Toll Roads And Free Transit: A New Pricing Paradigm?

This article looks at how the once unimaginable concept of paying for road use is gaining ground amongst politicians.

2 minute read

August 6, 2007, 2:00 PM PDT

By Christian Madera @

"Few people think twice about paying to ride buses, trains or ferries, yet cars are largely free to travel the region's roads and highways without directly paying for that privilege. Taxes and fees have long funded road projects, but such funding strategies diffuse costs, making it difficult for most drivers to link their driving habits to maintaining area roads. Now, planners and elected officials looking to fund transportation projects and cut congestion are asking whether it's time to turn pricing for travel on its head."

""We're going to max out our local options for sales tax," says Rob Johnson of the Seattle-based Transportation Choices Coalition. "We critically need to look at other options to finance projects." Some political leaders say the time has come for "pay as you drive" strategies, charging drivers tolls based on the amount they drive. Such regional tolling systems already cover over 115 miles of highway in California, and bridge tolls are common in the San Francisco Bay Area."

"Meanwhile, elected officials and the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency (MTA) are looking at the other side of the transit funding equation - giving city residents free rides on the city's bus and streetcar system by eliminating fares. Fare-free service may not only do away with a revenue stream without a big hit to the agency's operating expenses, but may also encourage increased ridership, which, in theory, would help reduce traffic and maintenance on the region's roadways."

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