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Middle East  
 
 

Road tolling - yae or nay?

Last week we heard the news that Kuwait is the next in a series of cities and countries to consider introducing road tolling for tax collection and traffic management purposes. Middle East Head of Transport Planning Baz Gharibi gives us the pros and cons.

 

Road tolling is a travel demand management technique that is used to impact travel behaviour to tackle congestion and in this day and age, to encourage people out of their cars and onto more sustainable modes of transport such as public transport. It is also a mechanism for generating revenue for investment in transport improvements and can defer the need for capital investment in highway capacity improvements.  Certainly around the world, tolls are considered as an efficient financing instrument when funding road projects compared to other roadway funding mechanisms since the cost is directly borne by users.

There are many possible benefits of road tolling including reduced congestion, air pollution, traffic noise and improved safety. It can also assist in creating more reliable journey times for road based public transport, and if working to its optimum can potentially have health benefits from increased walking and cycling. It sounds like a win win situation doesn’t it?

In reality however road tolling cannot be applied effectively to every transport system, or indeed every country or city. The effectiveness of discouraging people from travelling a particular route or in an area depends on there being an accessible quality alternative method of travel, for example public transport or easy bike or walking routes. If that doesn’t exist it is likely that in the case of a route-based system where only one particular route is tolled you will just push people onto other routes, displacing the congestion rather than reducing it. Even in an area-based system where a whole area is tolled there will be roads around the periphery of the scheme that will be subject to traffic increases.

Travellers’ may also react by changing their destination, or undertaking fewer trips. Over a period of time, road tolling could actually impact location decisions such as where to live and work and these impacts need to be assessed.

Where it has been implemented successfully – in  Singapore, London and Dubai there are some key similarities. Firstly as discussed they already have good quality public transport systems. They are also locations that are recognised internationally as great commercial cities and consequently they do not need to fear the risk of companies locating elsewhere to avoid the tolls. They are also generally places where the collection of the tolls is organised efficiently and where compliance with the regulations that are required to compliment road user charging systems is enforced effectively. Finally they all have other demand management techniques in place alongside tolling.

Looking locally, in Dubai Salik has been used since 2007 and is currently located at six locations - Al Garhoud Gate, Al Maktoum Gate, Al Safa Gate, Al Barsha Gate, Airport Tunnel Gate and Mamzar Gate – and has reduced traffic on key links by encouraging the use of alternate routes such as Business Bay Crossing, Al Khail Road, and Sheikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Road.

Another good example is Singapore, where they have employed variable road pricing -the toll charges vary according to according to traffic flows, charges are higher when the road is congested. This has successfully reduced traffic in the peak hour period, the number of solo drivers and has encouraged people to re-plan their trips in non-peak hours.

For me however the point is that road tolling can be effective in managing traffic in the right circumstances and with the right approach but it cannot be seen as a silver bullet solution. It must be considered as part of a myriad of methods to achieve the desired goal rather than a standalone strategy to be effective. Sadly, things are rarely that simple.

 

 

 

 

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