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Carrots and Sticks: Making Driving Alone the Worst Option

The build out of mass transit and bicycle infrastructure hasn’t been the cure-all for shifting commuters from single-person autos to alternate modes of transit, as many had hoped. Maybe it's time we start looking at how to disincentivize driving.
January 19, 2016, 7am PST | jwilliams | @jwillia22
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Robert Ashworth

Writing for The New Republic, Emily Badger has done the mental math, and at least for her taking mass transit makes more sense than driving to work in Washington, D.C. It's more convenient and less expensive. But in many parts of the country, driving remains the best alternative to get from here to there and will continue to be even as cities invest millions into alternate modes of transit. The problem is that there is no disincentive to driving, and the incentives to switch modes often come up short.

…relative to European cities, it is exceptionally hard in U.S. communities to implement real disincentives to driving.

There are ways to do it. We could reduce parking availability or raise parking rates. We could implement congestion pricing. We could roll back subsidies for gas and highways and public parking garages. We could tie auto-insurance rates or infrastructure taxes to how much people actually drive.

Badger notes that the imposition of disincentives would impact the poor the hardest. The solution may be a better combination of carrots and sticks, including programs like California's parking cash-out that makes not driving more attractive with a cash reward attached.

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Published on Wednesday, December 23, 2015 in The New Republic
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