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London's Daring Traffic Move: Successful, But Right For Us?

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  • Robert J. Matter
    http://www.postwritersgroup.com/archives/peir0512.htm London s Daring Traffic Move: Successful, But Right For Us? Neal Peirce Word of London s congestion
    Message 1 of 5 , Jun 3, 2003
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      http://www.postwritersgroup.com/archives/peir0512.htm

      London's Daring Traffic Move:
      Successful, But Right For Us?

      Neal Peirce

      Word of London's "congestion pricing" scheme--an $8 charge each day
      for any vehicle that video cameras spot driving in the traffic-strangled
      city center--broke on a startled world in February.

      Drivers would have to register for daily use via cell phone, Internet, or at
      retail shops across the city. The fine for not registering: $128.

      So strong is our global reverence for cars that no world city has dared
      try such a scheme since a single (and highly successful) plan was instituted in authoritarian
      Singapore in 1977.

      Predictably, opponents saw immediate disaster if the London plan, a brainchild of the city's
      controversial mayor, Ken Livingstone, actually took effect. Average speeds of 3 miles an
      hour, said critics, would paralyze large parts of the city. The rush of new passengers would
      engulf the city's public transit system. The system of 700 video cameras to read license
      plate numbers would misfire and crash.

      But Livingstone persevered, the system kicked off Feb. 17, and now weekday traffic in the
      eight-square-mile central London zone has declined almost 20 percent. Result: Normally
      clogged streets have opened up. Taxis are abundant; red double-decker buses make their
      rounds much more rapidly.

      About 100,000 people pay the toll each day; the cameras catch 3,000 or so scofflaws who
      are then ticketed.

      The jubilation in London is still a bit tentative. Some retailers and restaurants complain their
      sales are off, and it's not clear if the main culprit is an Iraq war-triggered tourist decline or
      reluctance of motorists to cope with (and pay fees under) an unfamiliar new system.

      Still, there's huge excitement in the very idea that world cities have a new way to confront
      the auto that has had such an impact of their quality of life in the past half century.

      It's been an epic mismatch, writes Randy Kennedy, reporter and columnist, in The New
      York Times Magazine. "The car helps to create sprawl"; that sprawl, he suggests, pulls
      people and power from cities. The car then "returns to attack the city," forcing it to "cede
      sidewalks to streets, trolley tracks to traffic lanes, whole neighborhoods to expressways."

      The great urban writer Lewis Mumford ruminated about "a tomb of concrete roads and
      ramps covering the dead corpse of the city."

      Cities, thank heavens, have proved too resilient for such total disaster. As Kennedy
      suggests, spots like Times Square sometimes reveal "armies of angry pedestrians crowded
      around SUVs pinioned in crosswalks, the drivers inside easily outnumbered 100 to 1."

      So interested are major cities in subduing the congestion dragon that Derek Turner, the
      official who developed the London plan, has actually quit his position to start a global
      consulting firm. Turner claims ripples of interest from cities across Europe, North and South
      America and Asia. About 70 cities recently sent delegations to London for a detailed
      briefing on its plan.

      The mayor of the American city that needs radical traffic reform the most--Michael
      Bloomberg, leader of historically clogged New York--has shown interest in traffic restraint
      ideas. And small wonder: By some estimates, traffic congestion costs New York as much
      as $4 billion in lost productivity each year. The Brooklyn Bridge, with its trolleys and traffic
      lanes, carried 426,000 people a day in 1907; now its congested, all-motorized traffic lanes
      carry less than half as many.

      But Bloomberg now faces such deep budget crises, compounded by taxpayer revolt, that
      he'd be in no shape to take on the auto clubs, road builders, garage owners and assorted
      angry constituents who'd likely line up in moderate to rabid opposition.

      And if there's another mayor of a major American city considering taking on the Auto
      Goliath, he hasn't said so out loud yet.

      A big plus for congestion pricing is that technology now makes it so feasible: With video
      cameras (like London's) tracking license tags, or responders on windshields, checkpoints or
      visual inspections are no longer necessary. The responder technology can even adjust
      pricing to known hours of the day, or actual highway conditions. The principle is simple:
      You pay for what you use.

      But is the idea ripe for many cities? I'd guess not. As serious as traffic has become
      nationwide, only a few--San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, Washington, Atlanta,
      Chicago spring to mind--seem to suffer enough to make logical early candidates.

