‘Road pricing will be back’

The current government has cancelled the pride and joy of the previous Dutch Minister for Transport, Camiel Eurlings: the kilometre charge. So said NRC Handelsblad last Monday. Two-hundred million euros have been spent on research. Has all that money gone down the drain?

“The press will certainly suggest so in the ensuing discussion,” says Professor Bert van Wee. As an expert in transport policy and logistics at the faculty of Technology, Policy and Management, he has been involved in research on road pricing for more than 20 years. But he doesn’t agree that all the money is wasted. “We have developed much knowledge, which can be used for the next time. There is also a large spin-off to other countries. And I know some companies – which I cannot name – that are actively acquiring projects there based on knowledge they have developed in the Netherlands.

“When it was first thought of in 1988, the idea of road pricing was revolutionary. Since then it has moved on and off the political agenda, but in various countries it has been picked up and been brought into practice.” So road pricing seems the perfect illustration of the failure of Dutch innovation: we do invent, but we cannot implement.

Prof. Van Wee’s colleague, Dr Michiel Bliemer, from the faculty of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, offers some examples to illustrate the interest from abroad. Singapore has a working dynamic pricing system (with tariffs varying according to the time of day), the United States introduced pricing on various busy routes, Sweden taxes cars to drive into Stockholm, and London has its own pricing system. According to Dr Bliemer, dynamic pricing has proven to be an effective means of reducing traffic congestion. “Constructing roads is very expensive, so working your way out of congestion by road building is unaffordable. Road pricing has proven to work and it’s a fair system. People who use the roads at busy times pay more, while those who leave earlier or later or who take the train pay less. It spreads the traffic more evenly and optimises the use of the infrastructure.”

But if it’s such a good idea, why did it get cancelled in the Netherlands? The two governing parties, the liberal VVD and the Christian-democratic CDA, supported the road-pricing plan put forward by Eurlings, the previous Dutch Minister for Transport, but they changed their position shortly before the elections. “Probably out of electoral motives,” says Prof. Van Wee. “It’s not the first time the government seems to be driven primarily by popular emotions instead of rational considerations. Take for example the raising of the speed limit to 130 kilometres per hour. The time gained does not outweigh the extra risks, the higher fuel consumption and more environmental damage.”
Joint research into road pricing over the last 20 years conducted by TU Delft, Utrecht University, VU University Amsterdam (economics) and the University of Groningen (psychology) has shown that from the point of view of economics and traffic management, dynamic road pricing works and is efficient. The weakest links, according to Dr Bliemer, are the psychological acceptance and the policy.

“In Sweden there was lots of resistance, but the government introduced the road-pricing for Stockholm as a pilot. Once people saw that the usual traffic jams disappeared, they were won over.”
Prof. van Wee adds: “I’d be most surprised if road pricing would stay off the agenda for the next twenty years.”

Chinese skills
Ahead of the World Expo in Shanghai, TU Delft is offering a special one-day workshop in ‘Chinese Language and Intercultural Communication’. The workshop aims to enhance ones chances of successful contacts with China by giving participants more insight into Chinese language and culture, as well as teaching participants how to conduct simple business conversations in Chinese. The workshops are on April 20 and May 11 and cost 350 euro. For more information: Dr M. Elling at m.gm.elling@tudelft.nl

Cuts coming
TU Delft faces a period of uncertain income levels, yet also must continue investing and upgrading if the university is to remain relevant (inter)nationally. Last week TU Delft’s Executive Board, deans and directors met to discuss proposals for spending cutbacks. The university’s deans and directors have been asked to take measures that will achieve savings of 45 million euro on a structural level within a two to three year period. This summer the Executive Board will decide where the cuts will come.

Smart drinkers
According to research conducted at the London School of Economics, higher educated women drink more alcohol and more often have drinking problem than less educated women. Female university graduates are 86 percent more likely to drink alcohol daily than non-university graduates. Reasons for this, the researchers say, are because higher-educated women have children at later ages, have richer social lives and more often work in male-dominated environments.

Toilet paper
A cardboard toilet featuring a water-proof layer. With this idea, Sacha van Ginhoven, a 26 year-old TU Delft industrial design student, won an idea competition held on World Water Day (25 March) and supported by Unicef and others governmental agencies. This new toilet product, called the ‘Plug-in’, is shaped like a large cup and can fit into existing latrines in developing countries. The Plug-in can hold thirty litres and is reusable. 

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