GObike News

May 24, 2019

Streets Are Never Free: Will Congestion Pricing Help Us Realize That?

"Federal and state governments fund roads with gas taxes that feel far removed from a direct user fee... They add up to a pretty giant system of subsidies... This system looks to us like an entitlement — driving is an American right, and so the infrastructure that enables it should be free." —NY Times 

Will congestive pricing cause a cultural shift in the American attitude towards entitlement to limitless, cheap driving and parking? Experts think so. 

In March, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo approved a congestion pricing plan for downtown Manhattan, allowing New York City to become the first city in the United States to charge cars to enter a district, providing a disincentive for driving in highly congested areas while also raising funds for public transit improvements. 

Transportation planners predict the congestion pricing plan will not only dramatically change the way people commute but also change a culturally-embedded tenet of free or inexpensive motor vehicle access to public roads, parking and, other amenities. 

When the government holds down the price of something people value, Mr. Manville said, we get shortages. And congestion is effectively a shortage of road — one that occurs at the peak times when people want to use it most.

If we had that problem with other kinds of infrastructure or commodities, we’d charge people more for them. If airline tickets were particularly in demand, their prices would go up. If there were a run on avocados, grocers wouldn’t respond by keeping them as cheap as possible.

“The roads hold such a special position in our brain that we use logic around them that we would never use around everything else,” Mr. Manville said.

Other countries have socialized health care, parental leave or housing, Jeffrey Tumlin, a transportation consultant at NelsonNygaard, pointed out. In America, we’ve socialized driving — and housing for our cars.


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Streets Are Never Free: Will Congestion Pricing Help Us Realize That?