DNA India reports on growing congestion in Mumbai and how congestion charging has been raised as a possible solution. The city has faced a 7% increase in vehicles in each of the past seven years and has been mulling various demand management options including a 200% tax on a second family car. Whilst it is clear Mumbai can't sustain every increasing growth in vehicle usage and ownership, the point is that it will stop eventually, and having blanket taxes on home ownership will open ample opportunities for evasion. The obvious one will be to register vehicles at addresses of family members without cars.
The article does talk about congestion charging elsewhere, not representing the examples it uses well (Singapore has moved well beyond the Area Licensing Scheme and "value pricing" in the US is HOT lanes, which offers little in this context).
Certainly there is wider interest at the central government level in India about congestion charging, but it is a local matter and as such it seems unlikely that this will be implemented in advance of other measures, and in fact I wouldn't do it before the other measures given how important they will be in helping address the problem.
In India there are a whole host of options to address congestion. I'd highlight, before pricing, the following:
- Make safe provision for pedestrians and active road users. Cyclists, human-powered carts and the like. They use road space far more efficiently than cars and modern developed cities are recognising this.
- Impose and enforce parking restrictions, including charging for kerbside parking. In many cases roads must be corridors, not stopping places and while you're at it, ensure private provision of parking on land is neither inhibited or mandatory. Market pricing for parking will go a long way to moderating demand for road space.
- Simplify and modernise systems for identifying road vehicles. All of the congestion pricing in the world wont work unless you can identify vehicles, identify their owners and fine them when they violate traffic laws.
- Abolish subsidies on fuel. Whilst popular, fuel subsidies are very regressive and promote private car use, and so should be scrapped before considering additional charges. Simply having road users paying the market price for fuel (with any general sale tax added) will moderate growth in demand.
- Update and enforce traffic laws, including those on speeding, dangerous driving and blocking intersections. Improving driver behaviour can reduce congestion, and enhance safety.
- Preserve corridors for buses and possibly freight, in advance of pricing. With efficient pricing there is theoretically no need for this, but meanwhile buses and freight, the most efficient users of roads, need to be given a chance. In parallel to this, buses should be liberalised so that market demand can be met by entrepreneurs. You might charge for licences for bus companies to use bus stops and bus lanes, requiring they meet some minimum standards, particularly for safety, but set them free if government is incapable of adequately investing to meet demand.
Meanwhile, there will need to be highway improvements as well, to optimise capacity and develop new corridors. Completing the Bandra-Worli Sea Link might be part of this.
|Much of Mumbai, with incomplete roads and chronic congestion|
Only then will it seem plausible to consider road pricing. You might start with a vignette permit style system, whereby vehicles can pay annual, month, week or day passes to use a central city location, granting permits to residents at a discount. That is where Singapore started, but it could be done electronically, and then the revenue should be managed so that it is dedicated to improvements to the highway network, starting with optimising maintenance and making intersections safer and better managed. Such a fund needs an independent board with oversight, to avoid corruption and to ensure best value for what is spent.
For now, Mumbai needs a comprehensive congestion management strategy, with enforcement of traffic laws near the top of the agenda. That might not be popular with motorists and politicians as a result, but it would form the foundations for what is needed for congestion charging - an efficient, reliable and effective way of identifying those who do not pay and collecting charges and fines from them.