“I can’t believe I’m saying these words,” wrote Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, “but I applaud the Bush Administration for their forward thinking on the issue of congestion and thank them for their willingness to work with local governments to address their unique problems.”

Yup, according to the Wall Street Journal (subscription only link),

“The [Bush] administration will award $130 million in grants starting this spring to help cities and states build electronic toll systems that would charge drivers fees for traveling in and out of big cities during peak traffic times. The money also could go to other congestion strategies such as expanded telecommuting, but administration officials make it clear they think congestion pricing is the most powerful tool they have. The White House will seek an additional $175 million for congestion initiatives in next year’s budget.

 

Congestion pricing - should conservatives support it?  At first glance it would seem so, and many do.  It’s in line with the ideals of free market economics, where the price of a good should be set at the right level so that supply meets demand.  When there’s traffic, that means demand is outpacing supply.  The same applies to market pricing systems for parking: if there are no spaces, demand exceeds supply.

Differences between liberal and conservative congestion pricing advocates revolves mainly around what to do with the money.  London put its revenue into mass transit improvements to create alternatives to driving.  Without that, a congestion charge would disproportionately hurt the poor (as critics of congestion pricing argue in the Streetsblog post). The expert the WSJ found to speak against congestion pricing in their article, Ronald Utt from the Heritage Foundation, is actually in favor according to this anti-transit blog, in truth less concerned with the congestion charge and more with the possibility that the funds might go to improving transit. (I’m highly skeptical of the chart in that post which shows transit subsidies far greater than highway subsidies, given that the vast bulk of every transportation spending bill goes to highway construction).

The biggest opponents of market-based pricing for either road use or parking, of course, are the citizens used to getting a free lunch.  Some will see their lives improve with less traffic or better transit, but surely some would benefit more than others.  Whether conservative and liberal advocates of these changes will prevail may depend greatly on their ability to agree on how to use the revenues to offset the impact, and whose impact to offset - build more roads for more drivers and more sprawl, or build transit to make not driving an option and enable the poor to get to work without shouldering a new cost.

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.