Roads

Toll Roads and Political Ignorance

Economics 101 indicates that toll roads can help solve the problem of traffic congestion. But public ignorance often prevents government from acting on this basic insight.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

Traffic congestion in New Delhi, India.

Traffic congestion is a serious problem in many urban areas. Commuters waste many hours in transit, to say nothing of all the annoyance and aggravation they go through. As economist Benjamin Powell explains in a recent column at The Hill, tolls are an obvious solution to this problem:

Commuters are delayed in traffic an average 63 hours per year in the 15 largest urban areas of the United States. Washington, D.C., is the worst among these, averaging 82 hours. Even in smaller metro areas, with populations under 500,000, commuters are delayed an average 30 hours per year.

Any economist knows that congestion, like long lines, signals a shortage at the legal price. The price for using most roads is zero. Drivers all pay the same gas and excise taxes whether they use a busy highway or an empty stretch of country road, whether they drive at rush hour or late at night. We have a shortage of road space because people do not pay to use roads based on scarcity of space relative to demand.

The introduction of HOT in Virginia begins to address the problem. Single-passenger cars with internal-combustion engines — carpools and hybrids remain free — are charged a toll that varies according to road congestion during the peak morning and afternoon commute hours on the 10-mile stretch of I-66 between the Capital Beltway and Washington, D.C. When the road becomes congested, the price goes up. When the traffic flows freely, the price comes down.

Morning tolls reached a peak price of $40 the first week they were implemented, but often were around half that price. Some afternoon tolls were as low as $6.25.

Gridlock never appeared. Average commute speed in the first two days of tolling ranged between 54 and 57 miles per hour.

Peak price tolling incentivizes more people to avoid traffic jams by car-pooling, taking public transportation, traveling at less busy times, or otherwise adjusting their behavior. The idea that a good which is artificially underpriced will be overconsumed is basic Economics 101. Such overconsumption generally leads to lines and shortages, which are annoying for consumers and wasteful for society as a whole. Road congestion is a standard example of the problem. The same goes for areas where it is difficult to find street parking because it is "free" or subject only to very low prices. The result is that parking spaces are overused and drivers waste large amounts of time cruising around searching for an open space.

Economists across the political spectrum recognize that market-price tolls can help alleviate traffic congestion and parking shortages. They can especially do so if the prices vary with demand. As in the case of the HOT experiment in Virginia, which Powell describes, the price should be much higher at peak "rush hour" times than, for example, in the middle of the night. At times and places where traffic is relatively low, the optimal toll will often be zero. Charging a price is, however, useful in situations where there is high congestion.

Unfortunately, as Powell also points out, most state and local governments are wary of adopting tolls, despite the strong economic case for doing so. Powell ascribes this to governments' inability to profit from efficient resource allocation:

The politics that comes with government ownership of freeways is the main reason our congestion problem remains unsolved. Unlike private owners of scarce resources, government officials don't profit when they correct the inefficient use of their roads.

Private firms have a profit incentive to create a pricing system that maximizes the total value of roads for society. In contrast, politicians debate whether tolls should be set to maintain speeds around 55 miles an hour or whether tolls should be lowered so speeds only average 45 miles an hour. This, however, is an economic question, not a political one. A profit-and-loss statement is the best way to figure it out.

It is true that politicians, unlike owners of privately owned roads, cannot directly profit from increased efficiency in the use of these resources. But governments can in fact profit from reducing traffic congestion. Cutting the number of hours that commuters spend stuck in traffic can make the local economy more productive, because that time can be used on more valuable activities. It can also make the area more attractive to businesses and taxpayers. Increased productivity and investment can, in turn, grow the tax base, and fill government coffers.

Nonetheless, politicians tend to be wary of establishing tolls in areas where they don't already exist. And when they do establish them, the tolls are often too low to clear out traffic jams. It isn't hard to figure out why: voters hate tolls. When they get introduced, a political backlash often ensues. Because of widespread political and economic ignorance, most voters do not realize that tolls can reduce traffic congestion. When a toll is established, what they see is that the government (often in cahoots with corporate interests) is making them pay for a formerly "free" good. The same applies to instituting tolls for parking, or greatly increasing existing prices for it.

