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:
- 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.
- 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.”
- If freeways have a rush hour charge, some traffic will divert on to secondary roads, adding to congestion there.
- 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.
- 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.