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Free Minds & Free Markets

Hate Traffic? Learn to Love Congestion Pricing.

Americans waste a lot of their lives in traffic, with the average urban auto commuter spending 35 hours a year idling on highways during rush hour. The problem is getting so bad that some cities are beginning to consider a radical market-based solution.

Congestion pricing is a variable toll on drivers that rises or falls based on how many cars are on a stretch of road at a given time. The idea is to harness the power of the price mechanism to ration when and where people drive.

Higher tolls during peak hours push motorists to travel at different times, use alternative routes, or collapse multiple trips into just one—all of which cuts down on the time people spend driving. The revenue generated meanwhile can be spent on additional congestion-reducing projects, such as widening lanes or expanding bus service.

Already, Virginia is putting the idea to work to help relieve nightmarish levels of congestion around the Washington, D.C., area. The state introduced variable tolls on parts of Interstate 66 in December.

Other cities are looking at following suit. Seattle's new mayor, Jenny Durkan, has said she would be open to congestion pricing, and the City Council included $200,000 to study the possibility in its 2018 budget. A similar story is playing out a little farther south in Oregon, where Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has publicly floated the idea of putting tolls on stretches of Interstate 5. The state Department of Transportation is now holding town hall meetings to gauge the popularity of such a change.

In New York, the legislature is considering a proposal from Gov. Andrew Cuomo that would impose a fixed $11.52 fee on any driver entering Manhattan below 60th Street. A close cousin of congestion pricing, this type of "cordon pricing" is already in use in a number of cities around the world, including London, Singapore, and Stockholm.

Despite growing openness, congestion pricing faces an uphill battle. People generally don't like having to pay for things they were until recently getting for free. Commuters often balk at the idea of coughing up cash to drive on public roads—even as they're the ones who shoulder the costs of wasted hours in traffic and higher gas taxes absent tolls.

Politicians also threaten to blunt the effectiveness of congestion pricing by making politically expedient carve-outs. Virginia has exceptions for government vehicles and two-person carpools, while Oregon and Seattle officials have said any congestion pricing scheme must exempt poorer drivers.

If open roads are the goal, however, policy makers can do no better than the dynamic prices offered by unfettered congestion rates.

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  • Earth Skeptic||

    Is this a logical precursor to congestion pricing for other aspects of public life?

    I get it, inner city roads get filled beyond capacity, rendering driving inefficient at best, and causing secondary effects. But what about congenstion to similar critical levels related to public transportation or even walking? And many of the public components of just plain living can sure get crowded beyond reasonable.

    Should we expect congestion pricing for buses and trains, and even hanging out in public spaces, or is this just a selective taxation of private cars?

  • ||

    Should we expect congestion pricing for buses and trains, and even hanging out in public spaces, or is this just a selective taxation of private cars?

    Why not private ownership in general?

    If you have a heart attack at 2 p.m. and wind up in the emergency room it should cost you less than when Omar Marteen shoots up a nightclub and 50 people need to use the same emergency room at the same time.

  • Rich||

    Don't forget the flip side. If you cause an accident that ties up the highway to the tune of many thousands of person-hours your fine should be upped accordingly.

  • Bubba Jones||

    I always thought it would be cool if the San Mateo bridge had a mechanism for tossing stalled cars into the bay.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    That's a lot. Are using progressive pricing like some of these highways being referenced?

  • Rat on a train||

    DC already has different rail fares for commuter and non-commuter hours. They aren't variable like congestion pricing.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Congestion pricing should extend to everything where people are willing to pay more to save time. But instead, we are gonna get a loud mouth minority clamoring for Road Neutrality.

  • Henry Buttal||

    Don't take Neutrality away from my roads, slaver, or I'll exercise my freedom to road rage...
    /sarc off

  • SimonP||

    Actually, in NYC, the growing support for cordon tolling has prompted a more telling vindication of libertarian skepticism. Instead of actually implementing cordon tolling, they added a surcharge to taxi and rideshare trips within the central business district. Private vehicles are not subject to any kind of charge. Ridesharing gets a much higher charge than taxis.

    So, it ends up being: completely ineffective at combating congestion; a fig-leaf solution for a governor anxious to win re-election (and so disinclined to more adequately address the problem); a sop to medallion speculators who are anxious about competing with ridesharing companies; and political cowardice all around.

  • JFree||

    Is this a logical precursor to congestion pricing for other aspects of public life?

    Doubt it.

    a selective taxation of private cars?

    Cars are basically feral hogs. They're noisy. They stink. They insist on claiming the entirety of roads as their monopolized space. And they don't play well with others - to wit, they kill.

    Even the advantages of cars - good for longer trips where no one else is traveling the same route for those who do that frequently enough to put up the capital costs as well. For many urban residents that just really doesn't make much sense as the primary form of personal transport. It IS mainly because of a ton of past/ongoing subsidies that have distorted transport options - including devoting a huge amount of land to roads which are empty much of the time in some directions while overly clogged/dangerous at other times in other directions - while that roadspace can no longer be used for any other transport option that doesn't create the same congestion.

  • flyfishnevada||

    "Cars are basically feral hogs. They're noisy. They stink. They insist on claiming the entirety of roads as their monopolized space. And they don't play well with others - to wit, they kill."

    Considering cars, through gas taxes and other mechanisms, pay for a substantial part of road construction and maintenance, roads are their space. Bikes, peds, etc. rarely pay fees for their facilities and those sidewalks and bike lanes take money that could be used to maintain roads. Bikes and peds could realize a safer environment if they paid for their facilities instead of piggybacking on highway funds but no one wants to pay excise taxes. As always, they demand something for nothing.

  • SimonP||

    Considering cars, through gas taxes and other mechanisms, pay for a substantial part of road construction and maintenance, roads are their space.