Such ignorance is often not the result of stupidity, but entirely rational. Because the chance that any one vote will make a difference to electoral outcomes is infinitesimally small, most voters have little incentive to pay attention to the details of government policy, or even to learn Economics 101. For the vast majority, studying traffic and parking policy is not what they want to do with their limited free time.

As a result, most ordinary people have little reason to question their visceral distaste for tolls. They naturally feel anger at having to pay for goods that are supposed to be "free." I have some sympathy for that reaction myself. Even though I am a law and economics scholar and understand the efficiency argument for tolls, I still feel annoyed whenever I have to pay one. I have a similar distaste for paying for parking. It isn't easy to force myself to remember that "free" roads and "free" parking aren't really free if you have to pay for them with time and effort lost stuck in traffic or in futile searches for an open space. Negative reactions to tolls are, of course, likely to be much stronger among people who do not realize their potential benefits at all. Even if tolls ultimately benefit the public by reducing traffic congestion, voters probably won't realize they are the cause of the improvement and could continue to resent them.

Sadly, this is just one of many areas where public ignorance is an obstacle to improving government policy. There is no easy solution to this problem. In my previous work on the subject, I have argued that we can best mitigate the harm caused by ignorance by limiting and decentralizing government power. But I admit this probably will not be easy to achieve, and that other approaches are also worth considering. At the very least, the beginning of wisdom is to start taking the problem of political ignorance seriously.

UPDATE: I have made a few minor additions to this post.

NEXT: Happy Saturnalia!

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  1. There’s a toll road near here, I 185, “the Southern Connector”. It’s nearly empty most of the time, driven mostly by non-locals using GPS who don’t realize they’re about to save a few very expensive seconds.

    http://www.thetruthaboutcars.c…..goes-bust/

    The problem here is not people irrationally unwilling to pay a toll. It’s that the road never should have been built. And the state picked up the cost when it went broke.

    Tolls aren’t necessarily a bad idea, but I question how well they mix with ‘free’ roads, when the government stands behind them. Some fairly nasty incentives to misallocate repair budgets could be created.

    1. PPPs kind of notoriously have this dynamic, where politicians eagerly embrace major infrastructure projects that come “for free,” and private operators have every reason to fudge the forecasts because they know the public will backstop any losses/guarantee a minimum return. There’s no reason why a properly negotiated PPP couldn’t work for everyone, but the typical local politician is just too myopic and unsophisticated (or corrupt) to know any better.

      1. What is a PPP?

        1. Public-private partnership.

        2. What is a PPP?

          Same as a GRAFT

    2. It was a money grab for private contractors from the start and you’re right it’s hardly used. I decided to take it one day to drive from Mauldin to Piedmont at 8:00 AM on a Thursday and saw about six cars.

      1. Doesn’t that mean they aren’t making a ton of money on tolls?

        I figured a money-grab would be tolling on a very busy road . . .

  2. And perhaps many people would in fact rather pay for longer commutes at a time of their choosing than with their wallet.

    1. Indeed, but even those that stick to their exactly-9-to-5 benefit from a marginally-quicker commute, since the folks that do 10-6 or 8-4 are no longer driving at the same time.

  3. I’m not sure if you’ve ever written about it, Ilya, but car parking involves a similar and in some ways more pervasive political dynamic. Because drivers expect to have free parking everywhere they go, municipalities typically impose “parking minimums” on new development, through zoning laws, which pushes up construction costs and, indirectly, contributes to housing shortages in dense urban areas like NYC. Those parking minimums are designed to create a glut of parking, which hides the cost of car storage.

  4. “We have a shortage of road space because people do not pay to use roads based on scarcity of space relative to demand.”

    That’s one reason. Kind of like saying that the purpose of gym is to not walk on the gym floor with your shoes on.

    I’m sure we can come up with many endings to the sentence that begins with “We have a shortage of road space because,” easily, that make more sense the the one quoted above. For example,

    “…not enough roads have been built.”
    “…governments are so inefficient and corrupt that building roads costs much more than it should, and we have all the roads we can afford.”
    “…people don’t want to give up their property to make way for more, or wider roads.”
    “…those responsible for road infrastructure have done a poor job of planning.”

