To reduce pressure on cities and the environment, drivers should face a charge that reflects the actual costs of clogged roads, air pollution, climate change, injury and death.
The benefits of road-user charging are now well established. And including electric vehicles doesn’t have to be a deterrent to their uptake, as New Zealand and other nations have shown.
Sure, the owners of electric cars don’t pay properly to use the roads, but it’s even worse for the owners of conventionally-powered vehicles.
Electric vehicles would lower emissions, but if their lower running costs lead to increased car use that creates a whole lot of other costs for our cities.
COVID led to commuting time savings worth over $2,000 a year for each driver and $5,000 per public transport user. But as workplaces reopen, we may need road user charges to keep traffic flowing.
Commuters who drive to and from the CBD typically earn much more than most. Concerns about the fairness of charging drivers who use these busy roads at peak times are overblown.
To cut emissions within the 12 years or so we have left to avoid disastrous global warming, we will need to change our old transport habits, using a combination of strategies to achieve this.
The real challenge is finding appropriate ways to invest in public transport that will not only take pressure off the system but also support improved travel on all modes, including cars.
Traffic congestion is the main cost that cars create when they use existing roads. Road use charges are a more efficient and fairer way to cover the cost and help ensure traffic flows.
A city-wide experiment suggests well-designed road use charges could ease congestion by encouraging people to drive at different times, take other routes or use other transport.
Australians are crying out for political leadership. One way our leaders can redeem themselves is by getting to work on a complete shake-up of how we pay for and use transport infrastructure.
Charging people to drive has been the dream of policy wonks – serving politicians tend to see it as political poison. So when federal minister Paul Fletcher raises it, that’s a step forward.