Sunday, December 10, 2006

Congestion Pricing as Transit Salvation?

It's Sunday, so it is fitting to think in religious terms like "salvation."

The Partnership for New York City--a sort of Civic Committee for New York City--just published "Growth or Gridlock: The Economic Case for Traffic Relief and Transit Improvement for a Greater New York." It is well worth a look.

The report documents the problem of congestion in New York City and outlines a set of solutions that might help that region address the problem. We will look at this list in more detail.

One of the solutions outlined in the report is are congestion pricing districts, such as those in the central city areas of London and Stockholm, among other cities. Motorists are charged a fee for entering these districts. The congestion pricing has tended to reduce traffic congestion and increase public transit ridership. It appears essential that public transit improvements accompany congestion pricing districts so that the motoring public have realistic public transit options for entering the congestion pricing district. The congestion district charges often provide a funding source for such improvements.

I found the following paragraph from the report to be a good summary of what accounts for much of the congestion on our roads:

Until recently in the U.S., surface transportation operators have largely resisted the application of market principles as a means of managing demand. In the absence of price signals that capture the marginal cost that one's travel imposes on others, travel demand in large metropolitan regions often exceed supply of street, road and highway space, leading to excess traffic congestion. In other words, wherever and whenever motorists are not charged for using scare street space, and roadway capacity is insufficient to meet peak period demand, excess traffic congestion will result."

Might one or more congestion pricing districts in our region be the key (i) to obtaining the money and political will to fund improvements in our transit system and (ii) to providing people with a price incentive to switch from single-occupancy auto travel to public transit.

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