I just ran across this month-old news report that Boston is considering London-style congestion pricing for roads downtown. The idea is that during peak hours, drivers would pay $1-$5 to drive into the most congested downtown areas, and the money raised would go to public transportation improvements. Mayor Menino is reportedly even open to considering the idea. The article reports that according to the British government, traffic in central London is down 18 percent while bus and taxi ridership increased 20 percent.

It’s always seemed completely backwards that people pay nothing to drive into most cities - even though they wear down the roads, create pollution and noise, and generate traffic - but have to pay to ride public transportation. And from an economic point of view, if the price of a good is too low, then demand will far outstrip supply. If it’s possible to equalize supply and demand, then traffic won’t be such a mess, and meanwhile we can get some money to put toward making the more efficient public transportation cheaper and/or better.

Naturally, there are a predictable bunch of idiots who think that it’s everyone’s God-given right to have the government give us free driving everywhere. This blogger claims that the Constitutional “right to travel” prohibits tolls that cover all routes into an area. Does he think that there’s a Constitutional right to free public transportation too? If not, then why for motorists? Naturally, under this plan people would be welcome to walk, jog, bike, or rollerblade into Boston without paying any toll. Having a car in the city means taking up more than your fair share of space, so it’s only fair for people to pay a reasonable amount for that.

I also came across this post repeating all the myths about traffic:

The freeway around Chicago is congested. The obvious solution is to build a bigger freeway. Instead they decide not only to drive away customers, but also to slow them down and charge them for it. If all toll booths were simply removed from Illinois freeways I would wager a large sum that business in the area would pick up, the air would be cleaner (most air pollution from cars is produced while idling), and people would be happier.

This guy is still living in the fifties when we didn’t understand development patterns. Building a bigger freeway just means it becomes more appealing to live far out in the suburbs - because not only is land cheaper, but it’s easy to zip right into the city by car. So more people do it, and before long it’s just as congested, but meanwhile we’ve multiplied the amount of sprawl. Also, the myth that most pollution is produced while idling has been thoroughly debunked. Building more roads doesn’t make the air cleaner, not by a long shot.

If only New York - whose traffic is much worse - would consider smart ideas like congestion pricing. A driver from New Jersey has to pay $6 to enter Manhattan (which I don’t think is unreasonable, and I pay it every time I take a Zipcar into the city), but from Westchester it’s free. Why? Too bad local candidates aren’t taking these issues on.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.