Skip to Content
Streetsblog New York City home
Streetsblog New York City home
Log In
Congestion Pricing

Another Free-Market Argument for Congestion Pricing

An opinion piece in today's New York Sun addresses the congestion-pricing incentives laid out in the Bush Administration's new budget proposal. The article, by Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a former chief economist at the US Department of Labor who is now with the conservative Hudson Institute, argues that "the only effective way to reduce traffic congestion is to use pricing," and that "Americans rely on prices for a
stable supply of food, clothes, water, energy, and telecommunications.
Why should roads be an exception?"

Citing Singapore, Oregon, and California as potential models for different types of variable road pricing, Furchtgott-Roth attempts to address objections from both the left and the right:

Some on the political left claim tolls are unfair to lower-income drivers. To resolve this, Alameda County, Calif., and Atlanta, Ga., are experimenting with Fast and Intertwined Regular lanes. Drivers in fast lanes pay tolls, and drivers in slow lanes receive credits. Such credits can be used toward payment of tolls for future trips, or for other transit-related activities. In New York, credits could be given to lower-income drivers through license plate numbers.

But it's not tolls that are particularly detrimental to the poor, because they can be rebated - it's congested roads. Congestion lowers mobility, making it harder to travel to much needed jobs. Converting some highway lanes to toll lanes gives low-income drivers a valuable choice of more time. A waiter on his way to pick up a child from day care might find a toll cheaper than a late fee.

An objection from the right is that President Bush is breaking his no-tax pledge. However, like parking charges, tolls are not a tax. They are a user fee for road space. Toll revenues can be used not only to ensure that road space is not overly crowded and available when people most need to use it, but also to finance road improvements. One example is new truck-only highways, such as a new tunnel from Brooklyn to New Jersey.

That waiter example isn't exactly compelling. But judging from the debate that's been going on here all week over the congestion-pricing question, it seems Streetsblog readers will have their own thoughts on Ms. Furchtgott-Roth's theories. Anyone care to discuss?

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog New York City

Gotcha-Heimer! Anti-Congestion Pricing Jersey Rep. With a City Speeding Ticket Drove to Manhattan on Wednesday

New Jersey's most vociferous opponent of congestion pricing parked illegally and once got a speeding ticket.

April 24, 2024

Under Threat of Federal Suit (Again!), City Hall Promises Action on ‘Unacceptable’ Illegal Police Parking

A deputy mayor made a flat-out promise to eliminate illegal police parking that violates the Americans With Disabilities Act. But when? How? We don't know.

April 24, 2024

Wednesday’s Headlines: Four for Fifth Edition

The good news? There's a new operator for the Fifth Avenue open street. The bad news? It's four blocks, down from 15 last year. Plus other news.

April 24, 2024

MTA Plan to Run Brooklyn-Queens Train on City Streets a ‘Grave’ Mistake: Advocates

A 515-foot tunnel beneath All Faiths Cemetery would slightly increase the cost of the project in exchange for "enormous" service benefits, a new report argues.

April 24, 2024

Full Court Press by Mayor for Congestion Pricing Foe Randy Mastro

Pay no attention to that lawyer behind the curtain fighting for New Jersey, the mayor's team said on Tuesday, channeling the Wizard of Oz.

See all posts