Why a Congestion Tax should be Blocked

I-405 Freeway Traffic
July 10th saw Road Congestion Pricing Possible printed in the Davis County Clipper. The Utah Taxpayers Association is calling for congestion pricing on Utah’s freeways. It is supposed to work by electronically monitoring freeway traffic and charging more when freeways are congested. There are a number of problems with such a system:

  1. Drivers already pay greater amounts of gasoline tax the more miles they drive. The price of gas is a very good automated system for curtailing driving.
  2. The claim that 50% of driving at rush hour is discretionary seems inflated. Most drivers are well aware of when rush hour is. We don’t arise in the morning and say, “Hmm, peak congestion is at 5 pm, I do believe I will wait till then to drive to Salt Lake to buy some stamps.”
  3. If freeways have a rush hour charge, some traffic will divert on to secondary roads, adding to congestion there.
  4. Congestion pricing favors those more able to pay. Congestion is everyone’s problem and needs an intelligent solution that I will of course detail shortly.
  5. Workers who commute would have to pay the most. They have no choice but to travel in rickety cars at the worst of times. The congestion tax does not know who is taking a non-discretionary trip.

Intelligent solutions that encourage participation is the order of the day. Not a new tax thinly disguised as pricing. Here are just a few, nothing new, they have been around for a number of years:

  • Employers can establish satellite offices to shorten the commute and to tout as an added benefit to prospective employees.
  • Telecommuting is an obvious solution that is more viable today with the spread of broadband.
  • The state of Utah recently implemented a 4-day work week. That will shift employee commute times to earlier and later in the day and eliminate it on Fridays.
  • If you must have a congestion tax then levy it on employers who are mandating that workers commute. Employers have been slow to change because the employee bears the full cost of the commute in time and money.

Perhaps the Utah Taxpayers Association should lobby Congress to change the name freeway to taxway to better represent the way the UTA (the Association, not the Authority) sees these vital traffic arteries.

Comments

  1. I agree, working from home is the best solution in my opinion. Like I always say – move the ones and zeros around and not the people.

  2. Congestion pricing works if there are transportation alternatives. It encourages the use of alternatives. But one train along I-15 is not enough of an alternative. And Legacy Highway is a 5 year solution, meaning we will only see a difference for about 5 years, and it may not be a significant difference. Basically, I agree with you 100% in your solutions. Pricing should affect employers, because it is at their mandate that employees commute.

    Satellite offices is more along the lines of what I would suggest. It is in the design of our cities that we are failing. Our suburb lifestyle is nice, housing is generally less expense there, and we feel better about our neighbors. But all in all, we should create communities that exist of places to live, work, and play. Satellite offices is exactly what we’re talking about. And if that satellite office just happens to be in my home, even better!

    Great post.

  3. I agree with all your suggestions, but on your five problems with congestion-pricing – I don’t think that the price of gas has proven very good at curtailing driving, I do think that the 50% of rush hour trips claim is highly inflated, and my take on 3-5 can be found on my post on the subject (which you have already seen).

  4. David,

    I can see where I was mistaken about the price of gas not curtailing driving all that much (once I thought about it). The price of gas probably affects what we drive a lot more. For example, I have co-workers that have bought a natural gas powered car and ordered a Toyota Prius because of rising fuel costs. My wife, who rides FrontRunner, does so to avoid the congestion. And of course I bought a new car eight months ago and went for the V6 even though there were a lot more 4 cylinder sedans to choose from.
    However, I am still opposed to a congestion tax as much as I am to toll roads and HOV lanes. Perhaps one solution would be to levy additionally gas taxes that would be mandated to be spent on encouraging telecommuting, which is where the focus should be in this information age. Thanks for your comments and the discussion on the subject.

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