Could Charging ‘Rent’ on the Roads Abolish Traffic Jams?

IN 2017, WITH technology making much of our day-to-day lives easier, it seems that sitting in traffic jams is something of an anachronism. But how to tackle the logjams that vex us so?

An English economist suggests a radical idea: charging road users for the amount of road they use. Douglas McWilliams, the Deputy Chairman of the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) has written a report that suggests drivers in congested areas like London be charged 8p (the equivalent of 9c) a mile as they drive on roads.
The price would fluctuate similar to Uber’s surge pricing. Rather than increase, McWilliams says his plan would cut the cost of driving.

“Traffic jams are the worst possible way of causing pollution. They waste road users’ time. They damage the economies affected by them. They cause frustration that sometimes spills over into road rage.
“The technology surrounding road usage is at a cusp, but two trends are apparent – namely the move away from fossil fuels as an energy source and the shift towards autonomous self-driving vehicles.

McWilliams says that current road usage works out at between 20p and 60p per mile. Using a self-driving car and road usage charges, he says this could drop to 8p. He adds that the plan could raise an extra £45.9 billion (€52 billion) in taxes which could be invested in roads, cycling routes and pedestrian safety. He says that the system would be implemented by installing a tachograph (or black box) in every car by 2027, with charges phased in gradually each year to 2037. On surge charging, McWilliams says:

“It is technically possible to introduce it so that people are charged retrospectively without knowing. But that would lose the impact on demand that would come from road users knowing what the charges will be in advance and planning their trips around these charges. So surge charging will operate best with the introduction of ‘booked trips’ where, as currently on Uber, trips are booked ahead and you are informed of the price in advance and can agree to accept the surge pricing if appropriate.”

The plan would also introduce roads solely used by autonomous vehicles. The plan has been tested in two focus groups. CEBR says that while “they remain sceptical of the feasibility of the technical advances we have outlined, they provide strong support for the view that if these changes can be achieved they would definitely be a superior result”.