    My view is that it is not the purpose of government to optimize the use of a public resource to favor some vague benefit by making the resource artificially more expensive to use. When this is done, people of means get more exclusive use of the resource than those of less means. Are we going to require the poor to go to work, go to the hospital, and visit their mothers in the middle of the night, while the day – the peak, which is, by definition, the most desirable time to use the resource, is reserved for the affluent?

    It’s MY road, not the governments.

  5. This is all fine if you are designing a transportation system from scratch.

    But when the roads have been free for a long time, and there may not be a lot of good alternatives, it seems not quite right to suddenly hit commuters with these tolls.

    If residential developments and office buildings and commercial areas have been built in reaction to a free road system, imposing heavy tolls might not actually be such an economically wonderful idea.

    1. At the same time, you shouldn’t consider roads as something that you build and then get to use. The initial construction cost should be amortized over the useful life, which can then be added with maintenance/upkeep/repair to give an accurate per-year cost.

      1. Ok, but what does that have to with tolls?

        There are capital costs and maintenance costs, but there always have been. In terms of maintenance it is heavy trucks that cause the vast bulk of the wear on roads. Cars don’t cause much. See here for one piece of research.

        So if we are trying to recapture maintenance costs trucks should pay very high tolls – a multiple of what cars pay.

        The point of these tolls appears to be simply to reduce congestion. Were they set with a relationship to construction costs?

        1. For I-66, the lanes existed. There are plans to widen that were tied to adding tolls.

        2. “There are capital costs and maintenance costs, but there always have been. In terms of maintenance it is heavy trucks that cause the vast bulk of the wear on roads.”

          Which is why on the Illinois Tollways, cars(not towing a trailer) pay a fixed toll, but trucks and cars with trailers pay a per axle toll.

          1. The problem is actually linked to the PSI of the contact patch, or so I understand. Below a certain amount of pressure on a patch of road, the pavement is basically unaffected by the passage of the vehicle. But once you get over that threshold, the pavement starts flexing enough to open microscopic cracks, and damage rapidly mounts.

            Probably the smartest thing to do would be to instrument patches of pavement with strain gauges, and come down hard on any vehicle that triggers them.

            You want the irony? For a given load, adding axles can dramatically reduce damage to the pavement… Paying per axle does NOT create the right incentives.

          2. This is common. Whether the difference in tolls matches the difference in wear on the roadway is worth exploring.

            My understanding is that the difference in wear is enormous.

        3. It has to do with you comment that the roads were “free for a long time”. They cost a certain amount of money every year, so the fact that the State wants to pay for them with tolls now (rather than taxes).

        4. Also: I have no problem with higher tolls for heavy trucks.

    2. This seems like a bit of a false dilemma. Imposing massive $40 tolls on all highways doesn’t seem to be on the table. What is being suggested – and wisely, I think – is trying to put a price on a desired level of service. If people want to go 55 mph, then they can pay for the privilege; if they’re fine sitting in traffic for an hour, then they can do that instead.

      So look at these communities that have sprung up around highways. They are designed around an expected level of service that, in most cases, they’re simply not getting, due to a phenomenon referred to in transportation circles as “induced demand.” Putting a price on getting that level of service might be economically beneficial to them.

    3. Damn it bernard,
      You had to go and post something upon which we agree! 😉

      1. Sorry. I’ll try to do better in the future.

  6. Why do you dismiss “profit? (“It is true that politicians, unlike owners of privately owned roads, cannot directly profit from increased efficiency in the use of these resources.”) Yes, they don’t line their own pockets, but congestion tolls raise funds for government spending in lieu of raising taxes (or cutting back on expenditures). It would be different if the tolls raised went directly back to drivers or taxpayers, but that almost certainly isn’t the case.

