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What Is The Importance Of The Theme?

The primary objective of introducing an urban road user charging scheme is usually to improve the efficiency of the flow of goods and people, to reduce harmful emissions caused by traffic, or to generate revenue. The issue of equity, and maintaining the balance between equity and overall efficiency, will be an important constraint on achieving any of these objectives. Urban road user charging, by its very nature, is an economic instrument of policy, and its proposers need to be seen to be striking a balance between the fundamental principles of economics: economic efficiency and social equity.

Considering the needs of the more disadvantaged members of society is not merely a desirable, optional aspect of a scheme. For example, in the UK, all public authorities are subject to the requirements of the Disability Equality Duty (DED). Since December 2006, public authorities have been legally obliged to proactively promote equality of access and opportunity for all members of society, (which has included the duty to produce, implement and monitor a detailed Disability Equality Scheme). The DED adds to legal obligations for proactive action already in place under similar legislation, namely the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 and the Gender Equality Duty, which came into effect in April 2007.

Equity is not just desirable for economic and legal reasons. A perception that costs and benefits are inequitably distributed might lead to major opposition to a scheme, and might even prevent a scheme from being implemented. Perceptions of equity are as important in influencing acceptability as any actual distribution of impacts that can be measured. Concern over inequity has frequently been cited as one of the main reasons for rejecting many early road pricing proposals (e.g. May, 1975). More recently, equity appears to have been less frequently mentioned as an issue. This is reflected in the results of the CURACAO User Needs Assessment Questionnaire, in which 21 city users ranked this topic sixth out of nine in terms of importance to them. However, social acceptance was identified by PRoGR€SS and CUPID projects as a main barrier to implementation (PROGRESS, 2004; CUPID 2005);

A fundamental requirement when planning an urban road user charging scheme is thus the capacity to predict, and later measure, the impacts of that scheme, not just on society as a whole, but on different groups of people, or impact groups.
Defining Impact Groups

While definitions of equity vary, they all involve defining groups of potential winners and losers from Urban Road User Charging (Langmyhr, 1997). The starting point in any consideration of equity effects is thus to define the impact groups of interest. This needs to be done for each city and scheme, since different scheme designs may have different implications, and different cities may have differing concerns over (perceived) inequities. However, some broad types of impact group can be readily identified. The main categorisations are likely to include:
• groups based on economic status;
• groups based on demographic status
• groups based on geographical status
• groups based on transport use (or status).

It is important to stress that these categorisations are not mutually exclusive. Any individual or household may be categorised in all of these ways, and may fall into a different geographical or transport group depending on the activity which they are undertaking. In addition there will be distinctions between types of firm, which are considered in Chapter 9.


This is closely related to the concept of vertical equity. Vertical equity concerns the distribution of impacts by income and socio economic characteristics, and so relates very much to issues of affordability and an individual’s ability to pay for access. Households can be categorised into a series of income bands, and comparisons made of the differences in impact on those income bands. Such considerations also relate to whether a user charging scheme’s wider impacts are “progressive”; in other words, do higher income groups pay more for using the service provided, or is there a mechanism to ensure that, for example, the users who cause the most pollution or congestion pay the most for using the facility? Whether a pricing system is equitable will in these terms largely depend on the extent to which it is progressive, regressive or neutral, and, as Santos and Rojey (2004) note, this will, in turn, vary between urban areas.

For example, in a situation where the majority of car commuters entering a charging zone are from affluent households, the likelihood is that a substantial percentage will not change their behaviour, and so pay the charge. In this instance, the urban road user charging system would be progressive, even before subsidies and exemptions for people on a lower income are introduced.

It is possible that people on a low income might be disproportionately affected by urban road user charging because they might have less choice and less flexibility in terms of when and how they travel. For example, people in low-paid employment might be bound by rigid shift patterns, or restricted by child-care arrangements; in the context of personal mobility, people on a higher income are more likely to be able to afford public transport fares, as well as run a private car. Furthermore, older and disabled people, who are more likely to be on a low income than other members of society, are also more likely to find that they have fewer accessible and affordable alternatives to the private car.

Conversely, if, as is sometimes the case, poorer households are concentrated in inner city areas, low income residents may be the main beneficiaries of reduced traffic levels. Such benefits might manifest themselves in cleaner air, reduced noise and visual intrusion, reduced community severance and improvements in road safety.


This will include factors of household size, number and age of children and number and age of elderly residents. Car ownership may also be a consideration, which will in turn be closely related to income. These factors are closely related to considerations of social exclusion, since adequate mobility is regarded as essential for people to participate fully in society. People who are often considered the more vulnerable within society include:
• Children;
• Young adults;
• Unemployed people;
• People in low paid work;
• People from minority ethnic communities;
• Disabled and mobility-impaired people; and
• Older people.

These groups will each have specified needs in terms of access. For example; children will not incur road user charges themselves, but parents needing to transport young children may be less able to avoid such charges. Policy makers have a responsibility to consider carefully any measures or policies that will have an adverse impact on these members of society.