      And there's a final imperative: a strong public transit system. If thousands of commuters are
      to be priced out of their cars, strong rail and bus alternatives must be available. Wisely, a
      big chunk of the $200 million the London scheme is expected to raise yearly is to be
      plowed back into improving transit.

      Urban congestion pricing needs to get on American agendas. The health of their cities
      demands it. But without robust, improved transit, the discussion may not be worth the
      candle.

      Neal Peirce's e-mail address is nrp@....

      ###
    • ktsourl
      I have some reservations about the much praised London s congestion pricing scheme. It is certainly a positive outcome that automobile freedom (on expense
      Message 2 of 5 , Jun 7, 2003
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        I have some reservations about the much praised London's "congestion
        pricing" scheme. It is certainly a positive outcome that automobile
        "freedom" (on expense of the other street users freedom, of course) is
        somehow regulated. It is indeed one of the few cases, where urban road
        use is priced, though in a gross and unrefined manner (people just
        passing are paying the same price with those who move around in the
        priced area all day, no distinction is made according to the purpose
        of the movement etc). However I wonder why from the many external
        costs induced from private cars to the society (air pollution,
        "accidents", deformation of urban fabric, noise, pedestrians hardships
        and delays, and many others) only "congestion" is priced.

        Actually I doubt about the correctness (or at least the importance) of
        the notion of "congestion" cost. Indeed in the case of the "congestion
        cost" the persons who induce it, are exactly those who bear the
        consequences. A person who use a car in a congested road deters other
        drivers from using unimpeded the road, but these other drivers cause
        exactly the same to him. So, both "costs" are compensated. This is not
        the case at all, concerning other external costs, like the noise from
        motorized traffic, the air pollution over a city, the hardships
        inflicted to pedestrians, the greenhouse effect etc

        I posed this question to another list and the only response I' ve got
        was that there is no absolute symmetry in the incurred costs, since
        private cars with 1 or 2 persons may delay large buses (or other
        collective transport means) carrying tens of people. This is true of
        course, but I think this could be better (and cheaper) avoided with
        dedicated bus-lanes, instead of sophisticated pricing systems - even
        more as pricing is in the latter case gross and unrefined. I wonder if
        there is some other opinion or explanation on this listserve.

        After all, from a pedestrian and sustainable transport viewpoint,
        congestion is not so bad per se to anyboby else (a pedestrian e.g) but
        to private car users, as long as the movement of public transit
        (buses, streetcars etc) is secured through separate corridors. It also
        helps to control the car use increase, creating a negative feedback
        loop. Pedestrians cross more easily clogged streets and don't risk at
        all to be hit by cars on them.

        I have the impression that the message sent by this scheme is "do
        drive, but pay, so that driving remains a feasible activity", instead
        of "don't drive, but use transit, bike or your feet, because this is
        healthier, environmental friendlier and more sustainable". Thus the
        target doesn't seem to be a "car-free city" but quite the opposite, a
        "car-feasible city".

        --- In carfree_cities@yahoogroups.com, "Robert J. Matter"
        <rjmatter@p...> wrote:
        > http://www.postwritersgroup.com/archives/peir0512.htm
        >
        > London's Daring Traffic Move:
        > Successful, But Right For Us?
        >
        > Neal Peirce
        >
        > Word of London's "congestion pricing" scheme--an $8 charge each day
        > for any vehicle that video cameras spot driving in the
        traffic-strangled
        > city center--broke on a startled world in February.
        >
        > Drivers would have to register for daily use via cell phone,
        Internet, or at
        > retail shops across the city. The fine for not registering: $128.
        >
        > So strong is our global reverence for cars that no world city has dared
        > try such a scheme since a single (and highly successful) plan was
        instituted in authoritarian
        > Singapore in 1977.
        >
        ...............................................................
      • dubluth
        ... I think you are asking if congestion is a market failure. To answer this question we temporarily ignore the other external costs of driving and consider
        Message 3 of 5 , Jun 7, 2003
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          > Actually I doubt about the correctness (or at least the importance)
          > of the notion of "congestion" cost. Indeed in the case of the
          > "congestion cost" the persons who induce it, are exactly those who
          > bear the consequences. A person who use a car in a congested road
          > deters other drivers from using unimpeded the road, but these other
          > drivers cause exactly the same to him. So, both "costs" are
          > compensated.

