Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Congestion Pricing and the Environment

There was some hoopla about the recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal claiming that congestion pricing would actually increase emissions by making driving easier. As a cyclist first, transit user second, and pedestrian third, I'm all for giving these modes advantages over driving, but increasing and/or ignoring congestion is not the way to do that. As the only person qualified to judge the value of my time, I want there to be a driving system priced appropriately that gets me where I need to go when I'm in a rush and willing to pay. Some people will always drive, but if the economics are right, that will be much less common. Giving me the freedom to choose which appropriately-priced mode of transportation I consume for any given trip is no different than any other market. I don't expect chocolate volcano lava cake for the price of grocery store ice cream and I don't expect to cruise through the heart of a major urban area at 55 mph for the price of, well, free. And as a primary user of alternative modes, making driving harder does not make my life easier. If the cost of driving is included in its price, consumers can make informed choices about their travel. It would be nice if bicycle, transit, and pedestrian infrastructure received even a fraction of the attention that our roads get.

As for the actual merits of the WSJ piece, I'll leave it to Streetsblog to point out that every city that has tried congestion pricing saw a reduction in congestion and emissions, while improving the travel times of all modes. It's amazing what good economics will do.

More Streetsblog commentary that is right on point.

1 comment:

Alan Huynh said...


I appreciate your enthusiasm for congestion pricing, but there are several reasons why it might not be the best system for the US.

First, I'm going to speak as a tax paying resident and not a cyclist, transit user, or pedestrian, due to the fact that planners need to plan for the majority and try to influence change to this majority audience rather than give preference to a minority.

The majority of America is built on a sprawled out system where mobility and the automobile go hand in hand in such a way that the benefit from the auto far outweighs the benefits of any other transportation mode.

Until you can address that gap then you can start planning for specific minorities (cyclist, transit user, etc.)

Now I bring this up because although London has had great success in reducing congestion in the zone where it has applied congestion pricing but has created created more congestion on the periphery and has caused many businesses within the core to go under. Now they can expand the congestion pricing zone and eventually the entire region will be priced which would cause equity issues between small and large businesses, rich and poor folk, etc.

If you read Don Shoup, you'll understand that you can either try to address congestion or embrace congestion.

In America, everybody complains about congestion but people will take more congestion over potential monetary benefits any day of the week. And that's the ultimate problem about having congestion pricing in America, and that's because as much as we scream and shout about congestion and GHG emissions the majority would rather have poor air and congestion but more money in their pocket.