[Letters] Reconsidering the road toll

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[Letters] Reconsidering the road toll

We saw and felt the bizarre changes in the climate this spring with snowfall in late April. The economic toll is quickly amassing with financial losses from climate change reaching 2.3 trillion won ($1.9 billion) on average a year since the turn of the century, more than tripling from 1990s.

According to the Meteorological Administra-tion, the speed of global warming in the Korean Peninsula outstrips the world average by more than three times, calling for national address to the problem.

One of the biggest culprits of global warming that causes climate change is carbon emissions from motor vehicles. The government is striving to curb greenhouse gas emissions by taking various measures, including taxing drivers based on their fuel efficiency.

But what’s more urgent is to contain vehicle traffic.

We need to come up with a system to discourage individual driving and spur increased use of public transportation. Tolling is the most effective way to contain cars on the road.

Our current highway toll is a kind of tax on the users to retrieve spending on the road’s construction. The Highway Corporation charges motorists for the road service to partly pay for the construction cost. The tolls are levied uniformly regardless of the traffic and congestion level.

Such a method hampers efficient utilization of road resources in urban areas where demand exceeds capacity and ends in aggravating congestion. The relatively modest toll charge and offer of discount during rush hour only exacerbates congestion, raising social costs and weighing on the economy.

Tolls should be charged according to the traffic motorists stimulate for efficient distribution of resources. Under heavier tolls, only motorists with an absolute need of vehicle transport will use the service.

Others will have to seek cheaper means such as public transportation for transit. Since the tunnel fees were levied for travels to downtown Seoul, car traffic plunged 36.2 percent while bus use surged by 257.6 percent.

Transport speed became 11.6 percent quicker, reflecting the merits of tolls in increasing use of public transportation and accelerating transportation speed.

Since road toll was introduced in London, car traffic fell 33 percent while bus transit increased by 23 percent. Travel time was saved by more than 30 percent.

Our current highway toll that offers discounts during peak congestion hours and a modest rate system is not designed to optimize road capacity but only serves to disrupt traffic by adding congestion in some areas.

Our highway road toll should be revised based on congestion levels to better attain the state goal of low-carbon green growth and an economic use of resources.

Pricing should be effective in curbing unnecessary car traffic on the road and encouraging the use of public transportation.

Of course, cars having now become household necessities, drivers may rage over a toll hike. But we must make drivers aware that the congestion cost they cause on the road will come right back to them in the future. We must start acting quickly as the number of cars will only increase with better living condition.

Roh Jeong-hyun,

a professor of urban engineering at Hanyang University
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