in-depth understanding of program goals and methods, implementation costs, benefits, transportation impacts, revenue generation and use, operating and technical practices and their costs, financing approaches, effects on safety and the environment, and public acceptance.
Much like the U.S. experience, overseas road pricing projects have been met with considerable resistance and political and public debate. International examples indicate that public acceptance and approval of pricing programs improves significantly after project implementation, when the benefits and impacts can be weighed in tangible terms based on the context of its application. Based on discussions and observations made during and after the scan, the scan team developed a series of lessons learned.
Congestion pricing programs face political, institutional, and public acceptance concerns everywhere in the world. Many of these concerns can be solved or overcome when the road pricing policy and implementation is led by a strong program manager and championed by powerful leaders in government, particularly at the legislative levels. Over a 12-day period, from December 7 to 18, 2009, a multidisciplinary scan team from the United States interacted with the experts in Europe and Asia to develop an understanding of factors that contributed to the successful implementation of road pricing. Based on their international experience, the scan team offered the following lessons learned on addressing political and policy considerations.
Strive for simplicity in identifying policy goals, public messaging, business rules, and technology solutions.
- Stockholm Experience. Stockholm’s Lidingö Rule was created to provide an exemption from the congestion tax to Lidingö Island residents, who must cross the Stockholm charging zone to access the national road network. The rule allows free passage for any vehicle that exits the charging zone within 30 minutes of entering the zone at the Lidingö Island control point or vice versa. This exemption maintained a policy of free access to the national highway network, but added more than US$20 million in capital and operating costs. It also added considerable system complexity to toll operations because every vehicle needs to be tracked to verify if it is making a qualifying trip for this exemption. If one gantry fails to operate properly, all vehicles during that period must be assumed to qualify for the Lidingö Rule and are exempt from the congestion charge.
Stockholm advanced simplicity in its permanent system implementation through a number of revisions during the 11 months between the referendum and the activation of the permanent system. The first was a conversion to fully video-based transactions using automated number plate recognition (ANPR), eliminating the cost of transponders, DSRC (dedicated short-range communications) field equipment, and operations to support a second payment method. Second, a rule requiring that congestion taxes be paid by the day after the charge was incurred was revoked. This allowed the elimination of a costly system of payment channels, including Internet, retail locations, and stand-alone kiosks. Instead, drivers receive a monthly billing statement from the state for their congestion tax transactions, which saves significant operating costs and simplifies the system for drivers. Finally, these changes were accommodated by an alignment that placed the congestion tax program and the national vehicle registry under the same organizational oversight, creating efficiencies in data sharing and invoicing.
- Germany Experience. To comply with European Union (EU) Directive 2004/52/EC, which requires equal treatment of foreign vehicles in domestic road pricing programs, the German truck tolling system was required to establish a manual payment option for trucks that did not acquire an in-vehicle unit. While only 10 percent of truck transactions are paid via the manual system, manual transaction processing represents over one-third of the total operational costs.
Although simplicity in use remains a key goal, the technical design of the pricing system can get complex. German business objectives for the truck tolling system included the ability to have a flexible road network for expansion and scalability, as well as a flexible tariff schedule. These objectives were achieved through a complex remote device management process by which changes in the road network and pricing are centrally propagated to all users’ onboard units (OBU) in a seamless and consistent manner. The system’s sophistication requires maintenance of a complex network of geographic data in five distinct layers to detail roadway links, distances, locations, and related tariffs and decision analytics. System maintenance requires regular updates of 640,000 OBUs with 600 geographic data changes per year and 400 annual tariff changes. While the system meets the goals established, it requires a high level of technical input and system administration to ensure accuracy of OBU functionality in a secure manner.
- London Experience. London began its congestion charging program with a simple set of policy objectives that prioritized reductions in traffic volumes and related congestion. The program’s well-documented success in both the original charging zone and the western extension created roadway capacity. This newfound capacity provided an opportunity to address a larger set of urban needs, including new bicycle and pedestrian uses of streets in the city center and infrastructure modernization such as water supply. These actions have consumed street capacity to the extent that traffic congestion in central London is reportedly back to levels experienced before congestion charging. By attempting to address a broader set of objectives after successes in congestion reduction, the London system has lost ground in its simple origin of congestion reduction.
Understand that strong champions are critical to implementation of road pricing, and successful programs are characterized by executive and legislative leaders serving as program champions.
- London and Stockholm Experience. Executive champions, such as former London Mayor Ken Livingstone and Stockholm Mayor Annika Billstrom, led the charge to implement road pricing to improve livability and sustainability in their capital cities, despite fervent opposition and divided public support. Their vision, understanding, and political aptitude created the executive mandate for road pricing and laid the framework for the political coalitions and legislative changes required to institute congestion pricing. In Stockholm, a strong city manager directed the congestion pricing program implementation, and the London program management benefited from key leadership appointments at Transport for London (TfL). In both cases, agency leaders worked in concert with elected city executives to ensure implementation aligned with overall objectives of the pricing program.
- The Netherlands Experience. After the scan team’s visit to the Netherlands, the ruling government coalition dissolved and the Dutch champion of road pricing, Transport Minister Camiel Eurlings, resigned. Eurlings set road pricing as a national priority, so his departure created a vacuum in leadership, project guidance, and legislative action in early 2010. A number of political parties still support the distance-based road pricing system, and the leading party in the former government coalition, the Christian Democratic Alliance, has said it will recommend a revised version of the distance-based charge in an upcoming proposal. Nonetheless, the Netherlands’ comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach to guiding implementation has suffered a setback because of changes in leadership and champions.
- Singapore Experience. In contrast to the Netherlands experience, the consistency of Singapore’s governmental leadership and singleness of purpose at Land Transport Authority (LTA) to strive for a sustainable and effective transportation system has been a hallmark of the road pricing program’s success.
Road pricing programs in Europe and Asia offer important lessons on exploring the use of market-based approaches to address traffic congestion and improve mobility. Simplicity in program goals and strong championing of the program by the government and in particular by executive and legislative leadership are critical to the successful implementation of road pricing initiatives.