    "Substantial part" being the notable hedge for the fact that road construction and maintenance is ultimately funded also by property, income, and sales taxes that everyone - yes, including cyclists and pedestrians - also pay. In most municipalities, taxes and fees don't come close to paying for all the road they have.

    Bikes, peds, etc. rarely pay fees for their facilities and those sidewalks and bike lanes take money that could be used to maintain roads.

    Obviously, if life were fair, then, you would have pedestrians and cyclists mixing with road traffic. Right?

    As always, they demand something for nothing.

    I can walk out of my apartment right now and walk down a street that sits largely unused except for providing overnight, free parking for dozens of vehicle owners. Something for nothing? You think any of them are paying for that amenity?

  • JFree||

    Considering cars, through gas taxes and other mechanisms, pay for a substantial part of road construction and maintenance, roads are their space.

    No they don't. They don't even pay the maintenance of the road surface itself (which is btw magnitudes higher for cars/trucks than it is for smaller human-sized options. And gas itself is subsidized through a ton of other subsidies (including us maintaining 800 overseas military installations that are primarily intended to secure trade routes for oil).

    The construction is paid for by general taxes/bonds - not gas taxes. And those roads should thus be designed for the purpose of opening up mobility choices for all - not shutting off all but one mobility option.

  • Longtobefree||

    Congestion pricing is a variable toll on drivers that rises or falls based on how many cars are on a stretch of road at a given time. The idea is to harness the power of the price mechanism to ration when and where people drive.

    The idea is to get people used to any policy that requires government tracking of where each car goes.

  • ||

    The idea is to get people used to any policy that requires government tracking of where each car goes.

    Yeah, there's talk about raising the tolls and increasing toll lanes around Chicagoland to raise more money. At least part of the discussion is regulating navigation apps that 'allow' drivers to 'overuse' side streets to avoid tolls. It's just another method of enabling the bait and switch that the government usually undertakes. People don't like paying for what they used to get for free because they weren't getting it for free. In Chicagoland, the change is being put forth as an overt end around to perpetuate carbon/energy taxation.

    Toll Free in '73! Shovel ready jobs! Underfunded public pensions!

  • SimonP||

    I'd imagine the impetus behind regulating navigation apps has less to do with "catching" toll evaders but keeping local roads clear for local traffic. Because, otherwise, you'd just impose a congestion fee over the whole zone and let people decide where they want to drive.

    Navigation apps cause this problem near congested arterials, too. Not a few municipalities are trying to find ways to combat it. Not surprisingly, they typically try to do so in ways that favor local drivers over passing-through drivers, so the most obvious solutions - simply making your local streets not conducive to through traffic - are completely ignored.

  • The Iconoclast||

    Congestion pricing incentivizes pols to not build roads to decrease congestion.

  • aistamn||

    This! In the Portland area the population has grown over the years but no new lanes have been added to ease congestion. None the current plans under consideration by the PTB include additional lanes, only the addition of tolling. In many ways, it seems the desired goal is to punish Washington residents who work in Oregon by taxing them to pay for any road improvements.

  • SimonP||

    Building lanes to ease congestion doesn't work. You build the lanes and then, maybe, for the first short bit, you'll free up some space. But then people will see that it's easier to commute from farther out, they'll move out there or they'll drive out there more, and the extra capacity you've just built will be taken.

    It happens again and again but, because car-drivers are selfish assholes with no real understanding of the phenomenon called "traffic," they push politicians to build more lanes. And politicians, being primarily incompetent morons with no real skin in the game besides getting re-elected, willingly oblige, typically financing these huge lane-adding projects with public debt and federal grants. And so today's suburban moms and dads get a bit of relief, politicians get re-elected, and then the cycle repeats itself in five-ten years.

    Stupid, stupid, stupid. Look at Atlanta if you want to see where it leads. It's a never-ending cycle.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    You mean it's like how the teachers at government run schools cause pregnancies? Consider the possibilities of eliminating all funding for teachers at government run schools in a district. You would likely see a significant decrease in the number of parents who prefer public schools living in a town. The demand for seats in the school will fit the supply in the long run.

  • SimonP||

    I can't tell if you're trying to be facetious, but there's definitely an effect - intentional, even - between public subsidies for child-rearing and parents' decisions to raise children. Public schooling, tax breaks for a variety of child-rearing expenses, publicly-funded medical benefits, nutritional assistance, etc.

  • The Last American Hero||

    So by your logic, we could trim the interstate to one lane each way and there would be no change in traffic patterns. After all capacity and congestion aren't linked.

  • JFree||

    Tackling congestion by building roads is like tackling obesity by loosening your belt.

    Unfortunately congestion pricing alone won't work in most cities because it just creates more rat runs (see 'use alternative routes').

    There is no short-term solution - because the fix most American cities and their suburbs are in is a direct consequence of building roads and allocating roadspace (and zoning decisions) in the past that just encouraged people to sprawl out which requires longer trips. And most of those who see the problem are obsessed with creating their own mass transit boondoggles.

  • JFree||

    As an aside - I do think there is a libertarian solution here long-term - but it AIN'T gonna come from suburban libertarians (which is kind of where 'congestion pricing' originates since it at least attaches a price to what was unpriced - but very expensive - before).

    It's gonna come from urban libertarians - who understand that there are a lot of people who actually do want to live near other people - and yeah that means govt - and publicly or community-owned assets - is gonna exist there. So for them the question is - in that situation, how can govt use those publicly-owned assets to maximize liberty for those who choose to live there?

  • ThanksForTheFish||

    Atlanta has congestion pricing north of the perimeter. Other than helping clear some space for busses, it's main purpose seems to be to allow businesses that can charge it out to customers and the wealthy to save 5-10 minutes on a 20 mile drive.

