The roads minister of New South Wales (NSW) in Australia has welcomed a call for income-based road tolls and higher charges for those with good access to public transport who use their cars instead.
With the introduction of a per-kilometre road user charge (RUC), drivers would be encouraged to use their cars less, reducing traffic and emissions, a report by the Committee for Sydney has argued.
“Just as we pay a fare to catch the train, ferry or bus, we should also pay a fare to drive on the roads,” report author and committee public policy advisor Harri Bancroft said.
According to Bancroft, the only way to reduce congestion and get more people using alternative means of transport was to put a price on road use.
To ensure fairness for those in low-density areas whose only option was to drive, the charge could take into account ease of access to public transport and could also be based on household income.
Concessional rates could also be considered for road users such as truck drivers, tradespeople, carshare vehicles and carers, she said.
NSW roads minister John Graham welcomed the urban policy think-tank’s ideas as “thoughtful and bold”.
Suggestions of a central business district congestion tax or continuous motorway network were ruled out for being in conflict with election promises.
“But the submission does contain some bold ideas that should be up for discussion in our city,” said Graham at a Roads Australia industry event.
“We will be looking carefully at the impact of the public transport system as we adjust to toll road prices, and how the two systems interact.”
The NSW government has already flagged it wants to restructure how commuters pay for Sydney’s 13 toll roads, to make it more equitable and encourage more use of public transport.
Households and businesses in NSW reportedly pay about A$5.75m (£2.93m) per day to toll road operators, with the people hardest hit said to be living in the city’s west.
The Committee for Sydney report was made in submission to the NSW government review of road tolls led by former Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chair Allan Fels.
Bancroft said the review was an opportunity for NSW to lead Australia in ambitious and meaningful toll reform.
“While much of the public debate on tolls has been focused on the cost of them, we have not been considering the cost of the alternative – traffic,” she said.
“Everyone loves to hate them, but reducing tolls will simply shift the cost of driving from people’s pockets to people’s time.”
She noted the federal government would likely look to introduce RUC to compensate for the loss of fuel excise as people shifted to electric vehicles.
While the proposed strategies might be unpopular, the aim was to encourage people to use their cars less, which Bancroft said was the only viable option as populations in urban centres grew.
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