By 2050, according to UN research, an estimated 68 per cent of the world’s population will be living in urban areas. With rising demand for transit infrastructure, but without the space to build more, cities face the need to find alternative solutions to manage congestion. Some, in Europe and Asia, have introduced congestion charging, which uses financial incentives to influence people’s mobility decisions. Now, for the first time in North America, the option is being considered for Metro Vancouver. Controversial and perceived with negativity, congestion charging options, in fact, offer benefits to cities that are diverse and far reaching.


Congestion charging zone in London, UK.

From Singapore to London, Stockholm, Milan and Gothenburg, where congestion charging is practised, one sees a diverse realm of the scheme designs, technologies employed, user fees, adoption, and policies. Their unique geographical contexts, political issues, and targets make it so. However, one thing that all these cities have in common is the reduction in traffic volume, measured between 10 to 34 per cent, and revenue generation and reinvestment to improving transport infrastructure.

Acting as a technical analysis lead for the Metro Vancouver Mobility Pricing Independent Commission, the WSP team consisting of Canadian and Swedish experts recently studied the use of congestion charging and mobility pricing for the Metro Vancouver Regional District. An eight-month study ensued and resulted in a crucial set of data categorized by geography, time of day, and pricing level. The goals of the study remained: reducing congestion, generating additional revenue for the governing body, and promoting fairness.


Here are four reasons why cities should consider congestion charging options:

  1. A greener environment
    Congestion charging is consistent with a sustainable development approach and leads to behavioural changes, including switching transport modes or travel times which then reduces the overall traffic volume. International examples show a sharp drop in use of private vehicles and increase in more environmentally-friendly transportation systems such as buses and trains.

  2. Fairness
    Applying philosopher John Rawls theory of social fairness on mobility: congestion charging ensures everyone is allowed the basic right to mobility, everyone has the opportunity to adapt to the new policy, and the redistribution of funds from the policy provides the most benefit to those with lower incomes. We believe that a targeted system design and a responsible use of revenue could generate the most benefits while limiting the negative impacts.

  3. Reliable flow of goods
    While there are reports of congestion charging adversely affecting retail businesses, proponents argue otherwise: the pricing of major thoroughfares can guarantee free flow of traffic and restore reliability of the flow of goods, keeping business and transportation costs low. Lower costs benefit competitiveness at home and abroad.

  4. Re-investment into transport infrastructure
    The revenue amassed from congestion charge can be reinvested in other measures to improve public transport, bicycle sharing schemes and other mobility-related infrastructure. This use of revenues in other parts of the world have helped make congestion charging schemes more publicly acceptable.

Read the Metro Vancouver Mobility Pricing Study

Read the full Congestion Charging Report