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It is widely recognised that road usage charges and congestion taxes are on their way to Australian roads in the long term future. Significant reform is necessary is to curb traffic congestion and allow more reliable travel time for all road users, particularly those in larger capital cities.

A basic scenario might see road users charged for entering Melbourne or Sydney’s CBD at certain hours of the day, and registration discounts provided to those that travelled on congested roads during off peak times.

But how do you sell a scheme to the general public that very well might cost certain road users more than they are currently paying?

According to research from the University of Sydney, a reform that provides “financial benefits as well as travel time savings” is need to encourage public support.

In a recently released report from the university’s Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies team conclude that the use of widely available digital technology already allows a full scale trial that could be done in a major city today.

Researchers David Hensher and Michiel Bliemer suggest that users could download a smartphone app that would track their typical travel times and offer the following incentives for drivers that were able to alter their driving habits:

  1. The reform proposal involves reducing registration charges according to time of day (moving out of peak and even shoulders or some finer granularity of time periods). One must do this for at least three months of a year’s travel to be eligible for a discount on registration fees.
  2. We can tailor the registration fee reduction to establish enough incentive to trade a lower registration fee with moving to less congested times of day which deliver improved travel times. What we have here is a combined benefit of a reduced registration fee and travel time savings. We understand that not everyone will opt in for many reasons (including they must travel at a particular time of day); although we know from studies we have undertaken previously that there are sufficient travellers who can switch time of day if the incentives are enough to merit it.
  3. To compensate for the loss of registration revenue, the fee will increase if someone stays in the ‘peak’ period or other periods deemed to be the ones to encourage some switching out of. The adjustment in the registration fee would be on some sliding scale to recognise levels of traffic congestion.

Such a initiative has already been trialled in the Netherlands, and there is hope that with general public support there is significant potential of the scheme launching here in Australia.

“In time, with buy in we can start looking towards a distance-based charging scheme (by time of day) with discounted registration fees,” the researchers said.

“This is an ongoing approach we are working on, as are other researchers proposing a distance based system (that is not differentiated by time of day initially) using odometer readings to track registration reduction entitlements.”

The full research report is available here