Canada's Maclean's mag has cover story pitching for tolls, congestion pricing

January 11, 2011

Canada's leading weekly newsmagazine Maclean's has a coverstory strongly pushing tolls and congestion pricing. Headlined "Stuck in traffic: Our rush hours rank with the world's worst. Here's how to fix it" the piece by feature writer Andrew Coyne is a hard-hitting advocacy of tolls, toll lanes, variable prices and congestion priced zones.

There's a page detailing the massive costs being incurred in congested traffic in Canada and the toll it takes of time and tempers, and the futility of politically correct non-solutions (transit, bicycles etc) then says:

"(W)e can solve (congestion). That our cities have failed to do so is not due to lack of proven alternatives, but in willful defiance of one... that has an impressive expert consensus...but is already having notable success in other cities around the world...

"We do not have to suffer this daily indignity... It is not natural  or inevitable that urban traffic should move without the speed of industrial sludge.

"It is not often true of social problems, but when it comes to traffic there really is An Answer.... It's the one we use to allocate resources everywhere else int he economy: prices. Or if you prefer, tolls."

Free roads are the classic "tragedy of the commons" - overused because no price for use managed their use. The same way commons pastures were nibbled bare, Coyne observes, free roads are crowded out.

And while toll managed roads cost more by way of the toll, they cost less in congestion, in unreliability and hassle...

"It turns out drivers are willing to pay for good roads, more perhaps than they might be allocated around the cabinet table (of government). The toll does its job of rationing demand. You find yourself weighing the options."

"While cash-constrained governments would be well advised," Coyne writes, "to make any new road construction toll-funded--as a test of demand--they should first test whether better use could be made of existing roads."

He also advocates congestion pricing zones downtown as in London and Stockholm.

Universal tolling

"(W)hy not toll . . . every road? Obviously this couldn't be done with toll booths, or even gantries. But with satellite tracking technology, familiar to anyone who uses a GPS, it should be possible to apply the Singapore model comprehensively. Tolls would no longer be discreet events, but more like your phone bill: the price you paid to use the road system, much as you pay to use the telephone network. The tolls would vary dynamically, according to the time of day, the distance travelled, the type of vehicle and so on.

"Satellites, moreover, could be used to update drivers on the prices of different roads as they came up; route-planning software could be used to predict the costs of alternative routes.

His ending:

"The nub of the argument, whether we are talking about cars, or buses, or tennis rackets, is this: people make better decisions when they know what things cost. Right now the true cost of using the roads is hidden, leading people to drive more and in different ways than they would if they were better informed.

"Even a modest road-pricing scheme would be a start: traffic jams wouldn't be entirely a thing of the past, but they would be a lot less common. And the more comprehensive the plan, the greater the payoff: shorter travel times. Lower fuel costs. Fewer accidents. Less noise and pollution. Higher productivity. Road pricing would make us richer, healthier, saner. If London, Stockholm and other cities can do it, why can't we? Why, other than because it would be new, and because we would be paying for something we were used to getting for free.

"Only it isn't free now. It's hideously expensive. There ain't no such thing as a free lunch, and as any commuter can tell you, there sure ain't no such thing as a free road."

COMMENT: Coyne is strongest in forcefully and succinctly making the case for tolls. His understanding  of the details of different tolling schemes is somewhat sketchy. That's understandable, he's not a specialist. But he gets the gist of most of them.

TOLLROADSnews 2011-01-11

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