Congestion Pricing For Los Angeles: An Open Letter To Mayor Villaraigosa

Robert W. Poole of the Reason Foundation argues for HOT Lanes on Los Angeles freeways.

"...the majority of transportation spending in the current SCAG long-range plan would go for transit. Yet that same plan projects that, despite increasing transit's rush-hour market share 50% by 2030 (from below 5% to nearly 7.5%), transit would still be a small fraction of all such trips. That means, like it or not, that most rush-hour trips in 2030 will still be made by car. Once again, that underscores the need to focus on relieving congestion on the freeway system."

"...the single most important step Los Angeles could take on congestion pricing is to convert the region's large and growing set of HOV lanes into a seamless network of HOT lanes (similar to those on SR 91 and I-15). This could be done by installing electronic tolling equipment and signage overhead on the existing lanes, issuing revenue bonds based on the projected toll revenue, and using those funds to add key missing links-e.g., HOT lanes on US 101 and I-10, and flyover HOT-to-HOT connectors at key interchanges."

"Recent reports from SCAG and Caltrans point out the overwhelming need to add capacity to the highway system, to cope with the enormous projected growth in people and driving (despite transit investments and the transit stimulation made possible by the HOT Network). Congestion pricing of costly new additions such as tunnels can produce far more revenue than conventional flat-rate tolling. Thus, congestion pricing revenues should fund a large share of the capital costs of these very ambitious projects. And pricing will keep them from becoming overwhelmed by traffic congestion, making them sustainable highway investments."

Thanks to James Brasuell

Full Story: Congestion Pricing for Los Angeles: An Open Letter to L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa



Congestion pricing should be a transit priority

While congestion pricing proponents are usually not very transit friendly, I think the transit community should embrace and lobby for user based tolling. And I do not necessarily argue that the revenue should go into transit provision. Congestion pricing has the potential to do something transit planners have advocated for a long time: quantify personal automobile externalities. Make driving more expensive and it will make transit trips more competitive.

Taking Congestion Pricing A Step Further

"...the single most important step Los Angeles could take on congestion pricing is to convert the region’s large and growing set of HOV lanes into a seamless network of HOT lanes (similar to those on SR 91 and I-15).

No, the single most important and most effective step that Los Angeles could take would be to implement congestion pricing on all freeway lanes and major streets, not just on HOV lanes. This would be like the toll-everywhere congestion pricing that is being considered (but has not been implemented) in England.

This would eliminate congestion, it would fund large-scale construction of alternative transportation, and it would shift many drivers to the alternative transportation.

The plan for HOT lanes and increased automobile use that the Reason Foundation sugggests clearly is not adequate to deal with global warming.

And why should the Reason Foundation be calling for market principles on just a few freeway lanes and socialism with its usual waiting lines on most freeway lanes? Why not be consistent and support market pricing everywhere?

Charles Siegel


Bob Poole does support some aspect of what you are suggesting near the end of your post, but his advocacy of HOT lanes is his method of incrementalism. He ultimately supports private ownership and operation of highways/roads, which would then ensure they would be market-priced. The public sector's only role then would be to price externalities not included in the direct market pricing of roads.

The political problem with cutting to the chase is that everyone calls you a freak and they don't take you seriously because they claim you want to privatize "every inch of America". But once drivers get accustomed to seeing roads more like private utilities, they are more likely to accept that it's not a big deal to privatize them. If you don't think there are people out there like this, either talk to your enviro colleagues about it or watch Lou Dobbs.

Lou Dobbs

I thought Lou Dobbs blamed it all on illegal immigrants. If those illegal immigrants weren't clogging up the roads, there wouldn't be any congestion.

More seriously, consider that Mayor Bloomberg did cut to the chase, and no one called him a freak. (I guess it is hard to call a billionaire a freak, but they didn't call Ken Livingstone a freak either.)

The big difference is that converting HOV lanes to HOT lanes would mean more cars on the road and would generate more sprawl (among those who could afford to pay). General congestion pricing would mean fewer cars on the road and would generate more transit-oriented development.

When populists like Lou Dobbs hear about HOT lanes, their reaction is likely to be: that guy knows that it is great to live in suburbia, and he wants to keep it for the rich and to keep out ordinary people like me.

When populists hear about a comprehensive approach that includes general congestion pricing, public transportation, and transit oriented development, they might start thinking: hey, maybe those walkable streetcar suburbs could save me a lot of money, and maybe they really are better in some ways than the sprawl suburb I live in.

Charles Siegel

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