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Traffic Congestion Charging Essay

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Multi traffic congestion charging

Traffic congestion is quickly becoming a major hindrance to economic development in the big cities. Over the years, households have seen an increase in their purchasing power resulting from increase in their incomes and this has resulted in increased purchase of private vehicles and also a significant rise in the number of suburban homes bought (Beever and Carshaw 2). It follows that most people have to travel in and out of the city center for work and other daily engagements. In most of the cities, people go to work and school and leave at the same hours of the day. This synchronized movement of people to and from the city within certain hours puts a lot of pressure on the transport infrastructure within the city and leads to reduced levels of productivity and efficiency (Costanza 62). Furthermore, rising population numbers coupled with increased purchasing power adds to the complexity of this situation.

Traffic congestion charging is one of the already successful concepts already implemented in some major cities to curb the menace of traffic congestion. Traffic congestion charging is a system implemented by several big towns, in this system vehicles are charged some fees for using some roads during specified times of the day (Turner, Bateman and Pearce 78). It is a market economics practice where consumers of public goods are charged for the negative effects that result from increased demand at peak hours. The increased demand leads to a shortage in the public goods as well as other harmful environmental effects such as increased traffic during the peak hours. In order to bring the resolve this situation, the involved authorities charge a price for use of these public goods so as to lower the demand rather than try increasing the supply.

Traffic congestion charging is an example of an environmental tax (Edwards-Jones, Davies and Hussain 143). Environmental taxes are usually levied on goods or services that are seen to be destructive to the environment. In our case this tax is levied on road users who drive around the perimeter or inside the transport networks of busy town districts. It can also be described as a usage tax levied when demand exceeds the available supply. This system has been implemented by several cities around the world as a way of reducing travel congestion within the city roads during the peak transport hours. The city authorities anticipate benefiting from implementing these systems within the central business districts by achieving increased transport efficiency. According to Costanza other probable benefits include; reduced congestion during peak hours, reduced pollution levels, improved road network reliability, reduced journey times, improved vehicle speeds and also increased utilization of the available public transport services (34).

Efficiency of congestion charging

When a lot of people live and travel within a small geographical area, their transportation needs are bound to place huge strains on the environment. One of the reasons for developing congestion charging system is to reduce this environmental degradation resulting from transportation. From an environmental economics point of view the efficiency of this system can be evaluated by considering how it effectively reduces polluting emissions from transport vehicles (Wells 3).

Congestion charging is said to have contributed to up to twelve percent decrease in the emission pollutants in crowded cities such as London (Blow, Andrew and Zoe 5). This has drastically improved the air quality within the town; transforming London to a better working and living environment for the residents. Furthermore, there is considerable volume of fuel saved every year since the congestion charging project was first implemented. This translates to reduced carbon emissions from the vehicles since this fuel is not consumed.

Congestion charging has been implemented in several cities to regulate their city road usage during the peak hours. It enables the city authority to better manage demand for the public utility, thus enabling them avoid expensive expansions required in order to cater for the increased demand during the peak hours. By charging fees on vehicles entering the congested core roads and urban highways, private car owners opt for public transport means to facilitate their movement in and around the city center. This allows the fewer remaining cars to operate at higher efficiency levels (Crawford 4). But it is necessary, for the city authorities to ensure that the existing public transport infrastructure can accommodate the people who move from private transportation before they implement traffic congestion charging.

Applicability of congestion charging

So far congestion charging system has been the most successful concept to date that tackles the issue of increased demand for public roads during peak hours. However, there are several factors that are necessary to ensure successful implementation of a congestion charging system in the major cities. The success of this project in cities such as London can be attributed to the careful design of all factors that define the implementation of the system. These policy design factors include choosing the roads that are defined as HOT lanes, designing effective revenue collection systems and also coming up a workable fee that will deter the use of private vehicles during peak hours.

Critics of this system argue that this is an ineffective way of reducing environmental degradation. For a start, the numbers of vehicles regulated by this mechanism is small compared to those that use roads in other parts of the country that do not suffer congestion problems. In the UK it was estimated that this policy affected a mere two percent of the total number of vehicles that use the public roads (Hester and Harrison 5). However, the contribution of congestion charging to the reduced levels of NOx, PM10 and CO2 within these cities is quite visible. Cities implementing this system can improve their air quality thus allowing the residents to work more effectively and avoid illnesses caused by inhaling smoke polluted air.

Road congestion charging discourages people from using their vehicles during peak hours along the core city roads and surrounding urban highways. This in turn reduces the number of vehicles on the road during these peak periods and translates to reduced emissions (Zupan and Perrotta 6). Thus it can be considered as a key factor towards ensuring sustainable environmental development in the urban cities. Traffic congestion charging systems have been successfully used to relieve traffic congestion in cities such as New York, Melbourne, California and Toronto.

