Delhi plans congestion charge to ease gridlock

September 10, 2013

Drivers face 150 rupee (£2) fee to enter central areas after the number of cars on Indian capital’s

roads doubles in five years

Traffic jam in Delhi

(Traffic jams are a regular occurrence in Delhi. Photograph: Reuters/Corbis)

No one could fault the plan for lack of ambition: to tame the choked streets of India’s

notoriously chaotic capital by imposing a congestion charge modelled on that in London,

Singapore and a handful of other cities.


The Municipal Corporation of Delhi, the authority charged with providing civic services

to the city, hopes to introduce a system to levy a 150-rupee (£2) fee on cars, motorbikes

and even rickshaws entering central areas during the day.


“This will help reduce congestion … [and] encourage people to use public transport,” the head

of the authority, KS Mehra, told local press. Lorries will be made to pay a higher fee.

A congestion charge has existed in Singapore since the 1970s and various systems have

been successfully introduced in London, Rome, Milan and several Scandinavian cities

in recent years.


Authorities in Beijing recently said they were considering congestion charging, and other

Chinese cities such as Shanghai and Nangjing are reported to be interested. But no city

of the size and complexity of Delhi has attempted to introduce such a scheme.


Few doubt the necessity of radical measures in India’s capital. Construction of a metro

system and measures to boost the use of buses has barely slowed the increase in traffic

in recent years. A decade of rapid economic growth and a broad distaste for public

transport among the expanding middle class means there are now 6.8m vehicles on

Delhi’s roads, at least twice as many as five years ago.


Gridlock is common and, during winter, heavy smog leads to accidents, respiratory

diseases and mass flight cancellations.


Other Indian cities such as Mumbai, the country’s commercial capital, are considering

similar measures. The Delhi scheme would first be implemented in areas around

the historical old centre.


But experts are sceptical. “If you look at what is already in place to reduce congestion,

such as toll gates around Delhi, they make the problem worse, not better,” said Rumi Aijaz,

of the city’s Centre for Policy Research thinktank. “Even if the proposal is accepted

politically, the necessary infrastructure simply isn’t there.”


The tolls on key roads linking Delhi with satellite cities cause huge traffic jams.

Occasionally they are the focus of protests that can turn violent. Aijaz said a broader

strategy to tackle traffic in the city was necessary. “There has to be a range of measures

to manage the issue. Nothing done in isolation will work,” he said.


Experts point out that one serious problem is a lack of proper licensing or law enforcement

in Delhi. Driving permits can be bought illegally and laws that should ensure safe driving

and a smoother traffic flow are routinely ignored.


Fines for traffic violations can usually be avoided by paying a small bribe to police officers.

There are few cameras, although a Facebook page asking irate commuters to post their

own photographs of offenders has met with a massive response.

Senior police officers said charging would be a positive step – if technology to avoid

queuing was introduced. But even if the practical obstacles can be overcome, the support

of the infamously fractious “delhiwalla” – inhabitants of the city – will be hard to win.


Some shopkeepers welcomed the move, but their customers were less enthusiastic.

“People are already reeling under taxes … we don’t need any more,” Mamta Choudhary,

a teacher who regularly shops in one of the areas designated for the new scheme,

told the Times of India newspaper.


Ram Thakur, a 45-year-old manager who spends up to two hours a day in traffic

driving from the satellite city of Faridabad to his office, said no amount of charging

would make him give up the small car that he bought a year ago. “I started on a bicycle

and I’ve taken buses for 20 years. Now I am a car owner and life is very much nicer.

I am not giving it up to go back on buses or bikes,” he told the Guardian.


Dr Robin Hickman, an expert in urban transport at London University, said that

implementing a congestion charge in Delhi would be “extremely difficult. “It would

probably be a better option to increase tax on fuel in the city and invest the funds

generated in public transport,” Hickman, who has worked in Delhi, said.


Does congestion pricing make cities more car-free?

