Why don’t we have congestion pricing for roads?

Congestion pricing would limit traffic jams and increase efficiency, by virtually all standard economic accounts. So why is it such a political non-starter? After all, drivers would be the main beneficiaries.

I think Will Baude nails a good part of the answer. People don’t want to give government another revenue source, and they don’t trust government to give them the money back in the form of either a tax rebate or better services. I feel the same way. Sad, isn’t it?

Here is how Will puts it:

This [congestion pricing] is, in essence, like saying to all commuters “hey, why don’t you guys all subsidize the budget problem? Oh, but as a consolation for your lost money, we’ll solve your congestion problem.” Now, congestion is problematic, but so is losing money, as a group. Commuters are probably right to oppose congestion taxes, so long as there’s any serious risk of the money being used to “fix the state’s budget problems.”

Of course, mistrust of government is not the only problem. People seem to think that traveling on the road is a God-given right, and that a toll is a greater infringement of that right than is a traffic jam. But I can’t imagine this mental attitude lasting forever, just try a trip around the Capital Beltway at 5 p.m. on a rainy day.


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