There is always a limit as to how much a city can improve its transport network to cater for the ever increasing number of cars in the urban highways. This calls for the need to implement demand sided management of the existing road infrastructures. Traffic congestion charging is one of the successful existing mechanisms that can be used to relieve congestion on the roads (Beevers and Carshaw 5). This system can be successful at reducing the harmful effects associated with road congestion even in the developing countries.

Despite the success of congestion charging in the big cities, Banister alludes that more needs to be done to ensure sustainable development of the environment (65). In some of the cities that have been running this program successfully for the past several years, there has been the issue of having polluting buses and coaches still operating within the city. Perhaps it is the time to take drastic measures and ban these polluting vehicles from entering the city. In addition, it is important to ensure that the taxis operating within the city meet the required emission standards (Eriksson and Andersson 21).

Welfare and distributional impacts of congestion charging

Congestion charging has undesirable distribution effects. The congestion charges levied on road users for using congested roads affect them differently, depending on what category of road users they fall into. This categorization can be based on their income levels or their travel patterns. More importantly, this impact is dictated by how the congestion charging system has been designed. In the cordon toll scheme, road users pay a flat fee for using specific parts of the roads. According to Schade and Schlag the effect of the flat fee is usually felt by the low income earners who have to use that part of the road to reach their destinations every day (6). This coupled with an inefficient public transport network can put financial strains on the budgets of the low income earners.

Safirova argues that, different families will suffer different liabilities depending on factors such as the number of family members, their income levels, where the children attend school, where the parents go for work and whether these families use private cars or a single van (8). Also depending on the travel patterns of the different family members, the effects of the congestion charge levy can pose huge financial burdens on the families’ income.

According to Schweitzer and Taylor the social and political acceptability of traffic congestion charging is still a debatable issue (7). Critics argue that the effects of implementing traffic congestion charges will be heavily felt by the low income earners. This makes congestion charging a regressive form of taxation. When the amount of charge paid is expressed as a percentage of the total income, it is clear that the low income urban residents suffer more as compared to the high income earners (Santos and Rojey 3).

The most challenging thing to coordinate while implementing traffic congestion charging is the revenue collection system. These systems usually require considerable technological investment so as to ensure that they run as efficiently as possible. However, over time cheaper means of administering traffic charging have been developed.


The task of ensuring a sustainable living and working environment is much easier than it looks for most people. Furthermore, it only involves everyone cutting back on the energy they use. Using the available public transport means within the city is one good example of how small changes in our daily lives can lead to sizeable improvements on our environment. With the number of cars using our roads expected to double in the coming decades, many cities will be forced to adopt strategies such as congestion charging so as to improve operation within the city and more importantly reduce the air pollution levels (Livingstone 1). Personally, I think that congestion charging will remain as one of the successful projects ever implemented to ensure a viable distribution of the scarce roads networks in the big cities.

Works Cited

Banister, David. Unsustainable Transport: City Transport in the New Century. New York: Taylor and Francis, 2005. Print.

Beevers, Sean, and David Carshaw. “The Impacts of Congestion Charging on Vehicle Emissions in London.” Environmental Research group (2004): 2-12. PDF file.

Blow, Laura, Leicester Andrew and Smith Zoe. “London Congestion Charge.” The Institute for Fiscal Studies Review (2003): 3-10. PDF file.

Crawford, Ian, A. “The Distributional Effects of the Proposed London Congestion Charging Scheme.” The Institute for Fiscal Studies Review (2000). PDF file.

Costanza, Robert. Ecological Economics: the Science and Management of Sustainability. Columbia: Columbia University Press, 1991. Print.

Edwards-Jones, Gareth Ben Davies and Salman Hussain. Ecological Economics: an Introduction. New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2000. Print.

Eriksson, Ralf and Jan Andersson. Elements of Ecological Economics. New York: Taylor and Francis, 2010. Print.

Hester, Ronald, and Roy, Harrison. Transport and the environment. London: Royal Society of Chemistry, 2004. Print.

Livingstone, Ken. “Charging into the Future”. Unep.org. 2002.

Santos, Georgina, and Laurent Rojey. “Distributional Impacts of Road Pricing: The Truth Behind the Myth.” University of Cambridge. (2002): 1-9. PDF file.

Safirova, Elena, et al. “Welfare and Distributional Effects of Road Pricing Schemes for Metropolitan Washington, DC.” Resources for the Future. (2003): 2-10. PDF file.

Schade, Jens, and Bernhard Schlag. Acceptability of Transport Pricing Strategies. Emerald Group Publishing, 2003. Print.

Schweitzer, Lisa, and Brian Taylor. “Just Pricing: the Distributional effects of Congestion Pricing and SalesTaxes.” Springer Science. (2008): 1-5. PDF file.

Wells, Peter. Congestion Charging in London: Any Environmental Benefits? 2002.

Turner, Kerry, Ian Bateman and David Pearce. Environmental Economics: an Elementary Introduction. New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1999. Print.

Zupan, Jeffrey, and Alexis Perrotta. “Motor Vehicle Congestion Pricing in New York.” Regional Plan Association Review (2003): 10-5. PDF file.

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