Implications for the United States
Edited by Harry W. Richardson and Chang-Hee Christine Bae
Chapter 19: The Political Calculus of Congestion Pricing
19. The political calculus of congestion pricing David King, Michael Manville and Donald Shoup It has been a commonplace event for transportation economists to put the conventional [congestion theory] diagram on the board, note the self-evident optimality of pricing solutions, and then sit down waiting for the world to adopt this obviously correct solution. Well, we have been waiting for seventy years now, and it’s worth asking what are the facets of the problem we have been missing. Why is the world reluctant to do the obvious? (Charles Lave) 1 INTRODUCTION Transportation planners and economists generally agree that congestion pricing is the best way, and perhaps the only way, to signiﬁcantly reduce traﬃc congestion, but most policy makers do not agree. Few elected oﬃcials with a sense of self-preservation will endorse a program that places new charges on a majority of their constituents. Pricing proponents often respond by arguing that although congestion pricing may be politically unpopular now, once it is implemented the public will understand its beneﬁts, and its political problems will disappear. Implementation, however, will not solve the political problem, because implementation is the political problem. The political diﬃculty with congestion pricing is persuading people to do it in the ﬁrst place, not in convincing them of its value after the fact. Congestion pricing has broadly distributed costs (most people end up paying tolls) and broadly distributed beneﬁts (drivers suﬀer less congestion and the tolls can pay for added public services)...
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