    But reduce traffic? Not really.

  • Nardz||

    It doesn't reduce traffic but it's only 1 lane, and I've often been jealous of that lane in rush hour.

    I don't think it's a bad way to do things, provided it's one lane not the whole road

  • Finrod||

    They've torn up I-75 on the north side as well to build those lanes. But will the general public ever be compensated for all the time they've lost dealing with all the construction to put in those lanes? We'll be lucky if they put a fresh layer of asphalt to cover over the seams from where they had to make the existing lanes swerve to put in the new lanes.

    Oh, and the whole logic of the money from the congestion pricing being used to build more lanes? That's a good one. Politicians will raid that money to pay for crap having nothing to do with roads and the congestion will just get worse.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    It's one thing if tolls roads were paid for without a cent of taxpayer money. These politicians take taxpayer money by the millions, build public roads and then "convert" them to tolls. Taking my taxpayer money and the saying I have no claim to use them.

    The HOT lanes simply remind me of the center lanes on Moscow roads that party officials took to avoid the slaves stuck in traffic.

  • OldGuy||

    Oh my god, 35 hours a year wasted in traffic? Gasp. We must do something. Wait...

    35 hours a year is 2100 minutes. Divided over an average of 250 working days that is 8.4 minutes per commuting day. Or 4.2 minutes per trip. Not really a usable slice of time.

    I always giggle when I hear people talk about saving time.

  • Tom Bombadil||

    That number jumped out at me too. For urban drivers, 35 hours in traffic sounds more like a monthly number, not yearly.

    If 35 hours per year is a true number, Americans are lucky sumbitches.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    For comparison, 20 minutes a day on the crapper leads to 120 hours a year.

    Maybe we can combine driving and pooping and really save time.

  • Rich||

    *And* save fuel with the methane.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    Get someone on this right now! I have gotten older and also have to make a stop to the restroom before I leave for the day. If I could eliminate that (pun intended) while sitting in the car that's 30 extra seconds!

  • sharmota4zeb||

    Living near New York City, I grew up assuming that every car trip involved being stuck in 15 minutes of traffic when it is not rush hour.

  • Cy||

    This is a recent tactic used in Fort Worth/Dallas. Essentially, the governmetn sold off the only land that the public could expand the freeways to private corporations that are now charging tolls to use the very land that we should've used to expand the freeways. Did the road/fuel taxes go down? No? Than WTF are we being charged to drive over the very land we already owned? Where are the lawsuits for the millions of hours of delays the public had to go through while the private companies were building their toll roads?

    I'm all for private enterprise, but it seems that the government is having it's cake and eating it to. They can now say that roads/capacity has been expanded all the while keeping the scaling taxes in place.

    As for Portland and Seattle, both of those cities have made it abundantly clear that cars are bad and they're going to do everything they can to make people not want to drive them. Including higher taxes through fuel and registration, no road expansions, tolls and massive government spending into boondoggles that support the 'mass transit' tree hugging bullshit.

  • JFree||

    'Mass transit' is often truly just a boondoggle. But the American city does need to stop fetishizing cars. Robert Moses was the exemplar of that - but the reality is that those citizens who shared his fetish moved to the suburbs where they can live that fetish. Which means they no longer live in the city - and should now be irrelevant to the decisions that urban residents make about how public land used for personal transport should be engineered.

    The best thing cities could do is to crowdsource the development of their transport grids - for multiple competing forms of transit - from the neighborhood level up to the larger city-wide level. And take it out of the hands of the TopMen who are hopelessly corrupted by the special interests who view it all solely in car v mass transit terms.

  • SimonP||

    Moses's legacy, in NYC, is split between the vibrant, economically successful neighborhoods that he never managed to bulldoze for highway overpasses, and the huge, crumbling highways carving up our boroughs that we have to find the money to fix before they collapse. That, I suppose, and the big brown blocks of projects, now completely surrounded by wealth.

  • MatthewSlyfield||

    "Higher tolls during peak hours push motorists to travel at different times, use alternative routes, or collapse multiple trips into just one—all of which cuts down on the time people spend driving."

    In most areas, the heaviest traffic occurs when people are commuting to and from work. Since most people have zero control over their work hours, I see little reason to believe that congestion pricing can have more than a minimal impact on congestion levels.

  • Juice||

    It's bullshit. It does nothing to ease congestion because there's no other route besides where they put the tolls. It's just a money grab.

  • Shirley Knott||

    Not just a money grab, as noted by longtobefree above it is a move in a power grab.
    Congestion pricing is not a market solution, it is a wolf in sheep's clothing, pretending to be what it is not. That there are "prices" — pseudo-prices, really — does not make this a market.

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    I love the express lanes we have here. If I am in a hurry, I use them. If I am not in a hurry, I take the slower regular lanes.

  • Juice||

    At least in Northern Virginia, IINM, they did actually build some extra lanes.

  • Rat on a train||

    I-495 HOT are new lanes. I-66 and I-95 converted HOV to HOT. I-95 added a lane on part of the route and extended the lanes about 10 miles with another extension planned. I-66 HOT will also be widened and extended. Only the existing I-66 HOT is an all lanes HOT route. The other routes have parallel free lanes.

  • ||

    35 hours per year? Surely you must jest.

    "Despite growing openness, congestion pricing faces an uphill battle. People generally don't like having to pay for things they were until recently getting for free."

    I thought taxes paid for them. So, not "free". In a way, I can see their point since it would be seen as double payment.