The UK Government’s Social Exclusion Unit, in its publication “Making the Connections: Final Report on Transport and Social Exclusion” (SEU, 2003), identifies ways in which people facing social exclusion are disproportionately affected by some of the impacts of road traffic, which it specifies as pedestrian accidents, air pollution, noise pollution and community severance caused by busy roads. The report argues that individuals are impacted in terms both of their quality of life and of their access to goods and services; more specifically, the report quotes research that advises that:
• children from the lowest social class are five times more likely to die in a road accident than children from the highest social class (HEA,2000)
• the short-term effects of air pollution may bring forward the deaths of 12,000 to 24,000 “vulnerable people”, in the UK (COMEAP,2001)
• there is a clear relationship between traffic volume and quality of life, which includes the level of social interaction with neighbours, and the extent to which children are allowed to play outside, (with 43% of parents surveyed saying that they were concerned about busy roads) (Living Streets Campaign, 2001).

In the UK, the RAC Foundation for Motoring has also pointed out the dangers of some people being disproportionately disadvantaged by urban road user charging (Rainger, 2008). In particular, the Foundation emphasises that people most at risk of being disadvantaged are those who have least flexibility for making life changes in order to offset any change in the cost of mobility. This refers to the fact that some people might find it very difficult to change the location of their employment, of their home or of their children’s school. More generally, the Foundation argues that Urban Road User Charging can be a factor that restricts the range of economic choices available to people, by discouraging them from seeking employment in a city that is subject to a congestion charge, or by discouraging them from commuting further afield in order to secure a better position.


Geographic status concerns the location of a household or of the activities which it undertakes. The principal groups can be summarised as follows:
• Car users who travel in and out of the charging zone;
• People who are located, often resident, inside the charging zone;
• People who are located, often resident, outside the charging zone; and
• Public transport users who travel in and out of the charging zone.

For car users who travel in and out of the charging zone, with a charge to cross a cordon into a charging zone, differences are marked, with those making short journeys across the cordon experiencing the greatest proportional cost increase. With multiple cordons or distance-based charges, the differences are less acute, but more complex. There are also considerations which concern the nature of the user or journey. Disabled drivers are an example of a key group in this regard. They often have little choice but to use a car and so urban road user charging is considered an unfair levy should there not be exemptions in place. This also applies, to a lesser extent, to people travelling at times of the day when public transport is not available.

For people located inside the charging zone (i.e. residents), the impact of a scheme depends upon the details of the spatial structure of the scheme. Urban road user charging is often defined by cordons - a ‘line’ that is crossed to enter and leave a charging zone. The key perceived benefits for those living and working within a charging cordon are reduced congestion and a better environment as a direct result of there being less traffic.

There are however a number of other factors to consider in terms of equity, and the case study of London is a good example. The Congestion Charge in London is an £8 daily charge for driving or parking a vehicle on public roads within the zone between the hours of 7.00am and 6.00pm, Monday to Friday. In this instance those within the zone are also charged. However, residents within the charging zone receive a 90% discount on vehicles registered at an address within the charging zone (TfL, 2008).

It is also important to consider people located outside the charging zone, particularly those who are resident just outside the boundary of a scheme. Whilst residents might not pay a charge for travel or parking in their immediate locality, they may well experience additional diverted traffic and pressure to park immediately outside the zone. As Hau (1992) suggested, there might also be an adverse impact on people who travel in areas adjacent to charging zones. Drivers may experience increased volumes of traffic and congestion due to diverted traffic, and some will react by driving around the cordon to avoid the charge.

Public transport users who travel in and out of the charging zone constitute another impact group that should be considered. Urban road user charging has been accompanied by better quality surface public transport in London and Stockholm. Such improvements can reduce inequities, in as much as non-car owners and those who elect not to drive would have experienced lower quality public transport before urban road user charging. A feature of many such schemes is that a proportion of the revenue gain is re-invested in other measures, including public transport. In Edinburgh, a range of public transport improvements were promised before charging was due to commence in the planned scheme.


This principally concerns the journeys made, their length, timing and the mode used. Many of these factors have been considered above, since they closely interact with considerations of economic, demographic and geographical status. However, it remains helpful to identify impact groups by travel activity. The main groups are likely to be:
• by mode, with car users being adversely affected, and bus users, cyclists, pedestrians and, in most cases, motorcyclists benefiting from road user charging
• by movement, with journeys (by car) into and out of the charged area, and in some cases journeys wholly within it being adversely affected, while those which are wholly outside will in most cases benefit
• by time of day, with journeys (by car) within the charged period being adversely affected, while those at other times will in most cases benefit
• by journey purpose, since this will to some extent influence the availability of an alternative timing or destination for the journey.
10.2.2 Guidance on Measuring and Predicting Equity and Distributional Impacts

Guidance on the consideration of equity issues is provided in the UK by the Department for Transport’s Transport Analysis Guidance (TAG) Unit. The role of the Unit is to provide guidance on the requirements for measuring the social and distributional aspects of any project or scheme that has urban road user charging as one of its elements, and its publication (DfT, 2008) includes details of some social research methods that might be used. This is one of a number of documents that the Unit has produced on the design, modelling and appraisal of urban road user charging schemes. Further details are given in Appendix C.