Our Cities Aren't Congested. A Peak Hour Tax Is The Last Thing We Need.
There’s no denying that congestion has become the topic du jour for many inner-suburban and city-dwelling Australians.
And I sympathise: no one enjoys spending their free time backed up bumper-to-bumper, for hours on end when they could be doing something enjoyable. Not to mention the productivity loss incurred as you crawl your way in and out of work during the dreaded AM/PM peaks in snail-like pace on a busy Sydney road.
So, it comes of little surprise that when renewed calls for congestion taxes were raised last week, as a remedy to our perceived congestion woes, it was met with sizeable criticism in both the public and political spheres.
According to a recommendation from a new report released by the Grattan Institute, the easiest way to tackle congestion in our capital cities, would be to introduce a ‘modest’ congestion tax. By its calculations, this could reduce the number of vehicles entering the CBD by up to 40 percent during peak hours.
This isn’t a new concept. Congestion taxes have been floated around by industry bodies, academics and successive governments alike, for well over three decades and to little avail. Despite some noise from the media and the public, one reason a congestion tax has rightly failed to get over the line, is that there is a distortion of the scale of the perceived congestion problem we have in our cities.
By world standards, we are not congested, nor are we dense. In fact, some of our favourite cities including London and Tokyo are 10-12 times more dense than Sydney.
And despite the narrative that we are too full (and we aren’t), increasing density in our cities would actually help alleviate symptoms of congestion.
If everyone can live, work, and recreate in the same place, the need for a car becomes almost non-existent. Density also allows public transport to be optimised. So, at a time when we are witnessing a significant government investment in public infrastructure, we should allow planned infrastructure projects to operate fully before exploring taxation.
And it’s already hard enough for the everyday Aussie to get by. The cost of living across the country is rising and congestion charges will simply add to the living costs for people residing in our major cities -- and there are approximately 67 percent of us choosing to live in six places. The last thing workers and families need, in my view, is to be hit with another charge, simply for trying to make their way to earn an honest buck.
Additionally, increasing revenue from cars that need to access areas of a city is counter-productive. In essence, people congregating together create productivity that is rarely possible when people are apart. Given the growing murmur of economic uncertainty, implementing taxes that could potentially deter those businesses, whose services rely upon a vehicle and the need to enter the city, would be misguided. People such as delivery drivers, repair and maintenance workers, suppliers of food and goods, will have new costs that they will pass onto consumers and that is not a good thing.
The congestion pricing model already exists in many cities like Singapore and congestion taxes do work quite effectively, where there is significant density and a highly-effective transport system to allow for an alternative. And there’s no doubt taxes do and will, make consumers think twice about driving into work in the morning, and therefore reduce the overall number of cars clogging city roads. But this should always be brought in as a last-ditch measure, should all else prove ineffective.
Our cities are on the cusp of a new transport evolution: The Sydney Metro is live; the light rail is undergoing final testing. Let’s allow enough time for people to enjoy and patronise these new transport solutions, before we slap them with bills and taxes that will disproportionately affect those less privileged in our city.