100,000 drivers: Traffic incentive
By Rae Furlonge Traffic and Transport Engi Thursday, January 3 2008
The severity of the traffic congestion situation must be a major headache for the Minister of Works and Transport, especially when you add his concern for the frequent flooding in various parts of the country, and recently assigned responsibility for URP and CEPEP social assistance programmes.
Traffic congestion is only relieved when the numbers of vehicles in the traffic stream are reduced drastically. I postulate that in the Trinidad situation, 30 to 40 percent have to be removed from our roadways, at least during peak hours. That is, transit usage has to be between 60 and 70 percent, as in countries that have successful transit systems. In other words, we have to find a way to persuade 60,000 to 100,000 drivers to not use their vehicles, particularly during peak hours. Or, up to 200,000 vehicles by the year 2011 — the year of the rapid rail!
Up until 1996, 60 percent of workers in Trinidad travelled by public transit (bus, maxi-taxi, taxi, PH) that is still almost exclusively unsubsidised, unsupported, and totally unmanaged by Government. According to the Parsons Brinckerhoff study, in the East West Corridor between PoS and Arima, where slightly less than 40 percent of the workforce reside, only about 40 percent of all peak hour travellers currently use public transit, aided by Government policy which continues to favour private car ownership. For the rest of the country, just about 30 percent of all peak hour travellers currently use public transit.
Most people will simply not give up the comfort and convenience of their cars, despite the huge traffic congestion being both caused and experienced by them, except if penalties are imposed on them as a congestion alleviation device to coerce them to change their mode of transport.
Regardless of the degree of car ownership, there will always be a significant portion of the population who are unable to access a private car. It is an advantage to a society who can offer high-quality public transportation services and other activities suited to walking access. These minimise the creation of second class citizens, or those not owning cars, or who cannot or do not want to drive.
According to Professor Vukan Vuchic, in his book Transportation for Livable Cities, one of the fundamental characteristics of a livable nation should be the ability to travel conveniently without having to own or operate a car. The requirement to have and to operate a car is often an imposition on individuals as well as a source of high, uncompensated social costs.
He says the inherent physical problem with private automobiles is that each trip by car requires a large area for vehicle movement and parking. When a large volume of traffic is concentrated in urban areas, streets become congested, thus defeating the potentially high mobility of cars. The congestion also impedes all other traffic using streets, such as transit, trucks, and emergency vehicles. The car causes travel time losses and other inefficiencies and has negative impacts on the man-made and natural environments of urban areas.
He suggests that two sets of policies need to be implemented: transit incentives and auto disincentives. Transit incentives are measures that result in decreased disutility of transit travel, such as increased frequency of service, reliability, comfort, lower fares, and construction of higher-quality transit mode. Auto disincentives are measures that increase monetary costs or decrease the convenience of auto travel, such as higher gasoline taxes, parking charges, limitations on street and parking capacity.
Car-user direct costs, or variable costs, are those that the user pays for each trip. They consist mainly of gasoline, parking, and any toll expenditures. These costs are sometimes referred to as “out-of-pocket costs.”
Car-user indirect costs, or fixed costs, are expenditures for owning and operating a car that are not directly related to each trip or the distance travelled. They include the costs of owning a car, including its depreciation, maintenance, insurance, uncovered accident costs, registration, and tax.
Car-subsidies are the costs of car travel paid by other sources other than car users.
There are two major contributors of subsidies:
(a) Government, and;
(b)Companies, which as employers, retailers, or other organisations, cover directly or indirectly part of the travel costs of their employees, customers, or the general public. Government subsidies include expenses for road construction and maintenance that are in excess of revenues collected as car-user taxes, costs of traffic control and management, police and emergency service, etc. Subsidies by companies include “free” parking, a standard practice for virtually all employers, schools, major retail outlets, and other institutions.
Social costs include the time, inconvenience, safety, and other consequences of traffic congestion that directly affect other travellers, including pedestrians.
The cost structure of auto use is such that only ten to 20 percent of the user costs are out-of-pocket costs, and 80 to 90 percent are indirect costs. When out-of-pocket cost is substantially lower than full cost, the only significant deterrent to high auto usage is traffic congestion. But when highway capacity increases, it stimulates more driving and increases vehicle-kilometres travelled, which results in higher indirect user costs and negative social and environmental impacts.
The major question is how to implement auto-use disincentives to reduce chronic congestion. Auto-use disincentives are considerably difficult to implement because they affect some people negatively and therefore face political opposition. We must remember that the thinking that has got us into this problem cannot be the thinking that will get us out of it! It is early in the new political term and so it may be easier to address the unpalatable solutions—these we explore next week.