City Watch Columnist Slams Congestion Pricing

Mid-City activist Charles Tarlow wrote a stirring, grass roots call to arms in this week’s City Watch. Unfortunately, Tarlow’s piece rails against congestion pricing and trots out some tired arguments that have been repeatedly debunked. It wraps opposition to one of the most environmentally friendly transportation planning choices in the flag, arguing that one of the most progressive ways to manage traffic and collect some funds to reinvest in alternative transportation is un-American.

Tarlow’s argument can be divided into two parts. First is that congestion pricing will divide highway transportation into the "haves" and "have nots."

…the entire country will be changed forever and the divide between the "Haves" and the "Have Nots" will continue to expand until we won’t be able to recognize this country.

The "Lexus Lane" argument, that congestion pricing is just a scheme to keep lower and middle class people off highways, has been used since congestion pricing was first introduced. Unfortunately for those that rely on class-warfare to fight congestion pricing, the argument doesn’t hold water. Polling shows that where congestion pricing has been utilized, people of lesser means overwhelmingly support it.

The second argument is that roadways and many parking spaces have already been paid for and the government has no right to restrict their use.

If we the people want to be able to use our public roads and highways, if we want to be able to park in the public parking spaces that were bought and paid for by our tax dollars, we must write down the name of any politician that would deny us free access to our public infrastructure and we must not forget them at election time.

With California in a major transportation funding crisis and an estimated $152 billion needed over the next 30 years to maintain our infrastructure, arguing that the roadways are paid in full is specious at best. If L.A. County is going to raise this gigantic amount of money for transportation, it has to raise funds from somewhere, and charging for use of the existing transportation network is one way to do that.

Metro has made it clear that the money raised from congestion pricing will be used to invest in transit service along the corridors where congestion pricing is utilized. In other parts of the world, London is using some of the proceeds from congestion pricing to fund its billion-dollar bicycle plan. In New York, if Mayor Bloomberg’s plan ever comes into fruition, fees paid by drivers will be poured back into transit and non-motorized travel.

I’m not sure why Tarlow brings up parking spaces, congestion parking isn’t being considered for Los Angeles in the short-term, but it raises the opportunity to point out that low cost parking has a ruinous effect on communities and helps cause pollution. Of course, when the proponents of low-cost driving attack congestion pricing of any sort, the environment is one thing that rarely comes up.

  • In London and NYC (both radial cities with good public transit systems) I can see how congestion pricing can be supported.

    But in LA? No way. Again, it all goes toward the lack of a transit system that provides a reasonable alternative.

  • It is funny how L.A.’s version of congestion pricing is a fee to drive into LAX! This is basically a tourist tax.

    This fellow who wrote that essay in City Watch, bemoaning how L.A. will be a city of haves and have nots – what freight train from the midwest did he fall off of?

    L.A. has been a city of haves and have nots from its inception! If anything, congestion pricing gives local people a chance to charge for what they give away for free to people richer than themselves: clean air, quiet streets, thriving local retail facing the street, and fewer deaths and crashes from automobiles.

  • Dave H.

    typo, I think: ‘travek’

  • “Complete” transit system or not, congestion pricing just makes sense. It’s about time people actually paid some of the costs of automobility. The private car is such an absurd luxury that has been socialized for far too long… finally the true costs are starting to be applied to the users of this luxury. Once people realize how much driving really costs will people look for alternatives… and there are plenty of alternatives to driving whether or not a NYC style subway system exists.

  • Every city doesn’t need a NYC style subway system to have adequate alternatives to driving. But LA needs a lot more than it does right now.

    Just look at the layout of our city: where the people live (of all economic levels) and where the jobs are.

    I had a 3-4 hour daily commute on public transit from Leimert Park to Brentwood (24 miles round trip). That’s insanity. But it’s one I was willing to make because like a lot of people who live near me, I wanted a good job, and the majority of them just so happen to be located in places that lower and middle class folk can’t afford to live.

    Taxation has real impacts. When it’s applied the means and impacts have to be considered in addition to the desired ends.

    Congeston pricing in LA, is essentially the government saying: hey we know we screwed up this whole zoning thing, didn’t really think much about that whole “community-thing” when rubber-stamping most of these developments over the past 30 years, have made residential development in the urban core very difficult and only began to recognize the mixed-use thing within the past 10 years, and yes we’ve barely made a dent in the whole rapid transit infrastructure thing, but we’re going to have to tax you (at a high rate nonetheless) for taking the mode of transportation to which we have doomed most of you because of our failures.

    And don’t get me started on the actual logistical problems with congestion pricing in LA.

    There are better ways of raising the revenue, and numerous policies that can be implemented to start addressing our mobility crisis.

    And ubrayj02,

    I have no problem with fees to enter LAX (the traffic impacts are the only negative impact). Lots of big city airports have fees. We could probably take out the bond tomorrow to extend the Green Line to the airport on one end and to Metrolink on the other, and repay it with the fees over the next couple decades.

  • Sometimes I think the automobile leaves a little worm in the brain of the owner that eventually drives them insane.

    I mean, really, we already “paid” for the Post Offices, but it still costs money to mail a letter. We “paid” for the Federal Building, but you can’t just drop in any time you want to use the restrooms.

    And the fact is, streets and parking represent a substantial charge upon the public every year, not just in repairs, but in lost tax revenues and in pollution. Free parking imposes a congestion charge in lost time as people circle the block looking for it, which echoes in increased fumes and noise.

    Well, I suppose every city must have its Charles Tarlow, but it’s a little surprising how often they end up arguing in favor of the automobile dealers.

  • Damien Newton

    One thing I didn’t mention in this article is that LA isn’t considering congestion pricing in the same way that London and NYC are. These cities are charging (or are planning to charge) everyone that enters the downtown during the business day. Metro’s plan is to only charge for use of the carpool lane, i.e. you can still have a toll-free commute into the city although it could be a congested one.

    I agree that London style congestion pricing probably wouldn’t work here because of the difference between our transit systems; but that’s not what Metro is talking about.

  • Having lived in LA for many years I have to say I have never taken the metro, you article inspires me to do so.

  • “One thing I didn’t mention in this article is that LA isn’t considering congestion pricing in the same way that London and NYC are. These cities are charging (or are planning to charge) everyone that enters the downtown during the business day. Metro’s plan is to only charge for use of the carpool lane, i.e. you can still have a toll-free commute into the city although it could be a congested one.”

    Well now Mr. Tarlow argument has a bit more substance.

    I’m torn on the whole toll roads conversion thing. I think it really depends on the cost of the toll. I don’t see the problem with reasonably priced toll roads ($2-5) if they go toward maintaining the “freeways” (ain’t nothing free about them. But I have to read more about the impacts on the adjacent parallel arterials.

    My guess is that it is a matter of market pricing: if the toll is too high, people are more likely to use the streets, but if it’s the right price folk will still use the highways.

    That said, how does it make sense to be charging for the carpool lanes? That’s like taking away the toys of the good child to give them to the bad. If anything shouldn’t we be charging for the single-occupancy vehicles and trucks, and allowing the carpoolers and hybrids to travel our highways “free?”

  • After living in Los Angeles for 30+ years and driving the roads on a daily basis I can safely say they are horrible at best.

    What does Los Angeles need? A monorail system… Simple as that. Well, not so simple, but you get the point.


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