Large cities throughout the world have problems with congestion in the city centre, resulting in lost time, lower productivity, higher costs to individuals and businesses, and more air pollution.
There are two ways to address this problem: you can introduce measures to discourage driving in the city or you can provide or improve alternatives to driving in the city. Preferably, you’d do both. Measures to discourage driving could be indirect, such as parking restrictions or fees or bus lanes (which means fewer car lanes). Direct discouragement, in the form of a fee for driving in the city centre (the most well-known is probably the London congestion charge) is more effective. Providing alternatives includes better public transport, infrastructure for cycling or, as Sydney has done, a tunnel under the city so that people can cross from one side to the other without going through the congested city streets.
Australian readers would be aware of the financial problems that the Cross-City Tunnel has had since its inception last year. Today’s Sydney Morning Herald reports that the tunnel, which cost more than $900 million to build, is now worth little more than a third of that.
The main reason for this is that the current usage of the tunnel - 30,000 vehicles per day – is less than a third of the forecast usage of 97,000 vehicles per day.
The tunnel and its associated toll always seemed to me to be the wrong way around. I've always thought there should be a toll for not using the tunnel – for driving through the city instead.
Tunnel users get charge a toll of $3.50 ($7.00 for trucks) for avoiding city traffic. Now, clearly tunnel users get a benefit from avoiding the city congestion, but by taking the tunnel rather than driving through the city, they’re also avoiding contributing to the congestion in the city. So both city drivers and tunnel users benefit from the tunnel, but it’s only the tunnel users who pay for that benefit. If you really want to encourage drivers to avoid the city, why make it free to drive through the city but expensive to use the alternative?
The Sydney CBD is a relatively small area with only a few entry points. If the State government is serious about reducing congestion and making an adequate return from its tunnel, why not introduce a congestion charge that makes it as expensive to use the city streets as to use the tunnel?