Tackling Congestion with congestion pricing; Important questions but no answers from Westconnex – Lyall Kennedy Submission Part 3

Given that congestion levels are only likely to be reduced for a maximum ten years, at which point we would be back to where we are in 2015, there needs to be consideration of alternative ways to manage and reduce congestion.

Infrastructure NSW commissioned a discussion paper on congestion pricing. The paper Pricing Congestion in Sydney was published by ICIL Tasman in April 2012. The paper reviews alternative ways to manage congestion:

Almost everywhere, not just in New South Wales, governments have persisted in excluding congestion pricing from their changing mixes of anti-congestion measures, despite increasing urging from economists over the past 60 years to apply this policy instrument. These changing policy mixes have typically failed to stop congestion from worsening in medium-sized and large cities around the world. So, failed anti-congestion strategies are the norm.

Until the late-1970s, governments typically saw road building as the solution to congestion. However, high costs and assumed futility because of traffic attraction by new capacity (“induced traffic” or “induced demand”) led to changes to anti-congestion strategies. Governments increasingly switched resources from roads to public transport, cycling and walking facilities, and operating subsidies for public transport. In some cases, governments re-allocated some pre-existing road lanes from general purpose use to access by buses and other multi-passenger vehicles, which effectively added to public transport subsidies. Many governments buttressed these policy changes with measures such as higher on-street and off-street parking charges, information programs regarding public transport services, and promotion of car-pooling arrangements.

All of these policy instruments were meant to reduce demand for road space and increase demand for alternatives to road-use by single occupancy vehicles. Transport planners typically described some or all of these policy instruments as ‘demand management measures’.They considered them to be substitutes for congestion pricing.

These “demand management measures” failed to stop the inexorable worsening of congestion, even though the major measure, subsidised public transport, involved 100 per cent capital subsidies and operating subsidies in excess of 75 per cent of operating costs. Indeed, costs of all of these “demand management measures” have been found to be high relative to numbers of passengers attracted from single-occupancy vehicles. An important oversight by proponents of these measures is that they are just as likely as increases in road capacity to be undermined by “induced traffic”. Another neglected problem is that public transport subsidies have facilitated inefficient operating arrangements.
“Public transport, cycling and walking have often been described as “sustainable transport”, because use of these modes by commuters reduces congestion and emissions caused by cars. However, the fiscal unsustainability of an ineffective strategy of trying to reduce congestion to acceptable levels through heavy subsidies has been overlooked.

Many governments also took steps to change urban land regulation policies to try to increase urban densities, at least in and around major activity centres and major public transport hubs and routes. They hoped that this would encourage greater use of transport modes other than cars, and improve the viability of public transport. However, these actions have not reduced congestion and may have increased it. They have overridden consumer preferences and distorted relative prices of land and capital, inducing substitution of capital for land. The result has been resource misallocation.

Because massive public transport subsidies, other “demand management” policies, and regulated increases in urban density have made little impact on congestion, some governments, notably those in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland re-considered their policies of restraint on provision of general purpose arterial road capacity, particularly in the case of by-pass or orbital roads. Toll roads (typically involving public private partnerships) were often preferred to provision of free-access arterials, because of the high costs of urban arterial road provision in the context of fiscal stress associated with high costs of maintaining public transport subsidies.

While governments have claimed that toll roads would help alleviate congestion, these roads typically have been priced simply to recover full costs (including a reasonable rate of return on capital). Such pricing is incompatible with congestion-alleviation, because full cost recovery is possible only if tolls are set to toll-off sufficient potential users to ensure a wide difference in quality of service between tolled and free-access facilities. Pricing of new roads to alleviate congestion would require low and possibly negative prices.
(Pages.vii -viii)

The paper then goes on to argue the benefits of congestion pricing:

Current anti-congestion policy-mixes for Sydney, as for most other major metropolitan areas, are ineffective and economically inefficient. Economically sensible reform would substitute congestion pricing for heavy public transport subsidies, parking levies/supply restraints, and tolling of new roads.

Ideally, prices under a congestion pricing regime would reflect marginal external costs of congestion — the difference between congestion costs caused and borne by each road-user. Prices would vary over time, across the network, and between vehicle-types. Prices would be highest in the busiest periods and locations, and for the largest vehicles. Zero prices would apply in free-flow conditions.

