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Bridging the knowledge gap

Posted: 6 December 2006 | Dr Chris Humphrey, Project Manager, CURACAO | No comments yet

The unsustainable levels of congestion and pollution affecting Europe’s cities are being tackled by soft measures that seek to manage the insatiable demand for greater mobility. One powerful measure at a city’s disposal is pricing road space by time and place of access. In this article Dr Chris Humphrey introduces a new European Commission project, CURACAO, which aims to support the implementation of the fair and efficient pricing of roads, and its accompanying benefits for cities.
Introduction

Congestion continues to be a significant factor affecting the quality of life in today’s cities. That said, in cities where road pricing measures have been implemented, for instance in London and Durham in the UK, levels of congestion have fallen significantly. In addition, numerous demonstrations, trials and studies have proven that the technology works and that pricing schemes can deliver real benefits, most in recently in Stockholm in Sweden.

The unsustainable levels of congestion and pollution affecting Europe’s cities are being tackled by soft measures that seek to manage the insatiable demand for greater mobility. One powerful measure at a city’s disposal is pricing road space by time and place of access. In this article Dr Chris Humphrey introduces a new European Commission project, CURACAO, which aims to support the implementation of the fair and efficient pricing of roads, and its accompanying benefits for cities. Introduction Congestion continues to be a significant factor affecting the quality of life in today’s cities. That said, in cities where road pricing measures have been implemented, for instance in London and Durham in the UK, levels of congestion have fallen significantly. In addition, numerous demonstrations, trials and studies have proven that the technology works and that pricing schemes can deliver real benefits, most in recently in Stockholm in Sweden.

The unsustainable levels of congestion and pollution affecting Europe’s cities are being tackled by soft measures that seek to manage the insatiable demand for greater mobility. One powerful measure at a city’s disposal is pricing road space by time and place of access. In this article Dr Chris Humphrey introduces a new European Commission project, CURACAO, which aims to support the implementation of the fair and efficient pricing of roads, and its accompanying benefits for cities.

Introduction

Congestion continues to be a significant factor affecting the quality of life in today’s cities. That said, in cities where road pricing measures have been implemented, for instance in London and Durham in the UK, levels of congestion have fallen significantly. In addition, numerous demonstrations, trials and studies have proven that the technology works and that pricing schemes can deliver real benefits, most in recently in Stockholm in Sweden.

However, it remains the case that very few politicians in European cities have come out and publicly declared that they will implement road pricing measures.

This shortfall, between the potential of road pricing and the progress of its actual implementation, is the focus of a new project funded by the European Commission. The project, Coordination of Urban Road User Charging Organisational Issues (CURACAO for short), aims to bridge this knowledge gap and find out what decision makers require in order to progress with a road pricing policy in their city. Once these requirements are understood, targeted resources and events can be delivered that assist decision makers in moving forward with a pricing agenda. While the project builds on earlier road pricing projects such as CUPID, PRoGR?SS and EURoPrice, the focus differs in that the main set of deliverables will be products and events, rather than demonstrations and evaluation reports.

What are some of the issues currently confronting decision makers in cities? In terms of technology lifecycle and market conditions, road pricing can be characterised as in the ‘chasm’ phase, whereby those seeking to gain an advantage from new technology have done so, while those who are more cautious wait to see which solution will emerge as the market leader. In terms of public opinion, surveys show that respondents are sceptical of the effectiveness of pricing, since the perception is that people are not able to change, or won’t want to change, their travel behaviour in response to pricing measures. Pricing is also a potentially divisive issue politically, and as such it may be felt to be ‘too hot to handle’, lacking a charismatic champion, or unable to gain majority support, within a city’s political system.

By definition, successful implementations of road pricing schemes such as London and Rome (see Figure 1) have shown that these obstacles can and will be overcome, if tackled in the right way. Therefore, any initiative that seeks to increase the uptake of pricing would do well to involve cities with practical experience of successful implementation. It should share good practice and recommend ways that public acceptability can be improved. Finally, and perhaps most importantly of all, the initiative should aim to build the momentum towards the ‘tipping point’ of road pricing adoption, leaving a permanent legacy of improved mobility in cleaner, quieter and safer cities.

In the next section, the CURACAO project and its distinctive approach to promoting and supporting the fair and efficient pricing of roads in Europe’s cities is described.

Introducing the CURACAO project

The CURACAO project is a consortium of fifteen member organisations, coordinated by Transport & Travel Research, a UK transport consultancy. The consortium includes ten expert partners, consisting of commercial consultancies, academic institutions and government agencies, and five city representatives with direct experience of road pricing schemes, either as demonstrations or full implementations (see Table 1). The project began in April 2006 and will run for three years.

Where CURACAO differs from other projects, and what will help it finally succeed, is that it approaches road pricing implementation as an iterative rather than as a linear process. Experience has shown there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, a magic formula that can guarantee the success of a scheme. Rather, European cities each have their distinctive political, legal and public acceptability issues to overcome, and so what worked for Stockholm may not work for another European city. Recognising this fundamental diversity, CURACAO will support a small group of cities through the unique issues encountered at each stage of the implementation lifecycle, from fact-finding to planning to implementation. A positive cycle of knowledge growth and development will be established, by continually identifying user needs and delivering products and events which can satisfy those needs.