  7. The price for using most roads is zero

    Wrong. If we look at a “free” road, the cost of using it includes the wastage of your time sitting in traffic. How you value that time compared to the dollars you’d have to shell out to use a less congested toll road is one of those subjective value questions. For the likes of Prof Somin (and me) for whom money is no object it’s easy. Would I like 40 minutes of my life back for $4 ? Yes I would. But not everyone would answer the question that way. Indeed there’s a small proportion of the population that doesn’t mind sitting in traffic. It’s calm before the hell of the job you don’t want to go to, after you’ve escaped the hell of your home and family.

    Now, because Prof Somin and I are willing to shell out $4 willy nilly every time we want our 40 minutes back (and in spades when it comes to commercial vehicles), that raises revenue. If the revenue were redirected into the pockets of some folk who are more ambivalent about the trade off between their time and their money, then some of them might like the idea of tolls better. But it’s perfectly rational for such folk to doubt that that toll revenues are going to be directed at their pockets. Indeed it would be irrational to suppose that this would happen. Even in the rare case where the local politicos were willing to release the revenue as a tax cut, there’s still no direct read across from any particular driver’s toll (boo !) and his tax cut (hurrah !)

  8. carpools and hybrids remain free

    The hybrid exemption was dropped in the conversion from HOV to HOT on I-66 as was done with the conversion of the I-95 express lanes. The exemption only applied to early hybrid adopters with Virginia license plates issued before July 2006.

  9. There is clearly more ignorance at work here than political ignorance.

    Ilya, being in academia you may have some flexibility on when you need to be places, but did you really believe that rush hour just happens because everyone chooses to go to work or home certain hours? For the person who needs to get to work, to suddenly have to pay $40 for the privilege, well, perhaps you can see why he might find that upsetting. Funny that the economist in question can’t be bothered to understand the actual economics of commuting.

    1. The $40 toll was at a time of day that under the old rules would have been HOV-2. Now solo drivers have the option of paying to drive on I-66.

      1. ^^^^^^ THIS ^^^^^^

        The outrage over $40 tolls on VA’s I-66 is completely irrational. Quite literally, nothing changed on the road, except single drivers, previously prohibited from using the road, now have the option to pay a toll during rush hour to use it.
        As always, HOVs are free and hybrid use was scaled back years ago. With regard to I-66, people are literally complaining about having a choice between doing what they’ve always done, or paying a toll to access a new option.

      2. “The $40 toll was at a time of day that under the old rules would have been HOV-2. Now solo drivers have the option of paying to drive on I-66.”

        I favor road neutrality.

        Why should single people be banned from driving on a road they helped pay for?

        Either something is public or its not. Being single or poor should not make you a second class citizen.

    2. The government is under no obligation to subsidize where you choose to live. If you’ve chosen to live along a major highway corridor that connects you to downtown via a 30 minute commute, there’s no reason you shouldn’t have to pay to maintain that kind of convenience.

      1. Should the government wake up one morning and decide to start charging for the same thing I used get for free.

        In the ideal frictionless world of simple-minded market economics I just move and it’s no big deal.

        Similarly, if I work downtown, in that fantasy world I just switch jobs to avoid the toll.

        Life is not so simple. These kinds of arguments ignore that.

        1. Should the government wake up one morning and decide to start charging for the same thing I used get for free.

          You never got it “for free.” You got it for your taxes, for other people’s taxes, and for the lost time and fuel you and everyone else spent sitting in congestion. Putting a price tag on it just makes all of that cost explicit, and imposes the cost on you, the one using the resource. So, should you keep getting it for free isn’t the question. The question is, should you still be able to extract value from others?

  10. The same goes for areas where it is difficult to find street parking because it is “free” or subject only to very low prices. The result is that parking spaces are overused and drivers waste large amounts of time cruising around searching for an open space.

    I rented a room in a townhouse community where each house had a one-car garage and two-car driveway. Everyone used the limited street parking. They left driveways clear for guests. I saw similar behavior where there was a mix of reserved and unreserved spaces.

