The West

Pricing and choice are keys to traffic success

Perth has always resisted the idea of toll roads and congestion charges.

But Vancouver residents have been paying to use some local roads for almost a century.

And next year, they will vote on whether to pay more.

A referendum will decide if a new tax is introduced to fund the expansion of the city's public transport system.

And there's a good chance it will be successful.

In exchange for a new tax, residents have been promised a public transport system that is so frequent that a timetable will not be needed.

The new funding model and the future direction of Vancouver's public transport system have been confirmed in a vision document endorsed and approved by a mayoral council last month.

The vision is built around the premise that more roads will only make the problem of congestion worse.

"To tackle congestion . . . there is only one tool that has a proven track record," the document says.

"It's the tool we use to allocate scarce resources everywhere else in the economy - pricing.

"By pricing roads and public transport so that users pay less to travel on less busy routes and during less busy times of day, drivers and commuters who have more flexibility can change when or where they decide to travel.

"That would free up valuable space for those who have no option but to travel at that time or on that route."

Vancouver residents have been paying tolls for some city bridges for more than 75 years.

The Lions Gate Bridge, partially funded by the Guinness family (of the Irish stout fame), was opened in 1938 and a 25¢ toll was charged for each car.

When the corporation TransLink was formed in 1998 to take full control of the region's public transport and major roads, an extra funding source was needed.

So, after much public debate, it was decided to partially fund the agency with a petrol tax.

But the latest vision proposes a more comprehensive and fairer pricing system. Perth is likely to get its first toll road, with the construction of the $1.6 billion Perth Freight Link between the airport and Fremantle.

But WA's Economic Regulation Authority, in its landmark report into microeconomic reform, recommended that motorists be charged to enter Perth's CBD during peak hours.

It said the State Government should investigate better use of existing infrastructure, including "demand management tools" such as congestion pricing before considering costly new infrastructure spending.

The ERA said congestion in Perth had been caused in part by "underpricing of road use", costing the community $1.6 billion a year of increased travel times, pollution costs and extra fuel costs. TransLink strategic planning and policy director Tamim Raad said a new funding stream would allow the city to work towards an important objective of the Vancouver vision - to create compact urban areas where walking, cycling and public transport were convenient transport options.

And Mr Raad, who lived and worked in Perth during the 1990s, said fewer cars, less driving and more walking, cycling and public transport would generate many other benefits.

These would include saving about $500 a year on transport costs, reducing congestion by 10 per cent and cutting daily commute times by between 20 and 30 minutes.

"At the moment about 50 per cent of the population live within 400m of a public transport service that has a frequency of less than 15 minutes, operates for 15 hours a day and for seven days a week," he said.

"We want to increase that figure significantly.

"But our emphasis is to get more people walking and riding their bikes.

"This is the area where we can make the greatest progress at the lowest net cost."

The West Australian

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