Congestion pricing: Are we there yet?
If you’ve been to cities where congestion pricing was in place, you will have noticed something neat: In areas where it’s most expensive to drive, there are fewer cars than where it’s free. And that’s a beautiful thing when you’re on foot.
London, UK, is a great example of that. Oh sure, if you want to drive to town (which you shouldn’t, it’s a very silly thing to do), it’ll cost you. I’ve been there a few times since they’ve introduced the scheme and I can tell you how much better it is to get around by walking. Or transit; I’ve used the tube and buses plenty, and never found myself struggling to get where I was going quickly, except for that time when a few trains got delayed and we wound up stacked like sweaty sardines for a few minutes.
It was not the most pleasant ride for this claustrophobe, but you know, I survived.
There’s another reason why congestion pricing is great: It raises plenty of money from those who wish to drive downtown anyway. And those monies can (and should) be used to improve transit systems.
Imagine if we charged a toll in Ottawa to go anywhere north of the Queensway between, say, Parkdale or Bronson on the west side to Nicholas or the Vanier Parkway on the east side. Overnight you’d see a reduction in car traffic because most people dislike tolls and the prospect of being charged one would be just the push needed to get them out of their cars and onto transit. Especially if the money raised in tolls was used to improve said transit.
There should be exceptions, of course. Delivery trucks, handicapped folks, and low-income people should either get a special pass and/or significant discounts, especially in off-peak periods. The point is not to penalize unduly those for whom taking transit is a near impossibility. But for the rest of us able-bodied and not-financially-struggling bipeds, oh yeah. The more unpleasant, the better. Just like in London.
When I had to stay there for a few nights while on a filming trip to the UK back in 2015, I deliberately chose an area just outside the paying zone to rent an apartment. We had lots of filming equipment that we carried in two separate cars (there were six of us, and we went everywhere in England including very rural areas). We had to do lots of filming in central London but not the budget to go with staying in central London. So I found a nice apartment in West Kensington, rented two parking spots not too far away (I use www.justpark.com to find them, fantastic little tool, that), and took the tube and walked to get to various locations, carrying the equipment on my back.
I would never have looked at West Kensington if it hadn’t been for that congestion pricing zone. I’d have gone straight to the city centre. And I would have missed a fantastic neighbourhood. Next time I need to stay in London, I’m going back there - by choice this time. And once again I’ll use transit and walk.
The reason most people say they can’t switch to transit is either because it’s so inefficient that it takes too long because buses get stuck in traffic, or because they work split shift or off-peak hours and the transit options at those times just plain suck.
Well, what if we could finance significant improvement to transit schedules by taking money from people who insist on driving downtown despite the toll? And what if our buses were able to get in and out of town quickly because of reduced car traffic? Wouldn’t that be a treat? Would it make you switch from car to transit?
I know how used we are to driving everywhere. I’m as guilty of this as the next car owner. I also know we shouldn’t be as dependent on our metal boxes as we are. But I know something else, too: that we won’t change our habits unless we are forced to. I say it’s time.