L.A.’s “Congestion Pricing” Gaining National Attention

3_17_09_salik.jpgPeak hour congestion pricing: Good enough for Dubai, too radical for L.A.

Two of the nation’s more prominent political bloggers have recently weighed in on what congestion pricing would mean to Los Angeles. Atrios, a writer for Media Matters for America, responds to criticism of congestion pricing at his personal blog by explaining that congestion pricing is more about "congestion" and less about "pricing."

But the reason to have a congestion toll is that… there’s too much
congestion! Road congestion involves an unpriced externality. That is,
when you get on a crowded freeway in the morning you take into account
your private cost (cost of expected travel time), but don’t take into
account the fact that your car on the road is making things just a bit
worse off. Everyone pays for this excess congestion by extra waiting in
traffic time. Tolling is essentially a way to replace "excess wasted
time in traffic jams" with money raised, which could either be spent on
productive things (SUPERTRAINS) or just rebated back to all people.

point isn’t to punish people for driving, it’s to try to line up
incentives a bit more closely with actual costs in order to make more
efficient use of the existing infrastructure.

Responding to Atrios, Matt Yglesias at Think Progress takes things a step further by arguing that congestion pricing will have a great benefit…for people of lower incomes:

One thing to think about, though, is what kinds of people really really
need to be at work on time. For a normal professional, this isn’t that
big a deal. If you’re ten or fifteen minutes late to work every now and
again, it’s not that big a deal. But for shift workers, who tend to be
further down the economic totem pole, showing up late will get you
fired—it’s hard to make up for it by just staying late or putting an
hour in on Saturday from home. People like that would reap a
disproportionately large benefit from the reduction in congestion
associated with a congestion price.

While all of this is well and good and congestion pricing could be a major benefit to car commuters, what is missing from these arguments is that Metro’s "FAST Lanes" plan won’t do anyhing to help rush-hour commuters, when traffic jams are at their worst because the FAST Lanes will be regular HOV Lanes during peak hour periods. While it may be clear to some of America’s most influential left-wing bloggers that congestion pricing is about pricing roads to maximize their efficiency at peak periods, Metro continues to push a pricing plan that is designed only to help when roads are at their least congested.

Metro is planning to have its congestion pricing plan in place for New Years of 2011.

Photo: Pip the Pony/Flickr

  • I’m slowly coming around to the idea of congestion pricing. Something has to be done to reduce L.A.’s traffic load. But just moving vehicles off highways onto overcrowded streets will only guarantee gridlock throughout the city.

    However, if all the money raised by congestion pricing were required to go towards funding alternative transit — including improved cycling infrastructure — it might actually encourage people to leave their cars at home.

  • PaulCJr

    It is true that some people wanting to avoid the toll will take surface streets to their final destination. But the street gridlock that might be the result of this tolling already exist in many parts of the city and the suburbs. The toll doesn’t have to be high in my opinion. Just charging drivers 10 cents to get on the freeway will provide a lot of revenue.

  • Congestion pricing and toll roads will not solve the problem all by themselves, but they are a necessary component of efforts to reduce traffic congestion, which should include mass-transit expansion.

  • To be fair, Metro is getting a big chunk of federal funds to try out congestion pricing, most of which is going into bus and busway improvements in the corridors effected by the program.

    I’m not a big fan of the way they’re trying congestion pricing, but they are getting nearly a quarter billion dollars to improve transit along the two highways and they deserve some credit for that.

  • Dudley Horscroft

    Congestion pricing is very desirable where congestion exists. People are already familiar with it in other fields – usually known as peak fares – as on airlines, shipping, sometimes even restaurants.

    It has two effects (1) it raises revenue which can be spent in some desirable way (such as widening roads or providing light rail) and (2)perhaps more important, it can shift demand. Peak hour fares on railways and light rail systems induce those who can shift with minimal disadvantage to shift to an earlier or later travel time. They benefit usually by travelling in comfort, compared to travelling in sardine conditions. Those who pay, also benefit in the reduced overcrowding, which presumably outweighs the extra cost of peak hour travel.

    So it is with roads. A substantial premium on main highways in the peak period would raise revenue for beneficial projects, such as completing the Expo Line and the “missing link” between Blue and Gold Lines, paid for by those who insist on travelling in the peak, while those who find the charge too much could travel earlier, take an alternative route, or travel by subway or light rail where these alternatives exist.


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