The Kat’s Meow has link to an article about congestion pricing on federal highways. Joseph Giglio outlines the latest attempt to get this going, but I’m skeptical that it’s going to go anywhere. Let me rephrase that: I won’t be totally surprised if something happens here, because it generates money for the government, but considering that it takes something that’s been free for so long, like the National Forests, and puts the management into the hands of private industry, I’m not thinking that we’re going to see this very soon.
I understand the idea, that charging people to use the highways during peak traffic periods would help pay for repairs and reduce the congestion, giving people a smoother ride, reducing road rage and freeing people’s time (and time is money, right?).
I have some problems with all this, but only small ones. I’m not against doing this, but Giglio says at least one thing that I don’t agree with.
Congestion pricing means true consumer sovereignty, while liberating the roadway system from dependency on already inadequate revenue sources, like motor vehicle fuel taxes, and construction grants from the Federal Transportation Trust Fund. Not least of all, it's an opportunity to improve the efficiency of our roadway systems.
Gas taxes are inadequate? Actually, I think that gas taxes are inadequately applied, but only in the sense that we aren’t paying enough of them. Now don’t get all angry because you think that gas prices are already too high, I would argue that they still aren’t as historically high as they could be, and if any one of the countries we import from runs their supply (or their economy) into the ground the price is going to get lots higher.
But that’s another discussion. The only true measure of how much people are using the road system is how much gas they are using. You can argue that cars with higher MPG aren’t paying their fair share, but usually those cars have less impact on the system. Hybrid cars entering the equation also will need special consideration. But higher gas taxes have the added benefit of forcing people to use less gas and ease the air pollution.
I think that the federal and state government should be relying MORE on the gas taxes to maintain and build roads, but then the money they’re spending now on that would just get shuffled instead of reducing the income taxes we pay.
All this to say congestion pricing might be a good idea, but only as a way to reduce congestion on the roads, not as the best way to maintain the system.