Bickering with Alex, again

I agree with much of Alex’s post on road pricing, immediately below. And I favor road pricing in a wide variety of instances. But I don’t think it is so easy either.

Alex notes that people are willing to pay for parking, and that no one finds the idea to be strange. True, but how would they feel if you made them pay for “parking within a half mile of their homes”? Most people would rebel against this idea. They understand the difference between a monopolist (someone who controls a major road), and a parking lot owner, who has little monopoly power. If parking rights were subject to monopoly issues, people wouldn’t want to be charged for that either. So I don’t see the two cases as the same, as Alex suggests.

Here are some cases where toll roads have worked, illustrating Alex’s point. But almost always they are imbedded in a context where free (albeit congested) alternatives are also available. A true solution to the congestion problem would involve a much more widespread use of pricing, thus exacerbating the monopoly issue.

We should not forget previous history. It was originally promised that various bridge and highway tolls would be removed, once the infrastructure was paid for, but of course this never happened. In similar fashion, we can expect more widespread road pricing to become an important means of local and state government finance.

In effect, Alex is asking the American public to give our trustworthy government monopoly pricing power over our ability to get around, and in a time of state and local fiscal crises. We also would have to give that same government knowledge of our daily movements, and thus give up our privacy. Yes, people are irrational (I know that I am!), but I am not surprised that this a difficult political sell.


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