Love affair with cars is taking its toll

We can call them toll highways or congestion charges or road pricing, or just another tax, but the era of the “freeway” is clearly passing its due date.

Charging tolls on highways and roads may be wildly unpopular among voters everywhere — and politically dangerous around the world — but in almost all other respects, it solves many problems: It can relieve traffic congestion, help save the environment, increase economic efficiency and protect many taxpayers.

And, yes, it can finance the construction of new roads and expansion of existing ones, but only if they’re truly needed.

An electronic road pricing scheme already exists in Toronto, which is now considering more.

The auto congestion charge in London, England, has become famous as much for reducing downtown traffic and increasing public transit use, as it has for gaining public acceptance.

Singapore has one. Stockholm has one. Milan introduced one this year.

Toll roads force more people to use public transit, and therefore make public transit more efficient and more attractive.

They persuade some people to live closer to work. They can make shipping by rail more attractive than by truck, therefore relieving congestion and sparing us all the air pollution.

In Toronto and many other jurisdictions, the business community, often opposed to more “taxes,” has come to understand the various benefits of road pricing.

It’s true that gasoline taxes should cover the cost of new roads and road maintenance, but it’s not clear they actually do.

And, yes, the price of gasoline is already surging, but clearly motorists can use more encouragement to avoid running their cars.

In an increasingly urban country, efficient road and transportation systems are vital to the economy.

But when too many users consider the service “free” and squander the privilege, it quickly begins to fail. Governments cannot maintain roads or expand them fast enough to meet the seemingly unquenchable thirst of a car-addicted society.

It’s time we put an end to the free ride.

— Paul Berton,


Pollution kills 10,000 a year in Hong Kong, southern China

12 Jun, 2008, 1050 hrs IST, AGENCIES

HONG KONG: Air pollution is causing 10,000 premature deaths a year in Hong Kong, Macau and southern China’s Pearl River Delta, according to a report published on Thursday.

Respiratory diseases caused by the worsening smog is estimated to be costing 440,000 hospital bed days and 11 million doctor visits and costing the region’s economy 6.7 billion yuan ($964 million) a year.

The estimates are contained in a report on the effects of poor air quality by the Hong Kong-based think tank Civic Exchange published in newspapers Thursday.

The survey was conducted over nine months by health, science and public policy experts who based their findings on air pollution from 2003 to 2006.

Smog in Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta has worsened considerably in the past decade, largely because of vehicle emissions and pollution from neighbouring industrial southern China.

Previous reports have warned that the air pollution in Hong Kong is causing thousands of premature deaths and that foreign investors are avoiding the former British colony because of its smog.


New York, May 30 2008 11:00AM

The transport sector is expected to contribute so much to greenhouse gas emissions in the future that it must play a key role in shaping the global climate change deal which countries have agreed to try to clinch next year, a senior United Nations environmental official <”“>says.

Yvo de Boer, the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (<““>UNFCCC), told the <””>International Transport Forum yesterday in Leipzig, Germany, that data indicates that emissions from the sector will rise by more than 30 per cent by 2010 when compared to 1990 levels – the highest increase of any sector.

“You have a choice,” he told participants at the forum. “The question is whether you as transport stakeholders are willing to proactively shape the Copenhagen deal [scheduled for next year] or have your policies shaped by it.”

Last December in Bali the world’s countries agreed to launch formal negotiations to reach a long-term global agreement on climate change, including detailed measures on mitigation, adaptation, technology and finance, by the time of the international conference scheduled for Copenhagen in late 2009.

Mr. de Boer said the transport sector had been “woefully inadequate” so far in taking political action to curb greenhouse gas emissions and develop strategies to benefit the environment.

“All of the current trends in transport fly in the face of what science tells us is required. Developed countries now need to start thinking hard about what short and medium-term sectoral emission reductions they want to commit to in the transport sector, along with what interim targets they want to build in on the way.”

He suggested the sector consider ambitious carbon dioxide standards for cars, more integrated transport strategies and encouraging emissions trading as potential ways to combat climate change.

2008-05-30 00:00:00.000


For more details go to UN News Centre at