Herb Mohring famous transport economist dies (ADDITIONS)

June 5, 2012

Herb Mohring a transport economist with the University of Minnesota, and a pioneer of road pricing has died at age 83 after a long illness.  A PhD in economics from MIT he was an economics professor and researcher at the Department of Economics at the University of Minnesota from the early 1960s on. After he retired there he joined the Hubert Humphrey Institute, renamed last year the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

One of his much cited works was The Peak Load Problem with Increasing Returns and Pricing Constraints, American Economic Review 60, no. 4, September 1970.

He was a strong supporter of road pricing or flexible tolls.

A colleague and friend of Mohring's at the Humphrey school Lee Munnich provided a text of Mohrings from the 1990s:

"Every adult American has had the unpleasant experience of being stuck in a traffic jam. Our highways seem, at times, to be caught in a dreadful gridlock. Demand for new highways is constantly growing and the search is on for ways of meeting this demand. While the Minneapolis-St. Paul area is not yet as congested as, say Southern California, our traffic problems do seem to be getting worse. What, if anything, can we or should we do about this problem? A favorite of modern day urban planners is to provide alternative modes of transportation such as buses or light rail systems.

"Such systems require very substantial subsidies with fares typically accounting for less than a quarter of operating expenses. In spite of substantial investments in alternative modes of transportation, public transportation use continues to decline in the United States.

"Congestion on roadways is an inevitable consequence of the way we charge travelers. In choosing when and how to travel, every road user takes into account the delays they expect, but nobody considers the delays they impose on others. It is entirely rational and sensible for each user to ignore costs imposed on others. But these costs can be sizable. Think of a congested highway in which cars are traveling bumper to bumper. If we add a car in the middle, we delay all the cars behind that car by the time required for a single car to travel one car length. This is a small cost for each delayed car but it is borne by every automobile that is delayed. In fact, we can roughly estimate the costs imposed on others by adding a single automobile to a congested roadway. This cost is the product of the number of automobiles behind the added automobile and the time required to travel a single car length. Say we think of adding an automobile in the middle of the pack. The time that that automobile takes to reach its destination is the is the product of the number of cars ahead of it and the amount of time to travel one car length. So, the cumulative delay imposed on others is exactly equal to the travel time of a typical automobile.

"Each traveler takes into account the time required to travel for himself or herself but rationally ignores the equal time cost imposed on others. The solution is to confront people with the true costs of travel in congested time periods. Tolls are an obvious way of confronting people with the time costs. With modern technology, it is possible to use transponders to make collection easy. A possible way of solving the congestion problem is to (collect) tolls at peak times of travel on specified lanes of highways or even the entire highway. It is important the tolls be higher for peak times travel than for non-peak time travel in order to induce people to change their travel times to do so. It might even make sense to, in the toll revenues, to subsidize non-peak time travel!

"Alternatively, toll revenues could be used to subsidize buses or other forms of mass transit. Such subsidies are preferable to our current use of sales and property tax revenues to?subsidize mass transit.

"Congestion charges do invite heated (and often misinformed) debate. Sometimes they are regarded as unfairly taxing people who simply need to travel at peak time. This criticism is not particularly well-founded. The whole point of congestion charges is to make travel easier for those who simply need to travel at peak times. So, much of the tolls paid by such individuals is returned to them in the form of quicker and easier commutes."

Lee Munnich sees challenge

Munnich calls Mohring "a founding father of congestion pricing" but says Mohring was initially pessimistic about ever seeing it implemented: "At one of the regional workshops, Herb made the statement that he didn't expect to see congestion pricing implemented in the U.S. in his lifetime. I took this as a challenge and set out to do my part to bring congestion pricing to the U.S. during Herb Mohring's lifetime"

"While the MnPASS lanes on I-394 and I-35W are perhaps modest applications of congestion pricing," Munnich says he feels happy he was able to do something to respond to the "Mohring Challenge" and to prove his friend's pessimism wrong.

TOLLROADSnews 2012-06-05 ADDITIONS 2012-06-07

Further Reading

Leave a comment:

Upcoming Events