  • Juice||

    They're talking about putting it in along the 270 corridor in Montgomery County. There's really no other way to get to those suburbs unless they plan on thousands of cars clogging the windy country roads and small neighborhood streets along the corridor. It would do absolutely nothing about congestion but it would make it cost a lot more for people to get home from work every day.

  • Shirley Knott||

    Yup. And track each and every one of them.
    Money and power, all in one sham.

  • SimonP||

    Or maybe it would make living in those far-flung suburbs less attractive, and residents would look for place more centrally located to where they work, shop, and recreate. What an idea!

    For decades, urban planning in the most country has built in heavy incentives for people to move as far away from city centers as they can get. Sure, we'll build a huge highway so that you can commute to downtown in half an hour's driving. No problem, we'll lay out the electrical grid and sewage system to serve those communities. Yeah, we'll annex and rezone all of that farmland so that developers have super-cheap land to build crappy houses on. You need schools? You got 'em. You want places to shop and work? Okay, we'll bend the zoning laws and create tax incentives.

    It is, simply put, not sustainable. Congestion pricing along these high-capacity corridors is just the beginning of the breakdown. Cities are reaching the limits of what they can achieve by annexing the counties in which they are located and the amount of land they can simply waste by building highway lanes, overpasses, and interchanges (which are, by the way, tremendously expensive to maintain).

  • sharmota4zeb||

    It is more likely to make working in the city less attractive. Telecommuting is becoming more popular, and businesses are moving from Manhattan to Brooklyn and Jersey City.

  • Rat on a train||

    It certainly makes shopping and recreation in the city less attractive. If I could work from home I wouldn't go near the city.

  • SimonP||

    It certainly makes shopping and recreation in the city less attractive. If I could work from home I wouldn't go near the city.

    I honestly don't understand why cities cater to suburban squatters like you. So many of them do - wringing their hands over how to convince the fatasses living out in the 'burbs to come downtown to eat at bland Italian restaurant chains and shop at "kooky" stores that no one living in a house that is 40% garage would ever buy anything at. So they build big, free parking garages that end up empty most of the time, they sponsor downtown "beautification" projects, they zone in huge mall-like developments.

    They should instead be making city centers attractive places to live. Attract people to the center, and most of the rest takes care of itself. Why do we design our cities to encourage people to live remote from the places where they work or shop?

  • The Last American Hero||

    Take a trip to Detroit some time. See what a city looks like when the "suburban squatters" don't want to come downtown.

  • SimonP||

    Er, people aren't working in Brooklyn because it's easier to drive and park there. The migration of businesses outside of the Manhattan core is the product of several factors, including real estate prices, tax policy, population growth within the city and the boroughs, etc. Certainly, downtown Brooklyn is an easier commute for a lot of Brooklynites - but that's through the subway system.

    Jersey City, the picture is probably more complex. It's probably easier to drive into Jersey City than it is to cross the river, for sure. But it's also conveniently located on commuter rail and has its own transit network. In any event, neither of these areas of development are centrally located within the larger metropolitan area, so they don't really reflect an unwillingness to travel. They are staying, in other words, near where the workers are, which is the city. They aren't locating in fucking Nassau or Westchester, for instance.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    Cities are reaching the limits of what they can achieve by annexing the counties in which they are located and the amount of land they can simply waste by building highway lanes, overpasses, and interchanges (which are, by the way, tremendously expensive to maintain).

    Spoken like someone who as never driven cross-country.

  • SimonP||

    No, it's spoken by someone with some familiarity with city planning and the tricks that municipalities use to make them work.

    This isn't about space. People have a tolerance to commute daily up to maybe about an hour one-way. Beyond that, people start to look for ways to live closer. You just can't build enough highway to allow whole communities of people living 50 miles away from work to commute speedily to work. You can't build it, you can't afford it, you can't maintain it. Cities are reaching that limit.

  • SIV||

    Ah, "market-based" central planning. Make it a public private partnership and Reason will swoon so hard they'll forget all about Pot, Ass-sex and Mexicans.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    ^This

    Either congestion pricing is a brilliant solution to one aspect of the tragic commons, or just another form of taxation, since most commuter drivers cannot alter their drive times.

  • SimonP||

    Gosh, how do economies work, anyway?

    No, you moron, it's not about convincing suburban shed-dwellers to take non-existent buses to work downtown. It's about putting a price on an amenity that might, at the margins, induce an employee to locate somewhere closer to where they work or are in any event less reliant on high-traffic corridors to get around. You can accomplish an astonishing amount of congestion reduction just by getting 5-10% of the cars off the street.

    Price a quick trip into the city, everyone gets what they want. SUV tank-drivers, urban commuters, municipal coffers. Continue the status quo of bleeding money into highway expansion, you'll get suffering municipal finances and exurban blight.

  • Get To Da Chippah||

    "Move into an 10x10x8 cube-let in the city or pay up, worthless drone!"

  • SimonP||

    Like it or not, dense urban planning keeps costs down and gets the most bang for the buck, revenue-wise. Just look at any honest accounting of municipal finances - public housing gets a bad rap, but it's the suburbs that are the massive public subsidy money-pits. It's just mind-boggling when you see the net tax drain per acre they extract. All that space comes at a cost, and that's a cost borne by city-dwellers.

  • Finrod||

    That's the logic you types gave with gas taxes too. Didn't work then, won't work now.

  • JFree||

    Congestion pricing won't really have that effect though. I agree that the long term goal for cities is to stop fetishing the 'long-distance transport' option and start creating a good place to live. But that is gonna mean reengineering the REST of the transport grid first - to make it competitive for biking and walking and muni transport and private pooled/taxi transport and cars - and that is what is really missing from even the public discussion.

    Right now this is looking more like the same sort of game that occurs with speed limit and parking signs. A pure revenue opportunity that doesn't lead anywhere but a revenue stream for constipated city employees.

