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Congestion Pricing Could Be Fairer Than the Status Quo

A timely debate, as New York City debates a congestion pricing scheme proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and California looks for ways to reduce emissions from transportation.
August 23, 2017, 11am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Congestion Pricing
A toll crossing at Dartford-Thurrock River Crossing, pictured in 2006 before the Dart charge system was instituted in 2014.
Daniel Heighton

Michael Manville tackles the big, politically challenging problem of congestion pricing. Of particular concern is the typical congestion pricing opposition argument of its impact on populations living in poverty.

Before debating the question of whether tolls are fair, Manville explains congestion pricing and also cites examples of the success of congestion pricing schemes in London, Stockholm, Milan, and Singapore. If you're looking for a clear, concise explanation of the concepts behind congestion pricing, the beginning of Manville's article is a good place to start.

Then, Manville turns to the polemic, and the question of congestion pricing's fairness to people dealing with poverty.

…Tolls would be regressive — their burden is larger for lower-income people. On the other hand, not all low-income people drive. The poorest people generally can’t afford cars, so tolls would not hurt the most vulnerable — and might even help them (if reduced traffic congestion let buses travel faster).

That said, many low-income people do drive, and tolls may burden them. Fortunately, tolls also come with a built-in solution to this problem: revenue. Toll revenue can offset costs for low-income drivers…

More compelling arguments to refute the idea that congestion pricing can't be fair, and also that the status quo is fair at all, conclude the article. For the real world situations where large population centers are considering measures to mitigate congestion and its negative environmental and economic outcomes, see the debate over Governor Andrew Cuomo's congestion pricing proposal for New York City, and a discussion of California's elephant in the room of climate change: emissions from cars.

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Published on Monday, August 14, 2017 in 100 Hours
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