Sascha Ruja
International business development of  mobility and urban services - MENS
Published on May 06, 2021

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Road charging: a central measure in transport policy for governments and city authorities worldwide

Regardless of whether the public oppose the introduction of road charging, levying charges for road usage has been a long-standing tradition. The concept of road charging is widely used to increase the efficiency of road usage and usually applied to two types of road networks; uncongested (expandable) inter-urban motorways and congested (non-expandable) urban road networks.

Road charging

- Crédits : © Thaut Images - AdobeStock

The impact of traffic congestion in urban areas

The application of road user charges on inter-urban motorways allows road service providers to collect revenues for building, operating, and maintaining road transport infrastructure. City authorities, on the other hand, charge road users to reduce the impact of traffic congestion in urban networks which impose a significant cost because of delays and uncertainty for individual road users. Congestion related delays result in costs through wasted fuel, vehicle operating costs, and lost travel time. INRIX reported that congestion in and around urban areas in the USA costs each driver US$ 394 in 2020 as compared to US$ 1374 in 2019 (the cost per driver in the UK was £ 291 in 2020 and £ 904 in 2019).

Congestion also severely affects the environment. Most vehicles emit greenhouse gases (CO2) into the atmosphere and therefore contribute to climate change. Air pollution is another serious problem in urban areas which is caused by nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM). The UN reported that air pollution is a major cause of disease and death and air pollution levels in many megacities are among the highest in the world. In 2020, the world’s five largest cities lost approximately 160,000 lives due to poor air quality. Unfortunately, road users have been largely contributing to NOx and PM emissions. Diesel-based vehicles are particularly high emitters of NOx and PM.

While the number of trips, emissions and air pollution temporarily decreased worldwide in 2020 due to the pandemic, various reports predict an increase in congestion, emissions and air pollution reaching pre-pandemic levels in the near future and exceeding these in the long run if no immediate action is taken. Moreover, research reveals that areas with higher exposure to pollutants are likely to have a higher COVID-19 death rate.

The implementation of road charging systems

To fight traffic congestion and pollution problems and ensure the efficient usage of road networks, city authorities can use a mix of policy tools. One option is restricting access into congested and polluted areas by setting bans. Diesel cars are not allowed to enter Paris and Oslo in 2024, Strasbourg (2025), Milan (2027) and Brussels (2030), encouraging carpooling and micro mobility, or discouraging travellers to use congested roads by placing a road charge at certain times of day. However, road charges are often viewed as one of the most effective traffic demand management tools that can restrain congestion and alleviate emissions and pollution as demonstrated in Singapore, London, Stockholm, Gothenburg and Milan.

Empirical data from these cities shows that travel demand has been significantly impacted after the introduction of area charging; more precisely, traffic volume has been reduced by 45% in Singapore, 30% in London, 28% in Stockholm, 10% in Gotheburg and 16% in Milan.

Furthermore, progress is being made in 13 European countries to improve air quality by introducing 247 low emission zones and the implementation of such schemes is gaining acceptance among European citizens and politicians. While many cities restrict access to designated areas for vehicles not meeting a minimum emission standards using enforcement officers to do random checks, an increasing number of cities discourage polluting vehicles to access specific areas by imposing an environmental charge deploying modern technology, such as in Brussels, London, Bath, Birmingham, and in future in Manchester.

In 2020, the environmental report of the German advisory council proposed implementing a distance-based charge in cities and on all roads, while the Swiss federal government published a draft law for consultation in April 2021 that would allow cities and communities to introduce a road user charge (mobility pricing pilots) to influence travel demand for the next 10 years.

Although road charging policy objectives are distinct, all real-world cases have one thing in common: they can significantly reduce travel demand and generate revenues to co-finance infrastructure investments in public transport or shared/micro mobility, which have often proven to be non-profitable. Despite these benefits, acceptance of road user charging is generally low, as was the case in Gothenburg after the introduction of a congestion charge where 57 percent of the participants in a consultative referendum in 2014 voted against the charge. However, the reason for continuing the charging scheme is linked to co-finance large infrastructure programs in and around the city of Gothenburg.

The idea of applying road charging seems to be straightforward. In practice, however, the planning of such schemes is a complex undertaking. Thus, public authorities must consider a number of factors for the implementation of a road charging system that deal with the “type of charge”, “type of vehicle”, “charge location”, “when to charge”, and “type of technology”.

Modern road charging systems are designed to apply several types of charges (point-based, zone-based, distance-based) and for various types of vehicle classes, different types of roads and times-of-day. New-generation road charging systems are based on a modular architecture, scalable to handle high volumes and flexible to address various requirements, while ensuring the protection of personal data.

Video technology plays an increasingly important role in road traffic and has been deployed in various road charging, traffic management, traffic law enforcement, parking management, and access control applications. Video charging is based on highly efficient automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) technology and used by traffic authorities and motorway concessionaires to collect revenues, manage travel demand, enforce toll evaders and polluting vehicle drivers, and improve system operation.

Egis has more than 20 years of experience in road charging and back office management and has developed a modular, resilient, reliable and customer friendly solution for video-based charging and enforcement.

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