  • SimonP||

    The shift needs to do two things. It needs to remove incentives for driving, while improving the attractiveness of alternative options. Congestion pricing is absolutely one part of that. Put the money into designing and staffing a bus network that works well and a barebones but connected bike network. Lift zoning restrictions so that people can build where there's demand. That's a good first step, I think.

  • JFree||

    You have the order wrong. It needs to improve the attractiveness of alternative options FIRST. For most cities, the best 'mass-transit' option is depot nodes - where anyone from carpoolers to Uber to taxis to private/muni buses/vans can use (and pay) it to provide options for connecting all the different nodes and doing the collecting/distributing from/to the node.

    The GRID however needs to be completely overhauled and reengineered for the 'free movement' (anywhere to anywhere) option. That means eliminating cars entirely from heavy-ped areas (shopping/entertainment/etc). Eliminating car thru-traffic from residential neighborhoods (which will open those streets up for a bike/scooter or other slower-velocity grid if they can be connected across the city - and finally allow kids to walk/bike to school again so they don't grow up to be wussy little snowflakes). Eliminating peds/bikes and reducing traffic lights or access/egress on car arterials.

    Once the transport itself is reengineered a lot of the zoning stuff and the 'where do I live' decisions may disappear - because scratch the surface and the conflict is usually about the expected traffic/parking.

    Congestion pricing on its own in most cities will just lead to rat runs and road rage - and public sector unions who want to rent-seek on the revenue while reducing their incentive to change anything.

  • JFree||

    Those depot nodes don't even require extra land. Cities have that land in intersections already. Changing some of those into depot nodes serves to a)cut thru routes for private traffic (which solves the ratrun problem for residential neighborhoods) and d)keep thru routes for public traffic and c)create valuable commercial space nearby.

    Problem is municipalities are almost as obsessed with directly operating mass transit (expensively) as they are with catering to cars (incompetently) - so they don't see the value in simply and cheaply realizing value thru the land itself by leasing slot space and publicizing schedules etc for entrepreneurs who would be more than happy to find ways to offer public transport.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    So by that logic I get the added bonus of losing home value while having to move (moving expenses). It almost makes me forget that living in the city around the shitheads is why I moved to the suburbs in the first place. At least I'll get the advantage of having to also pay for private school so my kid doesn't get gang raped art school.

    Talk to me more about how the economics offset any problems.

  • SimonP||

    Oooga-booga central planning! You said the magical words that make something super-bad!

    Listen! You can gripe about "central planning" inherent in congestion pricing when you start caring about "central planning" in the whole urban landscape. Who's deciding where these roads need to go, anyway? How wide they need to be, how much capacity they should be designed to handle? It ain't the free market, buddy!

  • sharmota4zeb||

    Every urbanized area has a metropolitan planning organization that guides how the federal government funds transportation dollars in that urbanized area.

  • The Last American Hero||

    Why on earth are the feds funding transportation?

    Oh, that's right, because FYTW.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "Oooga-booga central planning! You said the magical words that make something super-bad!"

    Since it is an absolute physical impossibility for an central planning process to be a more efficient allocator of capital investment than a pure free market process in any conceivable aspect of existence, yes indeed it is super bad.

  • SimonP||

    Which would be why not a single urban area in the world is organized by purely free-market forces.

    Hey, buddy - what do you think a free-market "city" looks like? What kinds of road network would you expect? Where would housing and businesses be built? How are they dealing with their sewage - and their neighbors' sewage, upstream? How are they getting their water?

  • JFree||

    In theory it looks like Galt's Gulch. But the notion of taxes funded by rent (or roughly Georgist land taxes) seems to leave the Randian side of libertarians looking like central planning socialists to the anarchopropertarian wing.

  • SimonP||

    In theory it looks like Galt's Gulch.

    You're right, if you mean a total fantasy. Don't forget that Galt's Gulch is powered by a perpetual motion machine and has no sewage or water treatment system to speak of.

  • JFree||

    Well - Midas Mulligan retained ownership of all the land there. He leased it out to various people with ideas - NONE of which included I'll just sit on the land and wait for it to go up in price. And Mulligan used (or would have if it was permanent) the rents for muni-type infrastructure that the residents there required in order to go about their lives and be productive and pay the rents.

    Replace 'Midas Mulligan' with 'municipality' and it is basically an unstated Georgist system - without the democracy. And yeah - some useless magic tricks to avoid talking about 'governance' and to create the fiction that governance just happens by magic.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "Which would be why not a single urban area in the world is organized by purely free-market forces."

    The reason why is government's desire power. Nothing more.

    "Hey, buddy - what do you think a free-market "city" looks like?"

    Superior to anything not free market. It could not be otherwise.

  • swampwiz||

    I wonder how this all works. I had a Louisiana plate when I had lived in Denver for a few winters, and I certainly didn't purchase anything to drive on the interstates that seemed to have such a system.

  • Rat on a train||

    The Virginia toll roads use transponders and license plate readers. If you don't have a transponder they will bill you for the fare plus a fee.

  • Juice||

    When my folks came to visit me, they got nailed by the toll booth thing. They got a bill in the mail for the toll, which was like $4, plus like $12 or something. They live in a distant state and rarely come out this way so they just threw it in the trash.

  • SIV||

    Richmond at least has some booths but the Tidewater tunnels and bridges are a nightmare. Staying off toll roads in NoVa was relatively easy.

  • SIV||

    Reason Foundation honcho Bob Poole proposes/advocates tolling all of the interstate highways.

    "WTF? We already paid for those ! With fuel taxes, ad valorem taxes and other taxes..."

