Saturday, November 12, 2005

Congestive Thinking

Have you heard of congestion pricing? That’s where a city charges drivers for entering the most heavily-trafficked parts of town at the busiest times of the day. By creating a financial incentive to carpool or use mass transit, congestion pricing is thought to be a means of smoothing traffic flow be reducing volume.

Congestion Pricing is not yet reality, it's not even a proposal – but the concept is bouncing around in Manhattan, where it would mean big changes for New Yorkers and anyone visiting the city by car. It’s been considered in other cities, too—Houston and Harris County have spoken of a variable rate fare for tolls on the Sam Houston Tollway system…

I think imposing congestion pricing for access into Washington, D.C. would be an educational experience for some of our nation’s lawmakers. Not that they’d be paying the fares out of their own pockets—you and I would be doing that, you can bet. But the concept of prices going up with increasing demand—something you and I deal with on a weekly basis—might be an interesting notion to grasp for senators and representatives wrestling with the complex theory of why fuel prices went up following this summer’s hurricanes.

Because the storms shut down production, oil companies were forced to raise prices to retain supplies. That’s a novel concept for some lawmakers, apparently. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden found it to be an “astounding theory of consumer protection” during the recent Petroleum Inquisition of the CEO’s of America’s larger oil companies.

The more cars on the road, the less lane space, and the higher the cost to drive: Congestion Pricing…by any other name, it’s still just Economics-101.

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