The Politics Of Road Tolling And Congestion Pricing

A few of the major advocates of congestion pricing have authored a little report with suggestions on how to make the concept more politically popular. Previously, road tolling and congestion pricing has been implemented in areas, like London, Singapore and Stockholm, in which drivers are a minority or on entirely new toll funded highways. Tolling existing “free” roads in the car dependent, United States is another story.

I liked the fact that they started things off with a quote from Niccolo Macciavelli which grasps the heart of the issue which is that any system, no matter how bad creates a constituency of people who have adapted to it and have learned to benefit from it while the proponent of change stands alone offering hypothetical benefits in an imagined future.. The authors advocate the idea of splitting any cash gained from congestion pricing and road tolling directly with the communities through which the roads go through to use as they please. These pots of money may well attract support. They also make a powerful social justice argument that the areas which bear the high negative social and health affects of major highways cutting through them should receive something back. They also point out the negative potential results of just plowing all the money from road tolling back into a “highway slush fund” which might very well result in the construction of even more roads in low density areas and compound the traffic/sprawl problem.

There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old order of things, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new.


“We propose a new way to create political support for congestion pricing on urban freeways: distribute the toll revenue to cities with the tolled freeways. With the revenue as a prize, local elected officials can become the political champions of congestion pricing. For these officials, the political benefits of the toll revenue can be far greater than the political costs of supporting congestion pricing. If congestion tolls were charged on all the freeways in Los Angeles County, for example, and the revenue were returned to the 66 cities traversed by those freeways, we estimate (using a model first developed by Elizabeth Deakin and Greig Harvey) that each city would receive almost $500 per capita per year.”

Here they get at the core political problem.

“Congestion pricing lacks a constituency that derives concentrated benefits from priced roads, a group whose gains greatly outweigh its losses, and who can be certain before the fact that pricing will be to it’s advantage.Without this constituency, congestion pricing has few strong advocates–people or groups willing to spend time, money, and political capital to make pricing a reality. Congestion pricing may well be in the public interest, but right now it is no one’s special interest.”

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