David Hendsbee, the councillor for Preston and the Eastern Shore in the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM), is once again raising the idea that HRM needs a targeted congestion charge. He previously raised the same idea more than two years ago, noting that “it’s the only effective way to try to control the traffic in and out of the downtown core.”
As we noted in our paper, congestion charges have long been advocated by economists as an efficient solution to traffic congestion. Congestion results from the simple phenomenon of the quantity of road space demanded exceeding the quantity supplied. The most direct and efficient way to reduce quantity demanded is to increase the price for that road space from $0 to some positive amount during peak periods. Indeed, a number of cities have successfully implemented congestion charges, including London, Singapore, Stockholm and Milan.
The Halifax Peninsula is well suited for a congestion charge because: Many people work on the peninsula but few live there, it is geographically constrained, there are few, 7 in total, access points, it is home to the Port of Halifax that generates significant truck traffic, public transit is insufficient to meet demand, there is limited ability to address congestion through additional road infrastructure, and settlement patterns and economic growth indicate that congestion will only worsen. These factors result in the peninsula facing serious traffic congestion on the seven roads leading to and from the peninsula during peak community times (7:30-9:30 a.m. and 3:30-5:30 p.m.).
Unfortunately, the public is often ill informed about congestion charges, with opponents often levying accusations that the charge is nothing more than a tax grab. The dichotomy that exists between public sentiment and theoretical appeal suggests there remain challenges surrounding the feasibility of implementing a congestion charge.
Interestingly, however, public appetite for congestion charges increases dramatically when they are part of a suite of initiatives (including earmarking revenues for public transit service and improved road infrastructure) and there is a trial period to show the reduced congestion from the charge.
This means that in order for a congestion charge in Halifax to be successful, it must be carefully implemented. Our work provides HRM, or any similar municipality, with 11 clear and detailed implementation criteria that should be followed to ensure successful implementation. These criteria allow HRM to develop a plan that is technically, administratively and politically feasible and would allow HRM to not only respond to public sentiment but also rally public approval.
We strongly encourage David Hendsbee and the rest of HRM to continue their leadership role in this area, but not to neglect the fact that the path to implementation is wrought with many twists, turns and dead ends that can be avoided and minimized with carefully planning and adherence to our implementation criteria.
Lindsay Tedds is an assistant professor of economics in the School of Public Administration at the University of Victoria. You can follow her on twitter @LindsayTedds.