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Report recommends congestion charges

Congestion charges should be introduced in Sydney and Melbourne, according to a Grattan Institute report that has analysed road congestion in Australia’s major cities.

Stuck in traffic? Road congestion in Sydney and Melbourne has warned that both cities, with growing populations, could face traffic gridlock in the future unless decisive action is taken to manage congestion.

The report findings are based on an examination of 3.5 million Google Maps trip-time estimates across more than 350 routes over six months of this year.

The Grattan Institute has said that in the middle and outer suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne, most drivers have a pretty smooth run most of the time. Commutes to the CBD, however, can take more than twice as long as the same trips would take in the middle of the night.

In Sydney, CBD commuters from Balgowlah in the north and Hurstville in the south can expect delays of about 15 minutes on an average morning, which is reportedly far longer than commuters from other parts of the city.

In Melbourne, the worst delays are for people commuting from north-eastern suburbs, including Heidelberg, Kew and Doncaster. Drivers who have to use the Eastern Freeway and Hoddle Street in the morning peak are often delayed for more than 20 minutes, and the length of the delay can vary greatly from day to day.

The report has recommended congestion charges in the most congested central areas of each city. Key bottlenecks in Sydney include The Spit Bridge and the commute to the CBD from Drummoyne via Balmain.

According to Grattan Institute, Melbourne should introduce a ‘CBD cordon’ congestion charge, similar to London’s. The cordon could cover Hoddle Street to the east, Royal Parade to the west, City Road and Olympic Boulevard to the south, and Alexandra Parade to the north, with motorists charged when they drive across the cordon into the city during peak periods.

Grattan Institute has claimed that people who pay the charge would potentially get a quicker and more reliable trip, as there would be fewer cars on the road at peak times. People who can travel outside of the peaks would not have to pay, because there would be no congestion charge when the roads are not congested.

To make clear that the new charges are to help manage traffic flows rather than boost revenue, the report has recommended that the money raised should be used to fund a discount on vehicle registration fees and improvements to the train, tram, ferry and bus networks.

The report has dismissed the idea that new city freeways are the answer to road congestion. It has said that new roads are important for areas of new growth or substantial redevelopment, but close to the city centres it is often more effective and always cheaper to invest in smaller-scale engineering and technology improvements such as traffic-light coordination, smarter intersection design, variable speed limits and better road surfaces and gradients.

“Don’t listen to the politicians who tell you big new roads will be ‘congestion busters’,” said Grattan Institute Transport Program Director, Marion Terrill.

“You can’t build your way out of congestion.

“We need more sophisticated solutions. Some of the great cities of the world have successful congestion pricing schemes, including London, Stockholm and Singapore.

“For Sydney and Melbourne, congestion pricing would deliver city-wide benefits – not only reducing the amount of time we spend stuck in traffic, but also funding better public transport and a cut to car registration fees,” she said.

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