Great analogy from Matt Yglesias to explain why congested roads should be tolled:
Build a useful road and you’ll find that space on the road at peak times is a valuable commodity. And yet it’s also a commodity that’s generally either available for free or else available for a price that’s unrelated to the demand for space on the road. Naturally an underpriced valuable commodity leads to overconsumption. Traffic jams, in other words.
Every once in a while Ben & Jerry’s holds a “Free Cone Day” that invariably leads to long lines. Roadways in dynamic metro areas are basically holding Free Cone Day five days a week. Charge people enough money to eliminate routine congestion and you’ll find yourself with fewer traffic jams and an enormous pool of revenue that can be used to maintain your basic infrastructure and upgrade your bus service.
Here in Massachusetts, our tolls are place-based (specific roads, tunnels and bridges) rather than congestion-based. MassDOT’s recently-released 21st Century Transportation Plan suggests congestion pricing as one possible funding mechanism, but doesn’t go into detail.
Right now, if I want to drive from my home in New Bedford to Boston, I only have to pay for gas – there’s not a single toll, meaning much of the road cost is being subsidized by other taxpayers (thanks!). But if I want to take the bus, it’s a ridiculous $24 round-trip. Once South Coast Rail is built, why not put a small congestion tax on Route 24 and a bigger one on the Southeast Expressway to nudge drivers out of traffic and put the money back into transportation projects?
Watch Jonas Eliasson, Director of the Centre for Transport Studies at Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology, explain how congestion pricing can improve traffic patterns – and drivers may not even realize they’ve been nudged out of their congested routine (if you can’t watch the video, read about it here):