The Daily Score recently posted an excellent analysis of the Puget Sound Regional Council’s study on tolling. The study investigates the effectiveness of tolls at reducing congestion but also tackles the issue of tolling fairness head on. From the DS post:
But the benefits of tolling aren’t spread around evenly. Instead, congestion pricing would create “winners” and “losers.” The biggest “winners” would be drivers whose time is worth a lot of money: commercial truckers most of all, but also wealthy private citizens. (If you make $100 per hour, spending $5 to save 15 minutes is a bargain!) Transit riders would also win, since they’ll face shorter travel times at no personal cost.
The “losers” would include people priced off the roadway–folks who’d prefer to drive, but can’t afford to–as well as those who would keep on driving, but pay more in tolls than they receive in time benefits. Perhaps worst-off would be the folks who succumbed to the “drive ’til you qualify” phenomenon: families who moved to a distant suburb where housing seemed more affordable, but where transit simply isn’t an option and car-dependence is the norm.
But as the PSRC report points out, road tolling creates a stream of revenue that can be used to address these fairness questions head on.
The author goes on to point out that our current system (of providing free road space) is also unfair.
So in the end, the real debate isn’t be about whether congestion pricing can be fair. It’s about what kind of unfairness we’re willing to live with. Do we want the perceived unfairness of a system that asks people to pay for a limited resource? Or do we want the undeniable unfairness of a transportation system that makes it next-to-impossible to get by without a car?