Rev up for snarl tax, London-style

New Delhi, Jan. 22: Congest roads, pay tax.

The urban development ministry today issued an advisory to all state governments to introduce congestion tax in cities, taking a step towards what Singapore and London have done in a bid to reduce road traffic.

Less traffic would mean higher vehicle speed. A top official cited the example of London where, he said, the speed of vehicles had increased by 10 per cent in areas where the tax is levied.

The British capital has one of the largest congestion zones in the world.

The tax can, however, be applied only in a restricted area, usually the central business district where the flow of traffic is the maximum. City municipalities will have to define the area and identify its perimeter. Private vehicles, both cars and two-wheelers, will also have to pay the tax.

The central government wants the states to follow the London or the Singapore model but is not offering any incentive in the form of financial assistance or soft loans to put in place such a system. "This is a project where, with very less investment, they will get more return. So it naturally provides an incentive," said S.K. Lohia, officer on special duty, urban transport.

The government has been working on the project for three years now despite opposition from many who felt that most Indian cities don't have the basic infrastructure to levy congestion tax.

Another problem is that traffic records don't have updated names and addresses of vehicle owners.

The ministry has not clarified how much tax should be levied. "It is a state subject. We will let the state governments fix it," Lohia said.

In the advisory, urban development secretary Sudhir Krishna said in London congestion tax had reduced traffic by 21 per cent, while the speed of vehicles in areas where the tax is levied had increased by 10 per cent.

Officials said the tax could be introduced even in the absence of CCTVs or an automatic number plate recognition system. "When Singapore introduced congestion tax way back in 1975, it had no fancy equipment in place," Lohia said.

Singapore was the first country to introduce the tax, then called Area Licensing System. The tax was levied on all roads leading to a 6sqkm central business district, called the "restricted zone".

It started with manual checking of every vehicle. A total of 34 overhead gantries were set up along the boundaries of the restricted zone and police personnel were posted at each of these points.

Car users had to buy a special paper licence at a cost of 3 Singaporean dollars every day. These licences, sold at post offices and petrol pumps, were to be displayed on car windscreens. Failure to buy these licences could lead to a penalty of up to 70 Singaporean dollars.

In London, where the tax was introduced in 2003, the standard charge is �10 for each day. The penalty for non-payment is between �60 and �187.

The British capital has an extensive network of CCTVs and an automatic number plate recognition system in place at all entry points to its congestion zone.


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