  11. I think the propositions that speeds represent a purely economic question with no legitimate political ramifications, and moreover that anyone who thinks otherwise is simply ignorant, are more in the nature of leaps of faith or assertions of dogma than social science arguments. To give an admittedly extreme example thet nonetheless illustrates the point, I think we would all agree that as a purely economic matter, fire departments and ambulances would maximize their economic value and efficiency if they allowed some buildings to burn and people to die, and an enterprise unfettered to maximize profits without political ramifications would charge in such a way as to reach such a result. But I think we could all agree that in such a case, an assumption of no legitimate political ramifications would be particularly weak. Especially in a highly unequal society, ones disposable wealth can be a poor measure of ones utility.

    1. Excellent comment.

    2. 1. You’re right that Prof Somin’s examples of political ignorance and appeals to Economics 101 are usually rather weak. I recommend he cuddles up with Bastiat for a weekend’s re-education.

      2. But your own economics is also shaky when it comes to ambulances and fire departments.If you mean that it would save them a lot of time and trouble if they let more people die and more buildings burn, then yeah. So the most “efficient” thing would be for them never to leave the hospital or the fire station. Which is a clue that you’ve selected a bum meaning of “efficient.” Efficient and low cost are not synonyms. The idea is to get something that you value more in exchange for something you value less. Ambulances and fire trucks that never move are useless. So if you are looking at a market solution then ambulances can be run “efficiently” if they recover their costs plus a profit, from ferrying people to and from hospital. Profits are maximised by making sure you only ferry people who can pay. This is “efficient” in a meaningful sense, even if it results in some people dying because they can’t afford the ambulance fee. (In practice, of the set of people who couldn’t afford the ambulance fee is null, since if you can’ afford the ambulance you certainly can’t afford the hospital. So there’d be no point calling an ambulance anyway.) Fire trucks are more of an insurance thing. But you can run a perfectly good fire truck system as a profit making insurance thing. That’s efficient.

      1. 3. But, you cry, there are people who can’t pay ! Right. But that’s not a question of efficiency it’s a question of welfare. If you decide to have some welfare in the matter of ambulances and fire trucks, then unless you’re going to leave it to charity, you’re going to have some politics. How welfare is “efficiently” delivered depends on how you (ie the political process) values the output {ambulance services provided on welfare} and economics can certainly help you get the best bang for your welfare buck. But if you are going to have the government pay for things, because politics, then you can’t say that simply minimising costs is economically “efficient”. To do so ignores the value of the welfare “output.”

    3. It is not obvious how letting people burn to death would result in any increased efficiency.

      1. I think it’s very obvious. The prices people pay for fire protection are rediculous,y low in terms of maximizing return on capital assets (what we mean by efficicieny,) wouldn’t seem obvious that if the lowest paying half burnt, the highest paying half would be willing pay well over twice the price? More than twice the price each for half the calls answered means much more efficient, and more productive too! As Proffessor Somin notes, it’s the job of a for-profit enterprise to maximize profits by maximizing shareholder value and efficiency. Here profits can be increased and work reduced, all in one! What could possibly be a better outcome from a strictly economic point of view? Ignoring those ignorant and irrelevant political considerations, of course.

        1. I think you’re joking, but as I didn’t spot a punchline I’m not quite sure. So I’ll pretend you’re semi-serious.

          1. what makes you think fire protection is ridiculously cheap ?
          2. what makes you think there are any barriers to entry that would defend super profits ?
          3. why would you think that dropping the” lowest paying half” would maximise profits ?

          Monopoly pricing only becomes relevant when you have either a natural or a statutory monopoly. And you try to get rid of customers on whom you expect to make a loss, not customers who pay you low prices. You have heard of Walmart, right ?

          The market problem for fire trucks has got nothing to do with any of this – the problem is that a fire truck service is, to some extent, a non-excludable good. To protect your customer’s house from destruction, you may have to put out a fire at the next door house, who may not be a customer. And if you put out a fire at your customer’s house, you may thereby prevent a fire at the neighbour’s house, who isn’t a customer.

          1. You point out two features you say don’t apply to fire departments: the ability to impose monopoly pricing (competing private fire departments would spring up) and exclusivity – failing to fight fires near ones customers could damage ones customers.

            What I’ll say here is that I think highways in a congested urban area clearly are monopoly-like in nature. There are many barriers to a private entity building a competing road nearby, especially acquiring the land.

