Netherlands: road-pricing ‘most effective’ but still taboo
The most effective way to fight congestion is to make drivers pay for using the road. The Dutch business community has become convinced of this. After all, the Netherlands must urgently do something to tackle their growing traffic jam problem, but the current Dutch government is not planning to introduce a payment system for road use in its period of office.
Fewer traffic jams
“Road-pricing is more effective than any other measure”, says Bert van Wee, professor of transport policy at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. “This is more effective than free public transport or new roads because they mainly attract traffic.”
“A highway lane can easily handle between 1.500 and 1.800 vehicle movements per hour, but above 2.000 things are starting to go wrong. Then a few percentages more traffic can cause disproportionately more traffic jams. If the traffic density can be reduced a little with road-pricing, this will result in substantially fewer traffic jams.”
Foreign examples are there
Models show that the payment system, which the Netherlands wanted to introduce in 2009 under the then Minister Camiel Eurlings, could have reduced traffic jams by 20% to 50%.
Cities such as London, Stockholm and Singapore, which have introduced a form of road-pricing that is less radical than the one the Netherlands wanted to propose, have actually seen their traffic jams decrease. The same applies to Belgium and Germany, where trucks above 3,5 tons are subject to some form of kilometre charge.
Taboo for political parties
In the Netherlands, road-pricing is actually only taboo for a few political parties – with the governing VVD at the forefront. Nevertheless, the Netherlands will urgently need to do something to solve the traffic jams, everybody acknowledges.
The Netherlands expect a spectacular increase in traffic congestion in the coming years. The travel time loss will increase by more than a third (35%) over the next five years, according to KiM (the Dutch Institute for Mobility).
Experiments to push back traffic jams are foreseen in the coalition agreement, but details are not known. In the consultative body Mobility, in which the government makes agreements with social partners and companies about CO2 reduction, the theme of ‘others forms of funding mobility’ is addressed, but it is the only one of the five topics dealt with that is given the lighter label ‘exploration’ instead of ‘commission’.
Automotive sector is in favour
The automotive sector is in favour of a kilometre charge, although organizations such as Bovag (the trade association for car dealers and garages) and the umbrella co-operation association, Mobility Alliance, prefer not to use the word ‘road-pricing’.
That term is ‘too charged’. In reports or on their website they talk about ‘marketable rush-hour rights’ or a ‘fair tax regime’ with payment only for use’.
Drop in purchase tax
Steven van Eijck, chairman of the RAI Association and member of the consultative body Mobility, expects ‘paying for use’ to be introduced within five to ten years. “It is the only way to be able to continue collecting the 20 billion euro in taxes that road transport now generates for the government every year.”
By 2025, electrically powered cars, to which the BPM purchase tax does not apply, will no longer be more expensive than petrol and diesel cars. This means that BPM income will continue to drop. The tax on fossil fuels will also bring in less money.
“So we have to move to a different system, where, for example, a plumber – who has to travel during rush hours – pays less than an older person who could have travelled at another time.”
Solution lies within an app
An app could be the solution to calculate the cost of road-pricing. Companies that can provide the technology for ‘the new road-pricing system’ – such as Google, chip manufacturer NXP and KPN – are not present at the formal consultations within the Mobility Alliance.
Van Eijck disputes the argument that this kind of road-pricing could cause privacy problems. “A modern car already sends out more data than a Boeing 737 to the manufacturer”, he says. “For a car manufacturer, it is technically even possible to offer a family with dangling children in a car a McDonald’s offer a kilometre further away based on incoming data.”
Let’s look to the future
In addition, the smartphone keeps track of all travel movements anyway, and even public transport passengers are already tracked exactly at what time they check in and out.
Nevertheless, privacy aspects do need to be carefully considered, but at present, according to Van Eijck, “the Netherlands lags hopelessly behind other countries, but technically we can take the lead.”