The initial identification of the needs of decision makers and technical experts in European cities has been carried out through a User Needs Assessment questionnaire, undertaken in July 2006. Using the results from the questionnaire, cities who expressed an interest have agreed to join a User Group, chaired by a representative from the city of Bristol, one of the CURACAO project partners. Seventeen cities from nine countries have so far joined the User Group. The CURACAO User Group will meet bi-annually. The first meeting of the year will concentrate on identifying a specific issue or barrier that requires further in-depth exploration. The second meeting of the year will focus on the delivery of solutions to the issues or barriers previously identified, drawing upon the expertise and practical experience of the project partners. Currently the first meeting of the User Group is being planned for London in March 2007, focussing on the issues around acceptability and scheme design.

In addition to the User Group meetings and events, CURACAO will publish a regular state-of-the-art report on particular themes relating to road pricing implementation, such as acceptability, policy objectives and scheme design. An online database of good practices and a step-by-step handbook to guide the design and implementation of road pricing schemes will also be delivered. These products will be made available to decision makers and technical experts at events and through the project’s website at www.curacaoproject.eu.

The work being undertaken by the consortium partners to identify the barriers to road pricing implementation, and to disseminate the scientific knowledge and good practice that will assist cities in overcoming these barriers, is described in the next section.

Intelligent solutions to pricing probems

Identifying User Needs

In May 2006 a total of 43 European cities or regions with a potential interest in road pricing were identified. These cities and regions were approached by the project partners and asked to complete a questionnaire. In total 22 completed questionnaires were returned by the closing date of the assessment exercise. The results of the User Needs Assessment exercise have been analysed and used to inform other activities in the project.

The most important question related to the different barriers which respondents were encountering with road pricing, and the relative weightings that they gave to these barriers. As already noted, while road pricing is a powerful tool for managing mobility demand, cities have on the whole been slow to implement actual schemes. Therefore respondents were offered a list of possible barriers to implementation, and asked to choose 5, ranking them from 1 to 5 in order of priority. Figure 2 shows the results.

The lack of a political champion and low public acceptability were the top two barriers, followed by the difficulty of panning and managing such a large project. A further outcome from this question was the identification of a number of barriers which were not given as options in the original questionnaire, identified as ‘Other’ in Figure 2. Four of these unidentified barriers were given the highest priority by respondents, and include legal barriers and uncertainty about economic impacts.

By understanding the barriers that cities face, both known and newly identified, CURACAO is able to target its resources to offer solutions from cities with experience of overcoming such issues. While some issues will have a straightforward resolution, others will be more complex and require deeper exploration.

Ensuring Scientific Excellence

Using its network of experts, CURACAO is able to monitor developments at national and local levels. It is also able to maintain an overview of the latest academic research on urban pricing. By capturing this intelligence in a regular summary report, the project team and the target audiences will have access to the state-of-the-art knowledge on road pricing practice. An initial set of reporting themes have been supplemented by the results of the User Needs Assessment exercise, to produce the following list:

  1. Objectives
  2. Scheme Design
  3. Technology
  4. Prediction
  5. Appraisal
  6. Acceptability
  7. Equity
  8. Transferability
  9. Economy

A state-of-the-art report covering these themes will be produced annually and published on the CURACAO project website.

Learning from Case Studies

Local policy makers and researchers will need further and more detailed information on the impacts of urban pricing. This information will be provided through case studies of leading cities in the field, to assess issues such as the socio-economic and spatial impacts of road pricing schemes. The case studies will build on the evaluation work already undertaken in previous European projects, including CUPID, PRoGRESS and REVENUE. The key demonstration sites of Bristol, Edinburgh, Oslo, Rome and Stockholm are included, along with information from The Hague, London and other cities. Each city has a distinct contribution to make in terms of how pricing has been used to achieve particular policy objectives (see Figure 3), or how lessons can be learned from the planning process (Edinburgh).

CONCLUSION

The potential of road pricing schemes to improve traffic flows and encourage modal switch within European cities is not in doubt. Where questions remain are in respect of the apparently slow progress of cities in moving forward with a pricing agenda. In fact, the User Needs Assessment conducted by the CURACAO project has shown that many cities are actually pressing ahead with the study component of pricing schemes (10 out of 22 respondents).

The real impediment to further progress can be explained in terms of a number of distinct barriers that decision makers are facing. The identification of these barriers has therefore accomplished the first phase in bridging the knowledge gap within the current road pricing agenda: what stops cities moving forward? With this knowledge in hand, it then becomes possible to undertake the second phase of bridging the knowledge gap: working closely with cities to provide the advice, skills, experience and understanding required in order for them to overcome these barriers.

humphrey figure 1

humphrey figure 2

humphrey table 1

REFERENCES

See “CfIT’s world review of road pricing phase 1 – lessons for the UK”, page 2, available at http://www.cfit.gov.uk/docs/2006/wrrp1/index.htm.

The Stockholm trial was concluded on 31 July 2006. For more information see http://www.stockholmsforsoket.se/templates/page.aspx?id=183.

CURACAO is financed under the 6th EU Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development. The project code is 19788.

See http://www.transport-pricing.net/ for further details of these projects.

See Moore, G. A., Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers, HarperCollins, New York, 2002.

See “Public attitudes to congestion and road pricing”, page 19, available at www.dft.gov.uk/stellent/groups/dft_transstats/documents/pdf/dft_transstats_pdf_611869.pdf.

For more information see the project website at http://www.curacaoproject.eu/.

For further details of the CURACAO project, and/or to join the user group, please contact [email protected]

Dr Chris Humphrey is a Principal Consultant at Transport & Travel Research Ltd, and Project Manager for CURACAO.

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