            I also think highways have non-exclusivity characteristics. If people can’t get to jobs, they may depend on public support. The net social cost of unaffordable tolls could be negative.

            My argument here is that political considerations apply to toll roads, not just classical economic ones. And all I mean by that is that the course of action that maximizes a toll operator’s profits is not necessarily the same as the course that will maximize the public good. I find Professor Somin’s flat assertion and zealous affirmation otherwise – to the point that any doubt as to the equivalence of the two can be attributed to ignorance – to be unsupported.

            This is all I meant. I acknowledge the examples I chose in trying to illustrate this were intended to be both extreme and provocative.

            1. OK, on congested urban area roads, I’ll give you “monopoly-like.” So the owner of the road, operating a toll system, would have an incentive to jack up the tolls (on a traffic sensitive variable basis) as much as possible to maximise revenues. And so profits since costs are not entirely but largely fixed. But to maximise revenue you’re not going to want to deter any more traffic than the minimum you need to deter to keep the traffic flowing. So the idea that you’re going to want to chase away lots of poor people seems unlikely. You’re only going to want to chase them away to the extent that they are actually reducing the number of cars per hour moving through your system.

              I won’t give you non-excludable though, with number plate reading technology. I might have given it to you a decade or two ago, but not any more.

              So the question is, is a profit maximising monopoly supplier giving the community an “efficient” use of the constrained road resource. I’m struggling to see how you’d make it more efficient.

              1. If the monopoly supplier is the government, then it can spend its super profits as it wishes. If it’s worried that high tolls risk jobs, it can spend its profits in ways that it thinks will benefit jobs – eg job subsidies, or even subsidising the tolls of low wage workers. So politics can do its thang. it’s just very unlikely that stopping the government maximising toll revenues is the most efficient way to achieve the government’s political ends.

                The same principles apply if the government chooses to sell off or subcontract the toll operation to a private supplier. With a proper bidding system the government should capture virtually all the monopoly profits.

                And we need to remember “monopoly-like” isn’t the same as an unbreakable and permanent monopoly. Even a congested urban roadway faces serious substitute goods competition that can undermine its monopoly-like position in the medium term. There are opportunities for out of town business parks. There are other towns. Hell there’s even Texas.

  12. The problem is that we _already_ pay for the roads (in my state) with gas and property taxes. I understand supply-and-demand and I think the theory behind demand-pricing is sound. I just have a real issue with being charged again to use something that I already paid for. Especially when the roads we get for our money are barely worth what we pay for them to begin with.

  13. The price for using most roads is zero

    Only true for bicyclists.

  14. We could also build more roads to accommodate the demand. Since roads are built for public use at public expense, this seems like the ideal solution. Raising Todd’s is a stop-gap measure, with a negative incentive for government to create false scarcity by closing roads or lanes in order to collect cash.

    1. “We could also build more roads to accommodate the demand. Since roads are built for public use at public expense, this seems like the ideal solution.”

      In a dense urban environment, there may not be space readily available for building new roads.

      “Raising Todd’s is a stop-gap measure, with a negative incentive for government to create false scarcity by closing roads or lanes in order to collect cash.”

      Ideally toll revenue whether fixed or time of day dependent would go to road construction/maintenance. One possible way to insure this would be the creation of an independent tollway authority. The tollway authority collects the toll revenue and is responsible for maintaining the toll roads from those funds. Illinois went this route. It’s not a perfect solution, but it keeps the toll money out of the general budget where politicians can easily redirect it to other uses.

  15. Of course, those who have less income pay the same tax per gallon on fuel as those with more income.

    Supposedly this tax money is used to build and maintain roads. Those who are precluded by tolls from use of roads (built and/or maintained by fuel taxes) are being cheated, not only out of fuel tax money, but also are subsiding those who have more disposable income.

    Somin probably ought to stop writing about political ignorance.

  16. “Because of widespread political and economic ignorance, most voters do not realize that tolls can reduce traffic congestion.”

    This sentence starts to sum up my issues with this post.

