An Informed View of Congestion-Pricing

I always like to see when someone with lots more information and better credentials than me comes to the same conclusion on an issue that I have come to. In this case it is Michael R. Brown stating that Congestion-pricing positives outweigh negatives. Mr. Brown is a Certified Transportation Planner and he has been participating in a study on the issue of implementing congestion pricing along the Wasatch Front. One thing he does that I have never thought about is to define the fundamental difference between standard tolls and congestion pricing:

The purpose of tolls is to provide revenue to pay off construction bonds. You pay even when there is no congestion. It amounts to unfair taxation. The purpose of congestion pricing is primarily to ensure the freeways do not fall below 60 mph. At times or places where that wouldn’t be an issue, then the price can be free. (emphasis added)

Secondly he provides his personal top 10 list for the advantages of using congestion-pricing:

  • (10) More use of off-peak capacity
  • (9) Increased transit usage
  • (8) Increased capacity
  • (7) Reduction of side-street spill-over
  • (6) Point A becomes closer to point B
  • (5) Fuel is saved, air quality improved and carbon dioxide reduced
  • (4) Economic competitiveness
  • (3) “Tragedy of commons” is avoided
  • (2) Generates revenue.
  • (1) More productivity

I like the list he presents except that  #6 seems a bit ethereal to me. (This comment seems to be a good clarification of #6.) If you don’t like his list I would recommend reading his version (which includes some explanations) before settling on an opinion.

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14 Responses to An Informed View of Congestion-Pricing

  1. Reach Upward says:

    I think the point of #6 is that drivers often take longer routes to avoid congestion. When congestion is minimized drivers tend to take more direct routes to their destinations.

  2. David says:

    That makes more sense to me. Thanks for sharing.

  3. bekkieann says:

    Sounds good in theory. But we have peak hours of traffic because people start and stop work at hours they don’t necessarily choose. I believe congestion pricing only serves to punish those who must work for a living and who have little or no control over the terms under which they must work. In other words, those who can afford it the least will pay the most.

  4. David says:

    I can understand that perspective B, but how many of the people in those rush hours can move their trips earlier or later? Those who can are likely to move those optional trips to times when the congestion-pricing is cheap or free. Moving those trips frees up the roads for everyone and lowers the cost of the congestion-pricing for those who can’t alter their travel times since fewer cars would be on the road.

    Another potential benefit to those people with the least control is that the companies they work for will have some incentive to grant them more flexibility. It costs companies, at least indirectly, when their employees are inconvenienced getting to work.

    If congestion pricing causes some extra people to take public transportation and others to move discretionary trips to times of lower traffic use then everyone benefits. Besides, those people who you have described might find that the time they are not wasting in stalled traffic, and the gas they are not paying for while sitting in said traffic, might virtually offset whatever they pay in tolls during their more convenient commutes.

  5. Carl says:

    Congestion pricing is something that has never occurred to me. I think it’s a good idea. In addition to promoting the bus, light rail etc. It also promotes carpooling which would allow carpool members to split the cost of the congestion price.

  6. David says:

    I hadn’t thought of that, but you’re right.

  7. Rick says:

    I blogged about this on the 14th July (http://www.rickety.us/2008/07/why-a-congestion-tax-should-be-blocked/). I guess I would call it an “uninformed view”. Thanks for your great blog, always interesting reading.

  8. David says:

    Rick,

    Thanks for sharing your post – I agree with all your suggestions. I still think that congestion-pricing should be part of a comprehensive plan to manage our traffic. My view on the effects of congestion-pricing for those least able to pay are stated in my response to bekkieann.

  9. Derek says:

    Still, we are failing to take into account the principle of triple convergence, which I’m sure you are all familiar with. If not, here is a summary. Temporal convergence is when individuals that used to drive at hours other than peak hours, upon decreasing the congestion in some manner, will once again stop inconveniencing themselves and begin driving at peak hours. Spatial convergence is simply those that used to take longer routes to avoid congestion will now take a more direct route (see explanation of #7). And of course, modal convergence is those that used to take different modes of transportation will get right back on the road if they see the opportunity. In other words, in an attempt to create triple divergence by implementing congestion pricing, the opposite and equal reaction is triple convergence. Read Anthony Downs’ “Stuck in Traffic” (1992) and “Still Stuck in Traffic” (2004).

    Andres Duany explains it quite well when he says, “Measures, which include HOV lanes, congestion pricing, timed traffic lights, and ‘smart streets,’ serve only to increase highway capacity, which causes more people to drive until the equilibrium condition of crowding returns.” – Suburban Nation

  10. David says:

    The real solution (no matter what other tools we may use – like congestion-pricing) is to create a culture that provides incentives to not get on the roads in the first place. It should be a culture where people choose to walk on shorter errands, and where they choose to live closer to their work and other life necessities.

    Unfortunately our culture now encourages driving everywhere all the time. We have excessive over-scheduling of activities, we physically separate our commercial and entertainment venues from our residential areas, and we glorify the idea that we can and should have (and do) everything we want.

  11. Derek says:

    Thanks for acknowledging.

    That’s just it, congestion-pricing, and the tools we are using to discourage driving, do the exact opposite: they encourage more driving.

    The only way to discourage driving is to do exactly what you’ve said, and that’s physically design our towns to meet commercial and residential needs. There’s no silver bullet, but I say no to congestion-pricing: it’s end result is more congestion.

  12. David says:

    Derek,

    It’s funny that we agree on the real solution and yet we come to the opposite conclusion on congestion pricing. I understand your reasoning, but the way I see it, congestion pricing does not lead to more congestion – it settles back to more driving more evenly distributed resulting in comparable levels of congestion.

    I think the end result of congestion pricing is that the costs of overusing our roads are paid in a way that more closely approximates the use that we put on the roads – those who use the roads at the times and places where the burden is greatest bear the greatest share of the cost so my conclusion is to support congestion-pricing.

  13. Derek says:

    This is my last comment on the subject, I promise, and then I’ll let you have the last word.

    You admit, then, that congestion pricing leads to “more driving?” At some point, it will reach an equilibrium, where pricing has only resulted in congestion more of the time. The outcome of congestion pricing is employer flexibility. It is a short-term solution. In 5-10 years we will be back at square one, shouting the same solution: I want to live and work in the same community. Does such a place exist? It would if we would just leave congestion alone and start designing our communities to provide such. Thanks.

  14. David says:

    I don’t need much of a last word on this. Basically you are correct – I simply think that we should get those 5-10 years of value because it will take time to design our communities better, we still have our present communities to live in, and I think that congestion pricing is a better model for funding our transportation infrastructure regardless of how crowded the roads are.

    Thanks for helping me clarify my position.

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