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Congestion Pricing

Times Brings Back Pricing Misinformation Campaign

6_10_09_wikipedia.jpgPhoto of 110: Wikipedia

As Metro's "Express Lanes" project starts to make headlines, you can expect to see more and more of these types of articles; misinformation dressed up as altruistic concern for others, appearing in local papers everywhere.  For those of us who love the idea of congestion pricing on highways we're left with an unsavory choice: defend Metro's week anti-congestion pricing program or let non-believers slam congestion pricing altogether.

Fortunately, today's piece in the Times by Tim Rutten, the same journalist who wrote a very similar piece last year, is so tortured in its logic that it doesn't require a lot of ammo to rebut.  In it, Rutten argues that Metro's Express Lanes plan is bad because it is part of a conspiracy to bring road pricing of any sort to Los Angeles County, it won't do anything to reduce congestion because it won't apply during rush hour, and because it's anti-poor people.

First off, let's cover where Rutten is right.  Because Metro lacks the guts to require a toll from hybrids with the anti-logic clean air stickers or "HOV-"2 and because federal law requires that HOV lanes move at 45 miles per hour; the pricing plan will not be in effect when roads are most congested.  This is a very cogent argument.

However, Rutten's defense of the single-working mother who will be forced to choose between being with her sick child or paying the rent because of Express Lanes; is beyond eye rolling.  Last year when Rutten rose to the defense of his imaginary working-class friends, I pointed to the fact that when actually asked, the working class and working poor living in areas with congestion pricing prefer having the pay lanes than not having the pay lanes.  Personally, I'll believe what the less-well-off highway driver says when asked over what Tim Rutten has decided they think without having done any research.

This year, Rutten creates the following imaginary nightmare scenario which is even more easily debunked.  This time I didn't even have to use a search engine.

You're a single mother working in a downtown law office part timebecause your hours have been cut as one of the firm's economy measures.Just about noon, you get a call from the day-care center, where your3-year-old is running a high fever. You decide to give up two badlyneeded hours of work to pick her up early, hoping she won't need avisit to the pediatrician because the state no longer funds healthcarefor the working poor. About the same time you leave, the firm'smanaging partner heads out for lunch and a round of golf at his club.

Despitethe time of day, L.A.'s freeways are inexplicably clogged -- virtualgridlock for no apparent reason. The new toll lanes, however, aremoving freely. For the senior partner, it's a no-brainer. He pays the$1.40-a-mile toll without a first, let alone a second, thought andarrives at his club early enough for a Bloody Mary before lunch. Oursingle mom, however, looks at the bumper-to-bumper traffic around her,glances over at the freely moving toll lane and has to do the mentalmath to decide whether getting to her child in less than 90 minutes isworth being late with this month's rent.

I'll grant Rutten the point that it is terrible for a mother to have to choose between paying the rent on time and being with her child.  However, since the single mother, driving alone in her car, wouldn't even have that choice under the current Express Lanes plan, Rutten isn't arguing that we should find a way to relieve the mother of her economic condition; but that we should relieve her of the choice altogether.  You see, she can't use the HOV lanes that currently exist no matter how much she wants to.  Under Metro's plan, the only thing that's changed is she has a choice between being with her child or not.

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