This “internalisation” of marginal external costs of congestion would induce changes to travel modes, routes and times, reducing traffic at peak times and locations. Delays, stress, fuel and emissions would be cut and transport facilities would be better utilised.

Congestion pricing would ensure “induced traffic” effects did not undermine benefits of new road, public transport, cycling and walking facilities, and information programs on urban transport options. Therefore, it would increase benefits from these initiatives. Meanwhile, these infrastructure and “demand management measures” would help pricing to induce changes in peak-period travel behaviour.

Congestion pricing is primarily a policy instrument for alleviation of congestion in an efficient way. It is very different concept to applying tolls to new roads to recover their full costs or to existing roads to raise money for further investments in urban transport infrastructure or some other purpose. “Unlike cost-recovery tolling of new road segments in dispersed locations, or tolling of existing roads to raise money, congestion pricing would improve efficiency of use of metropolitan road and public transport networks.

Of course, congestion pricing yields revenue as a by-product of its primary function. Moreover, there is reasonable evidence to suggest that under plausible assumptions, a well-designed congestion and road damage pricing system could provide enough revenue to cover full costs of providing and maintaining a metropolitan urban arterial road network.

Parking levies and supply restrictions have sometimes been proposed as a simplified form of congestion pricing. However, these measures would not address the contribution to congestion of through-traffic, commercial vehicles, and the length, route and timing of trips. In contrast, a well- designed congestion pricing system would do so.

Pricing of crowded roads would improve bus fuel economy, trip times, and service reliability. It would increase demand for bus and rail services, allowing higher service-frequency and route-density, which would attract still more passengers. Induced increases in residential and commercial densities around public transport corridors and destinations would reinforce these trends. A cycle of increasing demand for services and declining unit social costs of public transport-use would occur.

Congestion pricing should be accompanied by a restructuring of public transport fares. Congestion pricing raises effective prices of using single-occupancy vehicles in peak times and locations relative to effective prices of travel at other times and routes, and by other transport modes, including public transport. Therefore, continuation of subsidies to public transport to change relative prices of car and public transport-use would be redundant. Moreover, the reduced cost structure of public transport would have to be factored into fares. They should also be adjusted to manage passenger congestion and allow for broader, flatter peak periods. The various effects of congestion pricing should improve public transport’s viability, reducing subsidy requirements.

It is extremely important to note that congestion pricing is an essential element of an economically efficient anti-congestion package for Sydney, but it is not sufficient. It must be complemented by increases in road capacity – particularly debottlenecking and by-pass investments – and increases in public transport capacity, but not public transport subsidies. Capacity increases are required for efficient congestion alleviation beyond the short-term future.(Pages viiii-ix)

This conclusion is consistent with the findings of the Grattan Institute report on the return from transport infrastructure spending discussed in Part One of this submission.

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Questions asked at Canada Bay Information Session October 6. 2015

I attended an information session hosted by WDA on 6 October. I raised a number of questions with the WDA Traffic representative, Ian McCarthy. A summary of my questions and the answers provided are outlined below.

EIS Claims that it will reduce the numbers of long distance vehicles on Parramatta Rd. Where are the stats on travel distances along the corridor?
Not included in the EIS. Estimate is that 40-45% of trips are <5km long.

What are the major origins and destinations for trips along the corridor?
Not yet done. O/d data to come later.

Where is the analysis of freight movements on Parramatta Rd?
Not included in EIS. Updated Business Case (due to be released in next 2 months) will include freight analysis.

Where are the traffic counts of trucks on the corridor?
Not included in EIS.

What volume of freight by type uses Parramatta Rd?
Not included in EIS. Possibly in the Air Quality section. Ian agreed to seek figures for me.

What proportion of freight could be transferred to rail?
Bureau of Transport Statistics (BTS) report on freight has been provided to WDA but not released. Ian agreed to ask for a copy.

How much freight (truck movements/tonnage) would be on the corridor if the Enfield and Moorebank intermodal terminals were operating?
Intermodel terminals have been taken into account in the modelling. (not sure how this has been done. I think it might be from BTS)

Why is the peak direction to the west in the morning and east in the pm?
Didn’t have a defininative explaination. However, suggested that it may have been because of existing congestion which limits the flow in the peak direction.