          I think you are asking if congestion is a market failure. To answer
          this question we temporarily ignore the other external costs of
          driving and consider the economic question "does the amount of
          traffic on a congested road differ from the social optimum?"

          A person will make a driving trip if they expect to receive more
          benefits than costs from that trip. When a person decides to make a
          trip, their contribution to the congestion experienced by others
          isn't a personally relevant cost. All drivers on a congested road
          are still receiving a net benefit in their estimations, or they
          wouldn't be there. However, the total net benefit could be increased
          given a mechanism to internalize costs. Some drivers would willingly
          take payment from other drivers to stay off the road. That is what
          tolls do without directing the payment solely to potential drivers.

          Do tolls enable driving by making it a less disfunctional activity?
          It represents an improved situation for most of those who pay the
          tolls and continue to drive. More importantly it gets others out of
          cars or into car-pools. There is the downside of pedestrians having
          to contend with faster motor traffic. At least they will have a bit
          less pollution to breath.

          Of course costs of air and noise pollution should also be
          internalized, and while congestion tolls leave those costs
          unaddressed, the use of congestion tolls doesn't represent the
          avoidance of those issues, only imperfect priorities. It is a
          concrete, though limited, move to reduce driving, which makes it
          encouraging.

          I believe it is important to achieve incremental changes as they
          become possible. These yield definite benefits in the interim and
          will be seen as markers on the way toward a society that ultimately
          realizes that the automobile is a wildly inappropriate technology for
          cities.

          Bill Carr
        • Richard Risemberg
          I really think, ladies and gentlemen, that Londodn probably chose congestion pricing not because they were addressing only congestion in their minds--news
          Message 4 of 5 , Jun 8, 2003
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            I really think, ladies and gentlemen, that Londodn probably chose
            congestion pricing not because they were addressing only congestion in
            their minds--news stories have mentioned other benefits of reduced car
            traffic in discussing this--but because it was fairly easy to sell and
            to implement. We know that talking about "externalized costs" just
            invokes incredulity from most folks. Most folks aren't going to follow
            the threads from their personal car use to effects on children's lungs
            or social dysfunctions or development policies. Congestion is something
            they can see and that bothers them immediately, and that shows up well
            in newspaper and TV graphics.

            That's my guess, at any rate.

            Richard
            --
            Richard Risemberg
            http://www.living-room.org
            http://www.newcolonist.com

            "A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life
            are based on the labors of others."
            Albert Einstein
          • ktsourl
            ... this Not exactly. Probably my reservations can be indeed reduced into a market failure, but I don t think this is evident at first sight. Of course car
            Message 5 of 5 , Jun 10, 2003
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              >> Actually I doubt about the correctness (or at least the importance)
              >> of the notion of "congestion" cost. Indeed in the case of the
              >> "congestion cost" the persons who induce it, are exactly those who
              >> bear the consequences. A person who use a car in a congested road
              >> deters other drivers from using unimpeded the road, but these other
              >> drivers cause exactly the same to him. So, both "costs" are
              >> compensated.
              >
              >I think you are asking if congestion is a market failure. To answer
              this

              Not exactly. Probably my reservations can be indeed reduced into a
              market failure, but I don't think this is evident at first sight. Of
              course car traffic is largely out of market procedures due to the many
              (mostly negative) externalities, but "congestion cost" (whatever can
              be meant by this) is not the only or the main component of these
              externalities.

              >question we temporarily ignore the other external costs of driving and
              >consider the economic question "does the amount of traffic on a
              >congested road differ from the social optimum?"

              My point is exactly the ignorance of the other external costs of
              driving. How can we come up with "social optimum" without considering
              all the external costs, but only one small part (if realy exists one
              in "congestion cost")?

              >A person will make a driving trip if they expect to receive more
              benefits
              >than costs from that trip. When a person decides to make a trip, their
              >contribution to the congestion experienced by others isn't a personally
              >relevant cost. All drivers on a congested road are still receiving a
              net
              >benefit in their estimations, or they wouldn't be there. However, the
              >total net benefit could be increased given a mechanism to internalize
              >costs. Some drivers would willingly take payment from other drivers to
              >stay off the road. That is what tolls do without directing the payment
              >solely to potential drivers.
              >
              >Do tolls enable driving by making it a less disfunctional activity?
              >It represents an improved situation for most of those who pay the tolls
              >and continue to drive. More importantly it gets others out of cars
              or into

              Tolls normally represent the costs for the construction of the road,
              plus a (hopefully competitive) profit. It is exactly the same concept
              as when you go to the cinema: your admission ticket price is supposed
              to pay off the construction of the parlor, the film expenses, the
              actors' and other contributors' wages etc. Of course the fact that it
              is not free, allows you to be more comfortable: if the admission were
              free probably there would be no place to sit. However this is just a
              normal outcome of the standard pricing mechanism of (almost) every
              good in a market economy.

