Commentary

User fees to the rescue?

From the LA Times: “To put it bluntly, we’re broke as a region,” said Hasan Ikhrata, director of planning and policy for the Southern California Assn. of Governments. Without additional levies on drivers and residents, “we have no money to build anything new.” Enter toll roads: To expand highly congested corridors such as the Ventura and Long Beach freeways, planners are proposing adding lanes ââ?¬â?? many of which would be elevated or underground ââ?¬â?? to be paid for with tolls on solo motorists and truck drivers using those lanes … Underlying this year’s plan is a greater shift toward making users pay more for transportation through such measures as tolls. “It’s becoming more common around the country, because there just isn’t any money available for large projects,” said Robert Poole, director of Transportation Studies at the Reason Public Policy Institute in Los Angeles. Speaking of Bob Poole, let’s flash back to his May LA Times op/ed: [E]levated toll express lanes on the 101 Freeway would offer a host of benefits. They would provide the much-needed capacity additions without destroying 1,000 nearby properties. They would offer all drivers in the corridor an uncongested alternative route that could be used whenever it was worth paying to get someplace on time. And they would provide an uncongested freeway for express bus and vanpool services, giving 101 commuters a viable mass transit alternative, at no cost to taxpayers. And speaking of tolls, this urban planner says France and Spain seem to like them, so why not use them in Canada, too? If we want decent roads and transit, we the users are going to have to pay for them. One potential revenue stream is big enough to do the job: We must charge drivers to use the highway system. We do so already on Highway 407, a private toll road. The Americans already use their EZ-Pass charge-card system, which extends across the highways, bridges and tunnels of New York, Connecticut and New Jersey. Most French and Spanish highways are toll roads. The British are looking at a similar scheme. With new road-fare technology, we can levy charges targeted at the problem that causes gridlock — too many single-occupant cars during the rush hours. Reducing their numbers just a little would restore free traffic flow. Higher charges at these times could divert drivers to transit or to other times of day and still allow off-peak travel at a lower rate or for free. The huge cash flow generated would be enough to make public transit a viable alternative. (Last article via Trafficinfo.org)

Ted Balaker is an award-winning filmmaker, journalist, and founding partner of Korchula Productions, a film and new media production company devoted to making important ideas entertaining.