Sign Announcing HOT Lanes on SR-167 Outside of Seattle
Metro took another shot to the chin this morning when the Daily News joined the congestion pricing pile-on with its unimaginative editorial, "HOV lane conversion plan is a taxpayer rip-off." Honestly? The Daily News should have just reprinted the Tim Rutton’s Op/Ed from the other week and saved itself the effort of trotting out the same arguments every other newspaper has already made.
The piece starts out slow enough, a typical "Lexus Lanes" argument that I’ve written about so many times that I’ll just say this. When someone actually takes the time to ask people what they think about HOT Lanes in areas where they’ve already been tried, people of all income levels approve of HOT Lanes. The argument that these lanes only benefit the rich is usually put forward by members of the lower-upper class or upper-middle class because they are worried they’ll be stuck in congestion forever while their rich friends speed by them.
Later the Daily News argues that HOT Lanes won’t do anything to relieve traffic. Of course, newspaper editors that are writing articles from the gut instead of from the brain are least likely to understand the nuances of congestion management. There was an excellent piece in the Contra Costa Times yesterday that explains how HOT Lanes make traffic better for everyone.
But as I’ve said before about carpool lanes, in their pure form, they keep traffic moving. That’s not just a boon for the people paying for the fast lane, but for people in the slow lanes, too. Congestion doesn’t just slow traffic down. It greatly reduces the capacity of the freeway. Opening up one of those clogged pipes means that a lot more traffic drains through, which takes pressure off the other pipes, too. So the rich are actually doing the proles a favor by paying their way through.
But the main thrust of their editorial focuses on a variation of the "They’re called FREEways for a reason" argument. Basically, the Daily News is arguing that because the toll roads are already built with gas tax dollars, that turning an HOV Lane into a HOT Lane is a form of double taxation.
This argument seems to be the one that opponents of HOT lanes favor the most. The problem is it ignores that these roads don’t exist by themselves, they’re part of a transportation network that is in dire need of finances. So let’s ignore the costs that car culture has imposed on Southern California’s quality of life, a culture that is spurred by excessive freeway building and cannot possibly be repaid by any gas tax. Let’s also ignore that with congestion pricing comes increased transit financing, and every time a traveler chooses transit over the car, everyone benefits.
In today’s times, the funds generated by a gas tax are insufficient to cover our transportation needs. Metro claims that all funds generated by congestion pricing will go back into the transportation projects to the corridors from where the funds were raised. In other words, the drivers who pay the congestion charge will also be paying for the maintenance and upgrading of the transit corridors where they commute.
And honestly, what could be more fair than that?
Photo: Washington DOT/Flickr