    1. First, is it really so that “most voters do not realize that tolls can reduce traffic congestion?”

    a. Has any study, of any kind, been conducted? Was it scientific? What does it mean to “realize,” does it mean that is has occurred to them spontaneously, of is it sufficient that when it is brought to their attention, they acknowledge it?

    b. What does it mean to say “reduce traffic congestion?” I propose that it doesn’t reduce congestion, in general terms, i.e., for everyone; it reduces it for those who can afford to pay, or rationalize the expense, at the expense of those not so fortunate. The effect of tolls on the less well off is the same as congestion, in many ways: to delay one’s arrival at the destination. If you have to defer travel for financial reasons, it prevents you from arriving just the same as congestion does; or probably, worse so.

    2. “Because of widespread political and economic ignorance….” This assignment of causality is not established, or supported by any scientific means that is in evidence here. Perhaps the poster has established this in other writings, but I rather doubt it.

    To suggest, as I think the post does, that people should accept the good of reduced congestion at the expense of access to the roads according to wealth, is patently absurd.

    1. Incidentally, there’s no attempt to suggest alternatives to tolls. How about access according to seniority, i.e., how long one has lived in the area? By citizenship? By need? By urgency? Are you going to work, or just driving around? Running errands? Are you a doctor, nurse, policeman, firefighter, EMT? Railroad engineer, ferryboat captain, airline crew?

  17. The problem is not ignorance but trust. I know that tolls can reduce congestion. Anyone who’s been driving for more than a few years knows that. I dislike tolls because I do not trust politicians to calculate and apply them fairly.

    For example, there are two major roads near my current city – one a toll road, the other not. Some trips I pay for the convenience. Others, I choose to keep the money in my pocket. The Transportation Department issues no studies when deciding to increase tolls despite a clear opportunity to discuss how the toll changes traffic patterns on the non-toll road. They publish no analysis and release no data. They offer no rationale except “costs”. And that rationale just pisses people off because we’ve already been taxed once to pay for both roads. The toll increases come across as nothing more than pay-offs for politically-connected toll operators.

  18. Seriously? Have you even studied what occurs when Toll Roads are installed? The fraud waste & abuse by government far exceeds the benefits.

  19. It might make sense if tolls entirely replaced gas (and other!) taxes as a way to pay for roads. Put a transponder on your car, and list the price for using every 100 feet of road online, and let your GPS balance cost vs time based on preferences you’ve entered. It could work. (Designing the system so you couldn’t be tracked every inch of your trip in real time might be a pain.)

    But adding toll roads to a system largely based on roads paid for in other ways, from money that can be redirected?

    Suddenly you’ve got an incentive to *divert traffic onto the toll road*. To worsen the roads people are already paying for. And don’t tell me they won’t do it, we’ve got California as a state, and big cities elsewhere, openly trying to make driving more painful. They call it “road diets”.

  20. Exempting hybrids is idiotic. That has nothing to do with congestion. Exempting carpools makes a little sense at least, but still seems like a bad idea, since carpooling is already reducing the cost per passenger.

    Also this is a very uneconomical thing to say: “The price for using most roads is zero. Drivers all pay the same gas and excise taxes whether they use a busy highway or an empty stretch of country road, whether they drive at rush hour or late at night.”

    The price for using a congested road already is naturally higher because it costs you time, aggravation, etc. Dollars spent is not the only component of cost.

  21. Roads should be paid out of the general fund because everyone uses them. You may walk to the supermarket, but what you buy there doesn’t.

  22. The author leaves out an important political fact: envy. For over 100 years, the politics of envy have been powerful throughout the world. Envy comes out today as concern over “inequality.” Envy was a major factor in the creation of most communist states.

    So envy should not be ignored.

    With this sort of pricing, people will instantly see that poorer people can’t afford the $40 commute while those better off can. Even worse, a whole lot of people, not just the bottom 20%, will find $40 too much to tolerate. Politicians are sensitive to this, and especially Democrats weaponize it. It is not surprising that their enablers in the media left out the fact that the $40 toll only applied to HOV lanes that were unavailable at all to solo drivers before. And it is understanding, in the political ignorance sense, that people don’t accept the probability that this might reduce congestion for everyone.

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