              The way you put it (difference of the utility of the same good for
              different users), seems more as a pricing of the land use, than the
              somehow obscure notion of "congestion pricing". It is like when a
              public owned land plot (or perhaps other publicly owned resource) is
              offered to consumers or investors through auction or another way of
              pricing. Those willing to pay more are allowed to use it and exploit it.

              In any case it is still a fact that this cost is born by these drivers
              who are more willing to pay (presumably the more wealthy) and those
              profited are these who are less willing to pay (apparently the less
              wealthy car users). Pedestrians and public transit users are out of
              the calculation.

              >car-pools. There is the downside of pedestrians having to contend with
              >faster motor traffic. At least they will have a bit less pollution
              to breath.

              Perhaps this turns out to be true, but it is not obvious. Cars during
              congestion produce less transport work, but do they pollute less? Do
              the engines of standing cars pollute more than the engines of fewer
              moving cars? In the case of pedestrians it is also important, that the
              more they are waiting to cross a street, next to the curb, the more
              they are exposed to high concentrations of pollutants from the cars.

              >Of course costs of air and noise pollution should also be internalized,
              >and while congestion tolls leave those costs unaddressed, the use of
              >congestion tolls doesn't represent the avoidance of those issues, only
              >imperfect priorities. It is a concrete, though limited, move to reduce
              >driving, which makes it encouraging.

              It is true that pricing (of any form or justification) reduces
              driving. I hope you have realized that I don't object pricing. Anyway,
              if tomorrow morning London administration announced that the #8 were
              paid e.g. for the pollution incurred, there wouldn't be any difference
              in the driving discouragement. But I consider also important the
              justification of pricing. Perhaps the protests of car fans would be
              less and more easily responded, if the justification were based to the
              damage the car use brings about to the society. When the damage in the
              health of the people, the hardships of pedestrians, the massacre in
              the streets from accidents (or "accidents"), the damage in the urban
              fabric et.al. are undermined, and importance is given to the cost
              incurred from less wealthy to the rich drivers, I think a much more
              strong expression than "imperfect priorities" must be used.

              >I believe it is important to achieve incremental changes as they
              >become possible. These yield definite benefits in the interim and will
              >be seen as markers on the way toward a society that ultimately realizes
              >that the automobile is a wildly inappropriate technology for cities.

              The notion of "increment" presupposes a "direction". The question is
              towards wich direction is this initiative: towards carfree cities or
              towards more quality driving in cities? If congestion is considered as
              the main problem addressed, then the latter seems more logically relevant.

              I hope too, that the society will ultimately realize that the
              automobile is a wildly inappropriate technology for cities (and
              perhaps beyond cities). This is certainly already realized by the
              administration and the relevant market agents (car industries for
              example). But this scheme seems to me (in its core) more like an
              attempt to make automobile (trough more regulation) again appropriate
              technology for cities.


              >I really think, ladies and gentlemen, that Londodn probably chose
              >congestion pricing not because they were addressing only congestion
              >in their minds--news stories have mentioned other benefits of reduced
              >car traffic in discussing this--but because it was fairly easy to
              >sell and to implement. We know that talking about "externalized costs"
              >just invokes incredulity from most folks. Most folks aren't going to
              >follow the threads from their personal car use to effects on children's
              >lungs or social dysfunctions or development policies. Congestion is
              >something they can see and that bothers them immediately, and that
              >shows up well in newspaper and TV graphics.
              >
              >That's my guess, at any rate.

              I can understand if the administration misinforms the citizens, for
              example, to perform an illegal war, but, if its purpose is really to
              protect them, why not speak the truth? If the real intention is to
              protect the health of the children, the life of all these who lose
              their lives and body integrity in the streets, and to increase the
              quality of life in the cities, then those people should feel really
              proud, and should inform the citizens about the detrimental
              consequences of the car use, and persuade them to back them in their
              effort.
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