Saturday, March 31, 2007

Should There Be A Traffic Congestion Tax in India?

Whenever I look at the traffic chaos in Pune, the emerging IT hub in Western India, I always think about the possibility of levying a congestion tax, like in case of London and Stockholm. In London, for example, in central area, an entering vehicle is charged a congestion tax of 8 £, and in case of evasion, a fine of 50 £. This is true from 7 am to 6 pm, every day except Sundays and excepting certain types of vehicles like hospital ambulances. You can read more about London congestion tax here.
The enforcement system includes database of registered vehicles, a number of cameras guarding the entrance and exits of congestion zones, apart from the inner roads in the zone and Automatic Number Plate Recognition Software.
This means that this system implementation is not an easy task, more so for an Indian city like Pune, where the traffic flow is extremely heavy during peak hours. But nonetheless, this can be one of the solutions for the menace of traffic jams and loss of precious time for a lot of office commuters. What needs to be done to implement this solution in Pune?
The first thing that needs to be tackled is the strengthening of public transport in the city. In Pune city, the public transport is monopoly of Pune Municipal Transport, a semi-governmental agency. If the high number of two-wheelers which ply on Pune roads is to be tackled, the PMT must be able to take that load. This would need large investments over the years in upgrading and increasing the fleet of PMT. These PMT buses can then take over from two-wheeler riders who don’t want to pay the congestion tax, at the tax collection posts.
This will also mean that there must be huge parking spaces, near the congestion tax collection points, to serve the commuters who want to opt for cheap public transport, instead of paying hefty congestion charge. The parking may be charged at a nominal charge. The PMT buses will take over from here to the inner parts of the city.
The investments in updating database of vehicle registrations and connecting it with an updated database of all Road Transport Offices in other districts will be an imperative. This is so, because, there is a high level of vehicle immigration into the city. Further, the use of ANPR software will also be needed.
The things that may derail this project include the resistance from commuters, who will resist any idea of paying a tax for entering into the inner city. Daily commuters will fight against this measure, tooth and nail. Chances of politicization are also vary high, for the issue-starving political parties will definitely take advantage of this. Another thing is more taxes, more rules means that more corruption. Simplification in Right to Information Act may be a cure for this.

Do you visualize any other problems that may arise from Congestion Tax?
Also, how should, the taxes collected, be utilised to the best benefits of commuters?
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