Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Clogged Arteries

Paying to use fast lane

Newsday Staff Writer

May 9, 2006

In San Diego, motorists alone in their cars on clogged Interstate 15 don't have to gaze longingly at the drivers speeding past them in two high-occupancy vehicle lanes.

They can jump into the HOV lanes for a price ranging from 50 cents to $8, and pay through a transponder similar to an E-ZPass. The cost of speedy travel is posted on electronic signs at the entryway and fluctuates with traffic -- increasing as the roads become crowded and decreasing as they empty.

The system, the first of its kind, was implemented in 1997 and is a form of "congestion pricing" -- the controversial idea endorsed by Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi Friday as a way to cut down on traffic on the Long Island Expressway and other nightmarish roads around New York City while raising revenue for mass transit.

[...]Suozzi, an underdog candidate for governor, backed congestion pricing in comments to reporters, seeking to show that he has specific plans to pay for transportation projects, while state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, the frontrunner, does not. Suozzi has stuck to his position despite a flurry of criticism.[....]

The idea that motorists will avoid driving at crowded hours if they have to pay is embraced by some transportation experts but often shunned by politicians wary of introducing anything resembling a tax on free roadways.

Opponents call such systems elitist, because wealthier motorists could better afford public roads. Mitchell Moss, a New York University professor of urban policy and planning, said he was surprised to hear a Nassau official favor a toll on suburban highways.
Surprisingly, this is the first good idea I've heard Suozzi espouse as a statewide issue.

Unsurprisingly, this is not a statewide solution, but is better suited to his home region, Long Island (and perhaps Westchester and other suburban areas around cities like Buffalo and Albany). (FYI, Mitchell Moss was one of the faculty advisors to the student council on which I served)

Congestion pricing can work in urban areas if you have an effective surveillance system (e.g. EZPass to get into Manhattan, as an example, which means tolling all the bridges onto the island, or London's ubiquitous "Iron Ring" surveillance camera network), but the point regarding punishing the populace for the benefit of the elite has some merit in New York City in particular. While the mass transit system is efficient and excellent, gaping holes exist in the outer boroughs which force commuters to hop into cars to at least get to the transit system. Once someone is in his car, it's likely he'll take advantage of the convenience and drive in as close to Manhattan as he can.

Likewise, cities which don't have subways, like Albany and Buffalo, would suffer tremendously from this plan. The people it would impact most, the poor and middle classes, don't have the negotiating power with their employers to reschedule their hours in order to take advantage of cheaper transportation rates.

Tom? Great idea. Show us it can work on Long Island, and run again in 8 years.

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