Traffic congestion is both frustrating and costly. As The Economist article below states:
Congestion does more than irritate drivers. It makes employees and deliveries late, it snarls up modern “just-in-time” supply chains and it clogs up labour markets by making commuting difficult. The cost of all this is almost impossible to measure. But a big review of transport carried out by Rod Eddington, a one-time boss of British Airways, put the cost between £7 billion and £8 billion ($10.6-$12.2 billion) a year.
So what can be done about it? The report, published by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), looks at various solutions. These range from staggering work times, car sharing and working from home, to improving roads and road pricing.
As economists we should look at the relative costs and benefits of alternative solutions in coming to sensible policy solutions. The problem is that people are often very emotional about traffic schemes. They may complain about sitting in traffic jams, but don’t want to pay to tackle the problem. There is thus a political element in any debate about solutions. Not surprisingly, the government has shied away from introducing road pricing
So what are the best solutions to traffic congestion and how do we overcome the political obstacles? The following articles look at these questions.
CBI urge radical changes to avoid gridlocked roads Independent, Peter Woodman (15/3/10)
Bunged up The Economist (15/3/10)
Road travel ‘needs big overhaul’ to avoid gridlock BBC News (15/3/10)
CBI sets out case for road pricing Logistics Manager (16/3/10)
CBI urges change to work patterns to avoid road gridlock Business Financial Newswire (15/3/10)
Road tolls ‘essential’ to avoid gridlock autoblog UK, Nic Cackett (15/3/10)
Tackling congestion, driving growth CBI (March 2010)
- Why does the market fail to achieve the socially optimal amount and pattern of road use?
- What externalities are involved in road use?
- What are the arguments for and against increased road building as the solution to traffic congestion?
- Assess the arguments for and against road pricing
- If increasing use is to be made of road pricing, what is the best form for road pricing to take?
- Why is road pricing ‘lethal’ for politicians?
- Assuming you were in government and were acutely aware of how your policies might be perceived by the public and the press, what would you do about traffic congestion?
Increasing traffic on the roads is observable by everyone and government policy is focused on reducing the demand for road space, rather than increasing its supply. One method has been to improve public transport and make it a viable substitute for car travel. Private costs of motoring have increased, but if there is no viable alternative, people will continue to demand car travel. Investment in buses and trains has improved their quality: they are more frequent, more reliable, arguably more comfortable and supposed to be part of an integrated transport policy. Local bus services provide a crucial link for local communities, but it is these services that are now facing problems.
In your economics lectures, you may have looked at local bus services, when you considered monopolies, oligopolies and possibly contestable markets. Oligopolies, whilst closer to the monopoly end of the market spectrum can be very competitive, but are also open to collusion and anti-competitive practices. The local bus sector has been referred to the Competition Commission by the Office of Fair Trading through complaints of ‘predatory tactics’ by companies. It is argued that local bus services, by limiting competition, are causing prices to rise and the quality of service to fall. One key issue is that those companies established in the market are alleged to be acting aggressively towards smaller bus companies and thus reducing competition in the industry. A low number of bids for supported service contracts in many areas, local bus routes dominated by a few large companies and predatory actions by incumbent firms are all complaints that this industry is facing.
This investigation is especially important, given the amount of public money that goes into the bus industry: £1.2bn. Investigations found that in areas of limited competition, prices were 9p higher. A number of take-overs have contributed to this situation. Two-thirds of bus services are controlled by only five operators. This limits competition in the market and hence is argued to be against public interest. Yet, industry representatives still argue that the market is competitive. Read the following articles and answer the questions about this issue. Was the OFT right to to initiate this investigation?
Local buses to be re-regulated BBC News (27/9/09)
OFT refers UK bus market to Competition Commission Dow Jones Newswires, Kaveri Nihthyananthan (7/1/10)
Office of Fair Trading prompts probe into bus services Guardian (7/1/10)
Trasport groups fear OFT competition probe over buses Telegraph, Alistair Osborne (4/1/10)
Bus industry competition queried BBC News (20/8/09)
OFT refers bus industry on poor service and prices Times Online, Francesca Steele (7/1/10)
Inquiry into local bus market ‘may delay investment’ Scotsman, Hamish Rutherford (5/1/10)
- Why are local bus services argued to be (a) a monopoly; (b) an oligopoly?
- What are the main aspects of UK competition policy?
- What is a concentration ratio and how does this apply to the bus industry?
- What predatory tactics are being used in the local bus industry and how do they affect competition, prices and quality?
- Why may limited competition be against the public interest?
- Traffic congestion is a major problem. Explain the economic theory behind government intervention in this area. Think about the effects of taxes; building more roads; investment in substitutes. Which is likely to be the most effective method?
The issue of road pricing has been simmering in the background of the environmental debate for many years and has, this month, gained greater prominence with the publication of a draft version of the Road Transport Bill that will allow local authorities to run pay-as-you-drive trials in their local areas. A number of local authorities will be interested, though all will be wary of the policy given the recent petition on the Downing Street website against road pricing that got nearly two million signatures! London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, has meanwhile extended the reach of the London congestion charge with his plans to create a low emission zone (LEZ) in the capital and charge more for older, and therefore dirtier, vehicles to enter the zone.
Draft bill starts Britain down the road to pay as you drive Guardian (21/5/06)
Livingstone to charge older, dirtier lorries £200 per day Guardian (8/5/06)
||What are the external costs and benefits resulting from increased use of the roads?
||Discuss the extent to which the policy of charging more for older, dirtier vehicles is likely to reduce the external costs of driving.
||Using diagrams as appropriate, show the likely impact of pay-as-you-drive schemes on the social equilibrium in the transport market.
Ever keen to boost his environmental record, Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, has decided to extend the London congestion charge westwards into areas like Kensington and Chelsea. Residents are up in arms, but will the larger congestion zone help further with the management of traffic and carbon emissions in London?
Congestion zone could fuel voter revolt against Livingstone Guardian (19/2/06)
London congestion zone (interactive map) Guardian
London congestion zone (podcast) Guardian
London C-charge zone spreads westwards Times Online (19/2/06)
Livingstone praises congestion zone extension Guardian (19/2/06)
Bigger new congestion zone launched Guardian (19/2/06)
London’s Lefty Mayor Fights Traffic Guardian (18/2/06)
Leafy Kensington shows its anger BBC News Online (17/2/06)
||Using diagrams as appropriate, show the impact of the extended congestion zone on traffic levels in London.
||Discuss whether the implementation of a larger congestion zone will help move closer to a socially optimal position in this market.
||Assess other measures that the Mayor of London could introduce to meet emissions targets for the city..