Gordon “Blowsback” and Times Blowsout Rutten’s Pricing Misinformation Piece

6_15_09_express_lanes.jpgExpress Lanes on the I-91. Photo: Caltrans

Poor Tim Rutten.  Last week the Times’ columnist wrote an "opinion piece" that attacked congestion pricing and now everyone is attacking him.  Some hack blogger pointed out that congestion pricing actually would make life easier for the fictitious poor people he used to argue his point.  Now, a USC professor has pointed out that he didn’t really do any research on congestion pricing and his own newspaper has printed an editorial that basically talks the opposite viewpoint that he expressed last week.  Heck, even Metro itself took the time to take apart Rutten’s argument piece by piece.

The Times officially backs road pricing in yesterday’s editorial, "Congestion Pricing on Freeways Benefits All."  It starts out slowly, noting that "proponents of economic justice" are concerned about the plan (translation: Tim Rutten is pretending to be concerned about the poor), but that it makes sense for everyone.

The toll lanes will provide people of all incomes with a choice they
don’t currently have. It’s true that choosing to pay the toll will be
easier for people of means, but it’s senseless to argue that even
low-income people are better off having no choice at all.

Professor Peter Gordon’s "Blowback" piece that appeared in the Times over the weekend is a more direct condemnation of Rutten.  After Gordon points out that unpriced roads are one of the biggest giveaways the government can give and are a guarantee of high congestion going into the future, Gordon also points out that the poorest people, the one’s Rutton so eagerly "defends" in his piece will benefit from the increased transit that congestion pricing brings.

Third, Rutten’s objection to pricing is based on his concerns over
"equity." But the poorest of the poor would not be tolled, as most of
them use transit. Buses on tolled freeways would move faster and be
attractive to more people…Finally, as our experience with the tollway along the 91 Freeway in
Orange County has shown, people in all walks of life value the time
they save if and when they choose to pay the toll. Many get extra time
with family, extra time to earn income or both. This is why no one
calls these tolled lanes "Lexus lanes" anymore.

While there are some serious concerns people could have with Metro’s plan, teh concerns should be that the plan doesn’t go far enough, not that it is unfair to the working poor.  I’ll be unable to attend any of the community hearings on the plan that are scheduled over the next couple of weeks.  But if someone else goes and wants to write a review, I’ll be happy to post it here.

  • Erik G.

    Here’s what I do not understand about the HOT program Metro is pursuing:

    Wasn’t it the pet project of the Bush Administration and specifically a political appointee to USDOT, Tyler Duvall, who like many in the years 2001-2008, got his job due to his ideology and not his experience in the field?

    Now that we have had a change of administration, shouldn’t this tolling-the-HOV lanes plan be in the circular file?

    I hope you all can really look into, Tyler Duvall, and his complete inexperience in Transportation issues:


    It took a few moments for Tyler Duvall, the top policymaker at the
    Department of Transportation, to digest the news from the Hill. But
    when he realized what it meant, he was stunned.

    Last year, Congress decided not to dictate how the department could
    spend its discretionary funds. No earmarks, no strings, no
    arm-twisting from lawmakers to direct money to bus systems or other
    mass-transit projects in hundreds of communities nationwide.

    Duvall and other top department officials were staring at nearly $1
    billion. And they knew exactly how to spend it.

    They used the money to seed five high-profile experiments, in New
    York, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Miami and Seattle, that feature
    “congestion pricing” — tolls that increase when traffic is heavy. The
    idea is to reduce traffic by discouraging some motorists from driving
    during peak hours.

    “It’s almost sort of un-American that we should be forced to sit and
    be stuck in traffic,” said D.J. Gribbin, the department’s general
    counsel and liaison to the White House, who worked closely with Duvall
    on the project.

    For Gribbin, Duvall and Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, the goal
    is not just to combat congestion but to upend the traditional way
    transportation projects are funded in this country. They believe that
    tolls paid by motorists, not tax dollars, should be used to construct
    and maintain roads.

    They and other political appointees have spent the latter part of
    President Bush’s two terms laboring behind the scenes to shrink the
    federal role in road-building and public transportation. They have
    also sought to turn highways into commodities that can be sold or
    leased to private firms and used by motorists for a price. In Duvall
    and Gribbin’s view, unleashing the private sector and introducing
    market forces could lead to innovation and more choices for the
    public, much as the breakup of AT&T transformed telecommunications.


    Duvall, 35, is a fourth-generation Washingtonian whose father is a
    well-connected lawyer. He had no transportation experience when he was
    plucked from his job handling corporate mergers and acquisitions at
    Hogan & Hartson and was offered a political appointment at the DOT in
    2002. “It was a friend of a friend of a friend sort of thing,” he

    Within four years, he was setting national policy.



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