Smarter Growth through Road Pricing

The great Peter Gordon takes a look at the 2001 National Household Travel Survey and makes the following observation:

“In spite of years of ‘Smart Growth’, 2001 was the first year that there were more vehicles per household than licensed drivers per household (1.89 vs 1.77). 2001 was also the year that saw a reverse in previous increases in worktrip speeds. Yes, the average commute was getting faster between 1983 and 1995 (covering three previous surveys). No more. Was Smart Growth to blame? All we can say for sure is that it didn’t help. We do know that the 1995-2001 period was a time of rapid income growth. Not only did people have greater access to private vehicles but as people become wealthier, they travel more — just as they consume more of everything. We are back to the old story. If policy makers want to ‘do something’ about auto travel, they have to price road access and parking correctly. Nothing else works. Most U.S. policy makers are, however, bent on trying anything but proper pricing. Not smart.”

Not ‘smart’ at all. But there is hope. Reason’s Bob Poole has led the charge nationally for innovative road pricing strategies. Check out this piece from Tuesday’s San Diego Union Tribune in which he discusses congestion relief through managed lanes (special lanes with variable pricing) and the need for more of them in San Diego. And just last week, he released a new study that demonstrates how large-scale highway projects, funded entirely or largely with toll revenues instead of taxpayer dollars, could be developed to add highway capacity in California that will otherwise never be built. Last week he also had this Public Works Financing piece in which he discusses variable pricing in the context of the reauthorization of the federal transportation program. Mere mortals can only dream of producing such a substantive body of work in a week’s time, but Bob’s a man — no, a machine — on a mission. Be sure to dig back through the archives of Reason’s Surface Transportation Program for more on pricing and other innovative approaches to congestion relief.