    The catch is muh roadz have reached "the end of their 50 year life span"

    But the Reason Foundation -- along with several other stakeholders --* is asking Congress to make a major departure and instead let states toll all the interstates, so long as they use the money to rebuild or expand the roads.

    Such a move would be dramatically different from the status quo and no doubt controversial. But Congress hasn't raised the gas tax in 20 years, and it hasn't taken any steps to indicate its serious about addressing the funding shortfall facing the country's roadways. "There's no serious alternative on the table anywhere that has a chance," says Robert Poole, Reason's director of transportation policy.

    *(If you think taxpaying motorists are one of the the "stakeholders" you're among the must gullible of rubes)

  • Chipper Morning Baculum||

    Roads have maintenance costs. Not all of us can ride Chocobos through the forest trails like you.

  • Shirley Knott||

    There's a critically important word missing from "... so long as they use the money to rebuild or expand the roads."
    Without the word 'only' between 'they' and 'use', we can bet the money, or a very large percentage of it, will go elsewhere and the roads will not be maintained.

  • Cy||

    It's almost as if politicians have every reason to let the roads crumble so they can justify more taxes.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    There is a reason people drive off road SUVs in cities.

  • Mickey Rat||

    "...so long as they use the money to rebuild or expand the roads."

    And scepticism goes out the window - money is fungible.

  • Sevo||

    I thought "hate-traffic" was the new "hate-speech".

  • Earth Skeptic||

    But I thought there was information in prices, whether the dollars charged for generators after a hurricane, or the minutes spent in a commuter's drive. And independent rational people use information to make decisions (buy a generator before storm season, live closer to work or accept the consequences).

  • Juice||

    But I thought there was information in prices

    There is, but like private schools in the midst of government schools, people are already forced to pay for the government schools and if they want something better, they have to pay again for another school. Surely you can see how the information is distorted by most people not being able to afford paying twice for what they consume.

  • Agammamon||

    Sorry Reason, but you are wrong.

    "Hate traffic? Learn tp love *cordon* pricing"

    Because that is what you're going to get. Do you think our betters are going to give up the opportunity to penalize hoi polloi wjen they habe the temerity to drive into our sacred centers of government? No. The proles can use mass transit like they've been told to do.

  • Bretzky||

    congestion pricing: a tax on drivers meant to ensure that poor people aren't clogging up otherwise public roads

  • Juice||

    Poor people that can afford to own, maintain, and insure private cars?

  • Nardz||

    Believe it or not, cars are not only for the wealthy. They're kinda necessary in the US. Fuck off, slaver

  • SimonP||

    They're actually not necessary in just about any urban area I've ever lived, even heavily car-oriented communities.

    Rural areas, sure. If you live in a tiny town where every amenity apart from a small grocery store is in some other nearby town, there's no doubt you'll need a car. But even in a small city of about 150k I was able to live comfortably using a bike and the bus to get around, on a barely-living wage. All that it required was some thought into where I wanted to live. To say nothing of every larger, more-dense city I've lived in.

  • Longtobefree||

    But even in a small city of about 150k I was able to live comfortably using a bike and the bus to get around, on a barely-living wage.

    Try that again when you are seventy years old with arthritis in both knees - - - - - - - - - -

  • Rat on a train||

    I live in a metro area of about 150k. I could walk the half mile to the nearest bus stop, take the bus to the nearest grocery store, walk the quarter mile to the store, and return. It would take about 90 minutes round trip or I could drive in less than 15. I also don't have to carry enough groceries for 4 people.

  • SimonP||

    It would take about 90 minutes round trip or I could drive in less than 15.

    Then you've made some awful decisions about where you should live, huh?

    In the aforementioned 150k town where I lived, I made sure to live within walking distance of grocery stores. I was also within walking distance of most of the places where I'd be able to do any other kind of shopping I might need to do - clothing, hardware, books. One place, I suppose, I'd have to catch a bus or ride a bike to go to a movie theater. Hell, you know what I did? I temped. No issues at all, going from office to office, week after week always a new place, finding a new bus route or bike route each time.

    There were plenty of places in that 150k town where I wouldn't have been able to do that, for sure. Which is why I didn't live in them. That's all there is to it.

    And, y'know, kids and spouses can carry groceries.

  • SimonP||

    When I'm seventy and arthritic, I'll assess my options then. Until then, there's no reason to live, or to design cities, like we're all seventy and arthritic. Genius.

  • JFree||

    Try that again when you are seventy years old with arthritis in both knees - - - - - - - - - -

    There's a ton of disability mobility options when a city creates separate paths for bikes and peds - https://youtu.be/xSGx3HSjKDo

    That are FAR cheaper than cars for the disabled - and also create a sense of normalcy for them.

    In a well-designed city, most trips should be for less than 2 miles - esp if you take out the work commute for the retired.

  • Finrod||

    Obviously you've never lived in any red state urban area, fool. I dare you to try to live in OTP Atlanta without a car.

  • SimonP||

    Actually, I grew up in urban areas of a deeply-red state. I know exactly what I'm talking about.

    Atlanta is obviously a car-obsessed hellhole, but I probably could do it there, too. It's far easier than you fat carheads seem to think.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    And there it was. The final insult that if you drive cars you must be fat. Maybe you are a better person than all the rest of us, likely more fit, but you're a complete jackass.

    And so you know, I'm 6' and 165 lbs. That's in my mid forties. And I drive a lot of cars. I own four. I'm not giving them up.

  • SimonP||

    And there it was. The final insult that if you drive cars you must be fat. Maybe you are a better person than all the rest of us, likely more fit, but you're a complete jackass.

    I'm just treating drivers with the same contempt they treat cyclists. Or Reason commenters, anyone who doesn't subscribe to a rigid right-libertarian orthodoxy. Sorry if I hurt your feelings, snowflake.

