Bloomberg vs. the Car

Columnist Holman Jenkins writes about Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s congestion priceing initiative in today’s Wall Street Journal. Jenkins credits Bloomberg with a shrewd political campaign to get the program passed, but, drawing on London’s experience, thinks its really little more than an attempt to penalize drivers:

The issue isn’t cameras but networks of cameras, combined with software to extract information from the pictures and match it with information held in databases. On top of it all, the issue is an overpowering political incentive to use the system to extract more and more money from motorists (many of them out-of-state voters).

He also raises legitimate and troubling questions about the surveillance systems needed to implement these programs and the degree to which they are used to monitor and enforce the smallest of traffic infractions. In London, which uses 6,000 video cameras to monitor drivers in the congestion charging zone, half the tickets issued by mail are far speeding within 10 miles of the posted speed limit. Thousands are being cited for minor offenses such as using their cell phone in their car. Now London Mayorr Ken Livingston is attempting to increase the charge for SUVs to limit green house gases.

Few would question, as a matter of economics, the usefulness of road pricing to ration scarce capacity. Patrick DeCorla-Souza and his team at the Federal Highway Administration have done yeoman’s work promoting such thinking (they prefer the term “value pricing”). But far above the pay grade of these professional enthusiasts is whether Americans should accept the electronic surveillance these schemes always seem to necessitate.