September 10, 2013

By Mary Catherine O’Connor |


GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN – On our way to the nearest tram stop, my husband and I pass a clay tennis court. Earlier, from the open window of our Airbnb-arranged apartment, I heard the grunting of players and pinging of the ball. As we walk by, I look up and notice a sign showing a hand holding two golden orbs, with a road in the background. My first reaction is that the sign offers some warning about errant balls crossing the road. Days later, as I sit down with University of Gothenburg professors Anna Nagurney and Jonas Floden, I learn that this sign is not about tennis, it’s about carbon dioxide.The two orbs actually represent coins, while the street in the background depicts arterial roads that ring this city of 510,000. The sign tells drivers they are about to pass under a camera that will capture their license plate numbers and charge them anywhere from 8 to 18 Swedish Kroner (roughly $1.25 to $2.79) each time they pass. (The charge applies only to cars registered in Sweden, and only on weekdays, between 6 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.)

The city launched congestion pricing on Jan. 1, after bolstering its bus and other public transit systems to accommodate what city officials expected to be a flood of new riders. The goals are to reduce carbon emissions from transportation, unclog traffic snarls during the morning and afternoon rush hours, and fund major, long-overdue transportation infrastructure projects. By Jan. 10, traffic in the city center had plummeted by 25 percent. In late May, however, traffic was down by less than that: only 14 percent compared to the same time period in 2012.

Not all drivers have abandoned their cars as a result of the congestion pricing, but many have switched to public transit for daily commuting, and others drive into the city outside of enforcement hours, Floden says.

“You can feel it and you can see it,” adds Nagurney, referring to the traffic reductions in Gothenburg since the program launched. She is a professor of operational management at the Isenberg School of Management at University of Massachusetts, on sabbatical at the School of Business, Economics and Law at the University of Gothenburg. Floden heads the school’s industrial management and logistics group.

“Gothenburg is continuing to grow, and cars are a major source of carbon emissions,” Floden says.

The congestion pricing program sits aside the city’s other programs to reduce air pollution. The Port of Gothenburg aims to become carbon-neutral by 2015, through a number of incentive programs such as paying shipping companies that use clean fuel. The city’s transit system also plans to start testing electric buses made by hometown manufacturer Volvo.

The congestion pricing program’s short-term intent is to raise funds for a large infrastructure project designed to improve public transit and regional train service. When I ask a young, fresh-faced greeter at the city’s transit information center if the system was set up so drivers are paying for the transit improvements, while transit users will gain all the benefits — more trains, shorter trips, fewer transfers, a new central station — without having to pay anything extra, she responds, “Yes, of course.”

“We need to get people to stop driving, or at least driving during busy hours,” she says, matter-of-factly. “And we need new infrastructure.”

Actually, the national government is footing half of the construction bills, but the rest must come from Gothenburg. Not all locals are happy with the high cost of driving as a result; a referendum has been introduced to reverse the congestion-pricing scheme. But even if the legislation gets enough votes to pass, Floden does not see how the city could actually halt the program, because ground is already being broken and the money already being spent.

Gothenburg is the third fourth European city to launch congestion pricing, following London, Stockholm and Milan. Its structure is patterned after Stockholm’s system, which has cut vehicular traffic in that city by 20 percent, while boosting use of public transit during peak hours by an impressive 78 percent.


A tram shelter, amid low traffic

A Gothenburg tram shelter, amid low traffic.

Some Asian cities are considering congestion pricing, and some prohibit drivers from driving every day — to cut down on congestion and smog, they’re beholden to enter roads on alternating days. Due to horrible air quality, the Chinese city of Shijiazhuang will enact a lottery to allow car ownership to just a portion of its citizens. Singapore also uses congestion pricing, but in a cruel twist, it is still seeing record-breaking air pollution, which is blamed on farmers burning fields in neighboring Sumatra.

A number of U.S. cities, including New York and San Francisco, have considered congestion pricing, but thus far have lacked the wide support to introduce it. With cameras that can quickly read license plates, the infrastructure to deploy congestion pricing is pretty simple and the pay-off, as Stockholm has shown, can be significant. Nagurney, for one, is somewhat optimistic that American cities will come around. “I think it might happen,” she says.

(Images: Top by mikecogh/Flickr; others by Mary Catherine O’Connor)



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