    And so you know, I'm 6' and 165 lbs. That's in my mid forties. And I drive a lot of cars. I own four. I'm not giving them up.

    No - why would you? Keep sucking at the public teat of subsidies that makes driving them enjoyable. No one's much inclined to stop your mooching.

  • The Last American Hero||

    If cyclists would obey the rules of the road, they'd get more respect.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    I'm the snowflake? You're the one attacking an entire nation of people because some people might not appreciate their commute slowed down by an arrogant prick. The post below also highlights the dearth of appreciation for your gloriously wonderful fellow cyclists in that the typical version of heeding the laws for them simply means using the road as they see fit.

    My mooching? My cars are all registered, use gas and paying the tax, and all paid for by me. You, jackass, are the one mooching. How much did you contribute to the roadways that you clog? That must be the lax, left-sided libertarian way.

    And if you pull ahead of all of the cars at the stop light that just finished passing you as you are "sharing" the road, you deserve to get buzzed. The next stop sign you try to blow through, remember I help you folks learn that stop applies to you too when I accelerate at you.

  • Bubba Jones||

    If current congestion isn't changing behaviors, then I suspect you will disappointed in the outcome.

    This will be a combination of money grab by politicians and an INCREASE in commute time for the poor people who either get forced to side streets or have to travel before and after their normal commute times to avoid the tolls. These people won't be reclaiming their time. They will be wasting it when they have to twiddle their thumbs before and after work.

    Congestion pricing will increase the value of downtown real estate which will make it even more difficult for poor people to cut their commute.

    Example: When you trade in a car in Texas, your sales tax is reduced by the value of the trade in. You pay tax only on the net purchase. Car dealers capture this value by cutting their offer on your car by 6% and then adding the tax benefit as a separate line item on the offer.

  • Devastator||

    I agree a relatively small increase in gas tax would fix most of our infrastructure woes, it really is something that the government did right (especially the 50s interstate system that really kicked it off) and helps capitalism grow and economic inequalities get smaller because everyone gets treated the same. It opens up communication possibilities that didn't exist before, just like the internet. Toll roads make sense if they are limited but these unending toll roads into perpetuity for private corporation to rape the public need to stop (looking at you Austin, Dallas, and Houston)

  • Cy||

    Road taxes don't need to go up, they need to be restricted to just being spent on roads. Period, end of story, have a nice day.

  • SimonP||

    Road taxes should cover the significant externalities that drivers impose on the communities through which they drive. It also makes sense to fund alternative transportation options, to the extent it lightens up demand on road infrastructure.

    Next time you're stewing in traffic, you should look around yourself and think about how many individuals are actually in the sea of cars around you. At a typical stoplight, that might be something like, what - twenty people? Not even a half-full busload. Think about how much you'd be willing to pay, in road taxes, to magically whisk those people onto a single bus.

  • Bubba Jones||

    25% of Texas gas taxes go to the school fund.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    Fuck you, you insufferable prick. You came to hawk your personal ideas of perfection in a comment section to an article about REDUCING drive times. All of Your wonderful ideas extend times and most cost nearly as much in most cases.

    The myriad options available to me are all horrible solutions. Now maybe your time has less value to you than mine does to me, but that grants you absolutely zero superiority in the argument.

  • The Last American Hero||

    There is no need for the feds to do roads. The states can maintain the highways.

  • Jerryskids||

    The revenue generated meanwhile can be spent on additional congestion-reducing projects, such as widening lanes or expanding bus service.

    High-speed rail, baby! I was in Europia one time and they got these railroads all over the place and they're like really cheap and easy and fast - we should have them over here! I went from Brussel Sprouts to Hamsterdom in less than two hours, it only cost me like 35 huevos (that's the dollars they use over there and I think it costs like a penny to buy them) and those cities are in two whole different countries! Imagine if you're not even going to a different country, like being able to go from Los Angeles to New York City in like an hour! Heck, if they raised the gas tax by like a penny, I bet we could have high-speed trains to all the cities, no different than the subways they already have in most cities, and it wouldn't cost like more than like a few million dollars. Somebody should look into that, it's embarrassing that the frogs and the krauts and the wops have trains and us normal people still are using cars to get around.

  • Cy||

    AH HA HA HA HA HA! HA HA HA!!! Tell us another one Jerry, that was hilarious!

  • SimonP||

    Yeah, I can't tell you how much it sucks to go to Philly or DC from NYC on a speedy train where I can move about freely, get work done, and drink. I sure wish I could spend all that time driving in my own private steel cage, fastened to my seat, dealing with traffic, and preoccupied with operating my own vehicle.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    Maybe it is the disgusting seats, germ factory, crazy assholes that insist on talking, and the required reliance on others.

    Just because you like it doesn't mean the rest have to.

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    I fail to see anything libertarian about these schemes. We do not have and never will have a "free market" for roads and this is not a "free market solution". This is just another tax.

  • Devastator||

    And when you add ownership by corporations it just makes the tax higher, because now they have to make as much profit as possible.

  • The Last American Hero||

    Of course, profits are made by providing things people want at a price they are willing to pay.

    Your schemes are enforced at the point of a gun and there is no incentive to provide good service.

  • Devastator||

    No public roads are one thing that government does better with proper oversight. Raise the gas tax. Toll roads are crony capitalism at it's worst with foreign companies coming in and ransacking our highway system.

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    I just lasso a few drones together and airlift myself to work.

  • Cy||

    With VR moving as quickly as it is, I don't expect a lot of people are going to need to commute to work much longer. At least, not in a physical form. Virtual Offices are extremely more efficient than our current system and will be apart of our future.

