The Puget Sound Regional Council released a study called “Traffic Choices” that shows that congestion pricing could alleviate traffic congestion. My question is, they needed a $3.1 million study to show that? It’s pretty obvious that if you start charging $13.41 people to drive to work, they’ll decide to drive less.

What’s also obvious to me, but apparently not to most other liberal environmentalists in this region, is that the moment you start this tolling scheme on existing roads, Tim Eyman passes an initiative repealing the laws, and a brand new wave of anti-tolling, anti-congestion pricing politicians sweep into office and undo the whole bloody thing.

I do like the sound of this:

Over 30 years, the report estimates, tolls could generate $87 billion in today’s dollars. The fairness of any regional road-tolling scheme would depend to a great extent on how those dollars are spent, Kitchen says.

The study confirms higher-income people — people who could most afford the tolls — would benefit most if regionwide road pricing were adopted for real. As for the less affluent, “they’re worse off unless you do something beneficial with that [toll] revenue,” Kitchen says.

It could be used for road improvements, or better transit service. Or it could allow policymakers to roll back other taxes, perhaps the gas tax or vehicle-excise taxes.

$87 billion is a lot of rail, but I doubt we’ll ever get 30 years of this sort of tolling. Congestion pricing is a great idea in theory, but in practice it’s going to push new development annd businesses far out into areas where the congestion pricing isn’t in effect, and it’ll be political suicide for whoever implements the plan unless alternatives are built long before the plan is put in place.

Let’s stick to realistic things we can do now, like build light rail to the Eastside, Northgate and Kent.

9 Replies to “Congestion Pricing Would Unclog Roads”

  1. um these fools must not be checking the London news, it’s full of stories how the streets are more congested now then before the congestion charge. Basically it worked for a few months now it’s worse then ever.

    I should get 3.1 million for that…

  2. The direct cost of driving on roads absolutely needs to non-zero number. People don’t even realize that freeways aren’t free. They don’t realize that new developments at the fringes of our cities are subsidized by our tax dollars, which don’t even benefit us like a rail system would.

    We have to be careful about how we sell this though. We don’t want it to look like we are kicking people out of their cars and into a bus.

    I say we are just being upfront about the costs of maintaining and expanding roads and freeways. In addition, we are offering real choices to people who don’t care to buy into the automobile/oil industry in addition to all the other benefits of making your commute on mass transit.

  3. 1740 miles of LRT at $50 M per mile
    2900 miles of Streetcar at $30 M per mile

  4. I have no problem with tolls for new bridges,etc. I do have problems with systemwide tolling on the highways. One, it pushes everyone onto backroads and arterials. Traffic jams already do this to some extent, but tolling would make them even more crowded than they already are. In fact one could argue that total maintenence costs for all county/city roads would actually rise due to the increased wear and tear on these roads that do not see that level of traffic now. Whether it would outweigh the revenue generated from tolls would be something else to be figured out.

    The other problem I have with the regionwide tolling mentioned in the article is the use of GPS devices or Cell technology to track every vehicle. This is a huge privacy invasion. There’s also no guarantee that at some point in the future that it could be used for more nefarious purposes. One never knows who will be in power in the future. Technology that is trumpeted as a solution can easily become your worst nightmare, especially if you happen to be on the opposite side of whoever happens to be in the position to use it.

    If tolls are implemented, I would much rather have a regionwide fast transit system built first that gives people a real alternative to driving than to just punish people financially for trying to get from Point A to Point B in a timely fashion.

    On a personal note, if systemwide tolling was implemented with GPS and cell technology, I would move out of this area rather than be tracked by the government every single day I decide to actually drive somewhere.

  5. Seems like increasing the gas tax would be a whole lot simpler than requiring everyone install a GPS in their car. Other countries pay much more for gas than we do here.

  6. Actually there’s two things you can learn from the London news:

    1) the introduction of a much less sophisticated sort of congestion pricing than described in this study caused traffic to drop by about 30% inside the charging zone. It has since been increasing as fast as before, so now some years later there’s as much traffic as there was before, but it’s widely believed that there would have been [30% + the compound inflation on that] more traffic now without it.

    2) The mayor who introduced it won a second term, and still has a fighting chance of winning a third, in spite of his many manifest faults. I realise that London is not Seattle, but we’re not as exceptional as most people who talk about transport round here seem to think, and there were an awful lot of people insisting that Ken Livingstone was committing political suicide when he introduced road pricing.

  7. Brian in Seattle, as I understand it, the argument is that freeways are at or over capacity, while many arterials and back roads are under capacity. So moving people onto back roads would be precisely one of the outcomes to be aimed for under such a scheme.

    The same would occur in Downtown Seattle, perhaps along the line of what Surface+Transit supporters called for in improving the street grid. Tolls on I-5 and 99 would cause more people to better utilize the entire street grid.

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