Where is the analysis of LoS for North/South movement at intersections?
LoS for north/south movements has been done but not included in EIS. LoS at intersections includes all arms.

What is the likely impact on travel times if tunnel operating at capacity as predicted for 2031?
Does have impact on travel times, however, not significant. WDA will provide info on how travel times have been calculated.

Do the traffic figures include or take account of urban growth projections for future residential and employment along the corridor?
Forecast projections are included – using BTS projections. Urban growth projections have not been included as they were not available. In any case they are over a 30 year period.

How were the strategic routes for time saving analysis selected? Why was Penrith to Surry Hills identified as one of the routes?
Not sure why selected.

Potential queuing in tunnel from congestion on Wattle street?
Believe there is enough capacity on exit ramps to cater for queuing. There is about 1km from Timbrell Drive intersection and the exit ramp. The exit slip lane starts as one lane and becomes 2 lanes before exiting (I didn’t get the actual length of the one and 2 lane sections). Queuing is based on 95 percentile. Challenge is to get the Timbrell Drive intersection below capacity. Think it is currently at about 1.2 [need to check EIS]. It is critical that this intersection is below capacity, due to its impact on traffic exiting the tunnel. Likely to be a condition of approval. Some options being actively considered are making the Mortley Ave to Timbrell drive movement restricted to buses only. Cutting away the “redundant” footpath on adjacent to the new pedestrian footbridge to provide 2 right turn lanes from Timbrell Drive. Extending the slip lane in Wattle street for the left turn into Timbrell Drive.

Ian McCarthy committed to providing me with more detailed responses by Friday 9 October via email. I forwarded the above table to Mr McCarthy on 7 October under the following email:

Hi Ian

It was good chatting with you on Tuesday. I ran into Matt at the Strathfield meeting last night. He told me that you were working on responses to my questions. Attached is what I took out from the discussion. Happy for you to add another column with any additional thoughts/clarifications.

I have also attached a paper prepared for Infrastructure NSW on Congestion Pricing which gives a good explanation of the past strategies to deal with congestion over the decades. Although it is marked “Confidential” I downloaded it from the website. I think you and Matt might be interested in this (if you haven’t already read it).

Matt asked to be included in the email in case I have entered your email address incorrectly.

Kind Regards
Lyall Kennedy
Kennedy Consulting Pty Limited
(Phone supplied)

Freight benefits are an integral part of the justification for WestConnex. It should be noted that when WestConnex was first reviewed by Infrastructure Australia it was classified as a freight project. However, there is no analysis of the current freight movements in the corridor or any discussion of alternative options for freight. This is a major weakness of the EIS. WestConnex should not be approved until the community has had an opportunity to see and review all the freight claims and impacts.

Managing Traffic to Stop Queuing in the M4 East Tunnel

Possibly the most concerning aspect of the M4 East proposal from a traffic perspective is the possible congestion on the city west link heading east going back into the M4 tunnel at Wattle Street.

The City West Link was deliberately designed with six sets of traffic lights between Haberfield and the city. This platoons traffic heading towards the Harbour Bridge and reduces congestion on the approach to the bridge.

I’m not an expert on queuing theory, however, my understanding is that every additional vehicle that joins a queue has an exponential impact on delay times.

When you look at what is happening on the north side of the Harbour Bridge, much, if not all, of the travel time savings gained through the Lane Cove tunnel are negated by the extended queue time to get to the bridge.

According to the EIS, by 2031, the M4 East tunnel is at capacity. The intersection at Timbrell Drive is also at capacity. This will result in periods when the queue on Wattle Street will extend into the tunnel. The EIS talks in vague terms about how this might be managed including ramp metering and variable speed limits in the tunnel.

Ramp metering will increase delays in the tunnel as it will restrict the flow of vehicles out of the tunnel onto Wattle Street. Variable speed limits in the tunnel will have a negligible impact on reducing congestion in the tunnel and will also increase the time vehicles spend in the tunnel.

How to lodge a submission http://m4eis.org/2015/09/11/how-to-object/

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