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Congestion Charging on the Horizon for China’s Cities
Posted By Charles Komanoff On December 18, 2013 @ 1:00 pm In China,Congestion Pricing | 6 Comments
Which Chinese city will be the first to try congestion pricing? Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai — megacities whose populations are on the scale of New York’s? Or second-tier but still mighty cities (think Chicago) like Hangzhou, Nanjing, or Xi’an?
Road tolling à la American turnpikes and thruways is already extensive in China, as a means to finance highways rather than manage traffic. Increasingly, however, with traffic and vehicle exhaust demonstrably harming business as well as human health in dozens of cities, and with strategies like quotas on new vehicles unable to offset the growth in driving, officials are looking to “economic measures.” Tolling vehicle entries to congested city centers has established a strong enough track record elsewhere in improving traffic flow and air quality that it is attracting interest not just from municipal officials but also from China’s national transport and environment ministries.
Cordon or congestion pricing, as such tolling is called, was Topic “A” last week in Hangzhou, a city of nearly 4 million (6 million counting suburbs) south of Shanghai. Some 200 officials and academics from 11 provinces, 30 cities, and at least a dozen universities packed a two-day “International Forum on Economic Policies for Traffic Congestion and Tailpipe Emissions” organized by the Energy Foundation China. Representatives from the four largest world cities with cordon tolling — Singapore, London, Stockholm and Milan — related their successes and fielded questions on everything from the digital nuts and bolts of tolling technologies to the political path that led to implementation. I was invited to report on NYC’s mixed record and share analytical insights from my traffic modeling work.
I’m still sifting impressions, but here are some takeaways thus far:
The discussion was grounded in the experiences of Europe and Singapore. What especially resonated with the Chinese delegates was London’s provision of many new bus lines before the toll scheme was rolled out; Stockholm’s referendum win after congestion pricing had been proven on a trial basis; Milan’s transition from a pollution-based to a congestion-based charge, as vehicle turnover moved the mix from old, polluting tailpipes to cleaner ones, and traffic efficiency began to have equal priority with air quality; and Singapore’s “dynamic” pricing adjusting the toll level to the gridlock level. If there was one strong single lesson, it was that both the political sell and the toll design must be geared to each city’s circumstances.
For China, there are stirrings that congestion pricing may get a serious hearing at the National People’s Congress in March, 2014, possibly leading to designation of one or more cities for pilot projects. For New York City, there’s the Move NY/Sam Schwartz plan to overhaul the city’s tolling system and charge vehicle entries to the Manhattan CBD while reducing rates on the seven MTA bridges that don’t funnel traffic into the urban core.
Given NYC’s iconic status in the world, it would be potentially game-changing on a global scale to be able to showcase New York in China as a leader in “economic policies for traffic congestion and tailpipe emissions.”
Copies of visuals by Komanoff and other non-Chinese presenters will be posted soon at http://www.efchina.org .
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 Bert van Dijk: http://www.flickr.com/photos/75478114@N00/4441639559/
 http://www.efchina.org: http://www.efchina.org/
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