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    I certainly hope so. Commuting wastes a vast amount of time, is often stressful, and is often incredibly expensive. Much of my work over the last several years could have been done remotely, but those companies have really been dragging their feet in terms of any investment in, and trials with remote working/the virtual office. It depends very much in the nature of work being done, but I certainly resent the amount of money, time, and psychological wellbeing I have invested (being on the end of some violent commuter rage) throughout my life just to be present on company real estate rather than being just as, if not more productive from home. [/rant]

  • Flinch||

    Oh, great. The advent of toll tags (as it displaces most cash transactions) gives way to more predictable funny business. A variable toll in the 70s would have been met with howls of disapproval around the northeast area, as people would never have known how much change to bring. Fast forward to today, and I can see where this idea is headed. Infrastructure improvements being scrapped on account of purposely maintaining gridlock a couple times a day makes too much money for the state or municipality to want to do anything different. Cities will begin to design traffic jams in order to meet their pension obligations, and the tolls won't pay for the roads but mix directly in the general treasury.
    Anyone out there remember when the olympics was held in Los Angeles? One of the things they did was to ask businesses to stagger their hours and... driving around LA was never nicer. For the better space of a week, only an accident could cause a traffic jam.
    I hate variable tolls already, and I haven't seen one in action.

  • Cy||

    Never let a good crisis go to waste. Now they can manufacture the crisises and automate the public theft. Hell, they can even bring in their bro- ahem, "private contractor" to make sure they get around all of the boring legal stuff that governments have to adhere to.

  • Mickey Rat||

    "If open roads are the goal, however, policy makers can do no better than the dynamic prices offered by unfettered congestion rates."

    So how is this different from internal tariffs and an end to internal free trade?

  • ||

    Maybe we can do much better http://www.econtalk.org/archiv.....ger_5.html

  • No Longer Amused||

    Those roads aren't "free" - the taxpayers PAID for them.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Where's Shikha to advocate more people to enter the USA. Reason never equates the traffic problems of 50 major US cities with having a US population above ~330 million people. More population has a down side.

  • Agammamon||

    You're right.

    What we need are movement controls. Internal visas for everyone!

  • Mark22||

    Congestion pricing really makes little economic sense; it's just another regressive tax not a rational response to congestion. Of course, that's why wealthy people like it.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    The problem with government imposing congestion pricing, is that the next step is always going to be the government imposing congestion.

    You've got to think about the incentives, and the last incentive you want to give government is that they get more revenue if things get worse.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Exactly Brett. The government partly causes the congestion by not creating more roads as needed then takes money from drivers for that congestion. There is less incentive for government to create more roads since having less roads pays and they don't have to spend all that taxpayer money on more roads.

    Win (local politicians)-win (Congressmen)-lose (drivers)

  • SimpleRules||

    Actually they get more revenue when vehicles go fast: more vehicles = more $$

  • The Last American Hero||

    No they don't. If the roads aren't congested, the price goes down.

  • The Last American Hero||

    No they don't. If the roads aren't congested, the price goes down.

  • SimpleRules||

    Congestion is a variation on the 'tragedy of the commons' because when too many vehicles are on a given road at the same time everyone loses. Congestion prices seeks to maximize the carrying capacity of the road by getting vehicles to move as fast as possible. Adding vehicles above the carrying capacity crystallizes traffic which usually doesn't recover for hours.

    Congestion pricing applies capitalistic rules to identify who needs the service the most. Seems fair to me to charge folks for the impact you are having on everyone else on the road.

  • box_man||

    That is not what it does. It is a tax pure and simple.

    For market mechanisms to work there must be a market. There is no market in congestion pricing models. If I am sitting on a road and it's about to become congested, how can I sell my spot to someone who really needs it and is willing to pay more for it than I value it at? A market sets up conditions for buyers and sellers to locate each other and make transactions. Then, the mechanisms of the market serve to make those exchanges efficient. Congestion pricing does nothing to set up a marketplace so throwing "capatilistic rules" at a problem without first creating a market solves nothing.

    Instead with congestion pricing, anyone who enters is charged more but that extra charge is diverted to something determined by a governing body. It's not a market exchange in any sense of the word. It's a tax and redistribution. In practice, most governing bodies spend the extra money on anything but relieving congestion.

  • SimpleRules||

    Congestion pricing is the same as buying a plane ticket - you pay for better service. Folks don't see it that way because yesterday it was 'free' but today I have to pay.

    You 'sell' your spot by not buying it in the first place so it's available to the next guy. If demand is low enough, the price (could) go to zero.

    The purpose of Congestion pricing is not revenue (though agencies aren't likely to turn it down) - it's to make the existing roads more efficient. Roads handle the most vehicles per hour when everyone's at free-flow speed; they are least efficient when congested.

  • The Last American Hero||

    Taking away lanes for a few rich people to drive in doesn't reduce congestion. You've reduced road capacity 25-33%.

  • Pat001||

    Congestion pricing won't reduce congestion. It will only make driving on congested roads more expensive.

  • Richard Stallman||

    One issue that wasn't discussed is surveillance. To track people's movements is an injustice to each one, and endangers democracy. That includes recording who pays tolls where and when.

    A congestion toll system does not inherently require surveillance, but there are situations where that is the obvious approach to collecting the toll. We must anticipate the danger that may be implemented that way. For our freedom's sake, we must organize now to ensure it isn't.

    There are already systems that track the movements of cars. A lazy person, looking for an excuse to give up, would say that it is pointless to oppose adding one more. By contrast, a person that really values freedom recognizes that we need to eliminate the existing tracking systems, and that adding one more would be a step in the wrong direction.

    See https://goo.gl/x1E4Fu and https://goo.gl/fvPJ9h

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