Media, Congress Members, Running Another Express Lanes Mis-Information Campaign

Gary Miller speaks on stimulus spending at a 2009 press conference while Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair John Mica looking on. Mica is reportedly backing Miller's plan to end Metro's Express Lanes project. Photo: GOP House and Infrastructure Committee/Flickr

Congressman Gary Miller (R-OC) and Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-LA) have teamed up to try and stop Metro’s “Express Lanes” project to allow single-passenger vehicles to buy their way in to the carpool lane on the I-10 and I-110 HOV Lanes.  Just as we did with the bike lanes opinion piece in City Watch yesterday, it’s important to take a look at the arguments against congestion pricing, because we’re going to start seeing them a lot in the press.

First off, let’s look at the given reasons for opposing congestion pricing from Miller and Waters to the Times:

Even though driving in the carpool lane is voluntary, Miller said the toll would be tantamount to a double taxation on motorists, who already paid gasoline taxes to build the freeway lanes.

“If you want to do a toll road, build a toll road with private funds,” he said in a Capitol Hill interview. “But don’t use taxpayers’ dollars to build a road and then charge them to use it.”

We should note that Miller’s last legislative attempt to end the this project was called the “Free Way Act,” because Miller apparently believes that the most highly subsidized form of transportation should be completely free.  Research that goes back as far as 1994 shows that drivers don’t come close to paying the cost of their driving habit, and that doesn’t include the cost in pollution and other negative secondary impacts.  We should also note that if three people are in a car, than they can use the lane for free.  Only drivers who refuse to carpool with three people per car will be charged to use the Express Lane.

Maxine Waters Photo:jsdart/flickr

Waters’ position is even less defensible:

Waters, whose district includes part of 110 Freeway corridor, said in a statement that she too had “significant concerns” about the project’s effect on low- and middle-income drivers.

“I don’t think it’s fair that drivers of lesser means, making a grueling commute to go to work and make ends meet for their families, should sit in stand-still traffic while those who can afford to pay about $4 for a one-way trip get to use the carpool lane,” Waters said.

First, as we’ve noted literally dozens of times before, when “people of lesser means” are polled as to their feelings on congestion pricing, they approve of it by a 3 to 2 margin, the same margin that people of greater means do.  Why?  Because the entire purpose of congestion pricing is about providing a congestion free commute and there are emergency situations where even “drivers of lesser means” are going to appreciate the choice to have a congestion free commute.  Besides, three “drivers of lesser means” can always form a carpool and pay nothing to use the lanes.

If Waters is really concerned about “PEOPLE of lesser means” instead of “drivers of lesser means,” she would be enthusiastically backing this proposal.   Metro recently received an over $213 million grant to implement HOT Lanes on two area highways, and purchase new buses for and build new park-and-ride facilities adjacent to the new HOT Lanes.  So the entire transit dependent population of the 110 Freeway Corridor will benefit from this proposal because of better bus service and better parking to access the lanes.