To reduce congestion and excess demand for public goods, market economists introduced the concept of congestion charges. Congestion charges increase the prices for high-demand public goods without increasing their supply. The users pay for the negative effects (such as traffic congestion) produced by their use of the goods. Congestion charges target traffic congestion in urban areas. Several cities have applied congestion charges to control traffic congestion through the introduction of cordon areas in city centers, city toll rings, single facility congestion charges, and congestion charges for being within a certain wide area. A white 'C' within a red circle indicates the beginning of a congestion zone, and a 'C' is crossed at the end of the zone. Below are some urban cities that have successfully implemented congestion charges.
What is a Congestion Charge?
Durham introduced congestion charges in 2002 which reduced traffic congestion by about 85% within the first year. The Durham City congestion charge applies to motorists using Saddler Street to access the Durham Cathedral and the Durham Castle. Since Saddler Street is narrow, traffic congestion was a common problem that lead to several car accidents and pedestrian casualties. Durham was the first city in the UK to introduce congestion charges.
London has the largest congestion zone in the world and was first implemented in 2003. A congestion charge zone has been established in Central London where vehicle users within the zone are charged. The charges are applicable during weekdays and are suspended during weekends, public holidays, and between December 25th and January 1st. The implementation of the system is monitored through automatic vehicle recognition and fees and fines are applicable.
Stockholm introduced the congestion charge on a trial basis between January and July 2006. The trial was a success and the system was implemented on October 2007 with the aim of reducing environmental pollution. The charge applies to vehicles leaving or entering the central Stockholm region during the day and on weekdays.
Other Cities With the Congestion Charge Systems
Valletta, Milan, and Gothenburg implemented congestion charges in 2007, 2012, and 2013 respectively. The cities introduced the charges to reduce traffic congestion, create extra parking slots within congestion charge zones, reduce pollution, and protect and re-establish the public transport sector.
Proponents of the concept of congestion charges cite benefits such as generation of income for local governments and environmental conservation. Another benefit is reduced traffic congestion because drivers will most likely avoid unnecessary driving. By introducing congestion charges on urban roads, users are more likely to use alternative means of transportation such as public transport, walking or cycling. This reduces fossil fuel consumption and air pollution. Reduced traffic on roads also reduces noise and delays associated with too much traffic.
The congestion charge system is criticized by many who believe it is a way of introducing additional taxes to citizens. This particularly applies to low-income travelers because the charges put further strain on their finances. While the charges ease congestion on roads, they are critiqued to shift the congestion to other means of transport such as trains and public vehicles. However, the benefits of congestion charges have positively impacted the economy and the environment. The concept is increasingly being implemented in more urban centers.