Public sector road traffic agencies have limited opportunities for a direct relationship with their customers, the users. As the move towards road user charging continues, then providing quality customer service, and building the relationship with their customers will require a significant change in focus.
Two of the major challenges currently facing traffic agencies are increasing traffic congestion, and securing funding – hence the growing interest in road user charging.
Is congestion getting worse
Congestion used to mean that it took longer to get to and from work in the ‘peak hour’. Now congestion affects more and more trips, in more hours of the day, extending across more of the transport network and results in reduced travel time reliability.
Congestion has real costs for road users, including impacts on personal car travel (commuting, recreation, education, shopping, etc.), trucks (long-haul and local freight delivery), commercial travel (household and business services), emergency services, and buses (public transport).
The primary source of congestion is too much traffic for the available capacity, a ‘tipping point’ is reached once the traffic flow breaks down to stop-and-go conditions, and the capacity is reduced even further.
Traffic incidents can have major impacts; such as large areas experiencing gridlock for hours. Traffic incidents result in unexpected delays, which have real, and perceived, costs for users – especially the ‘high value’ users such as trucks (both long-haul freight and pickup and delivery) and buses (mass people movements).
Unexpected delays are perceived by users to be valued up to five times expected delays. Unexpected delays should therefore be a major focal point in improving customer service.
Congestion is not only growing; it is becoming much more volatile, and causing more angst.
Congestion mitigation measures
The solution involves a combination of managing existing transport infrastructure more efficiently, through active traffic management, adding more capacity and moderating demand through price and non-price measures.
In Australia, direct road user charging is currently only used for toll roads in the three eastern seaboard capital cities, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. Toll charges only apply on specific links and for the primary purpose of paying for the infrastructure.
Congestion charging is increasingly being discussed and raised in the media as congestion mitigation measure, however no definite programs are expected in the next few years.
Market forces already determine a number of the services we consume, such as telecommunications, energy and water supply. Extending user charging to road use is inevitable.
The challenge when a ‘user’ pays for a service though, they expect a higher level and quality of customer service.
Private toll road operators understand the importance of providing higher levels of service to their customers, to ensure patronage growth and revenue. Public sector traffic agencies need to seriously address this issue.
Traffic incident response services
A step in the direction of developing the relationship between the road operator and road users is providing rapid and efficient traffic incident response services and accurate, real-time traffic information.
Providing response services is an ideal start for the journey by public sector traffic agencies to build a very positive image of helping stranded motorists caught up in traffic queues – a win-win situation all round. And reduce the unexpectedness of the delay by providing traffic updates.
Using traffic incident response services to build positive customer relationships with road users, increases the level and quality of service, and provides a pathway for the introduction of road user charging.
Must be worth considering in the search for congestion mitigation measures?
Would you like traffic incident response services with that?
Do you believe that traffic agencies should build their customer service capabilities, by improving incident response and information services before introducing road user charging? Share your thoughts in the comment section.
Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.