NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 8, 2009

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has declared that he wants to "coerce people out of their cars."  One might be inclined to dismiss these words as overkill -- except for recently introduced legislation by some congressional heavy-hitters that would take us down this road, says Gabriel Roth, a research fellow with the Independent Institute.

The three politicians behind the recently introduced legislation include: Jay Rockefeller (D., W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation; Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Surface Transportation; and James Oberstar (D., Minn.), chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

  • Rockefeller and Lautenberg aim to "reduce per capita motor vehicle miles traveled on an annual basis."
  • Oberstar wants to establish a federal "Office of Livability" to ensure that "States and metropolitan areas achieve progress towards national transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals."

Reducing the total miles traveled -- whether the length or number of trips -- means people would have to reduce the activities they want and need to do, says Roth.  People would be "coerced," in effect, to live in less desirable places or work in less desirable jobs; shop in fewer and closer stores; see their doctor less frequently; visit fewer family members and friends.

There are three likely ways this could work:

  • The cost of travel could be increased by raising the prices of vehicles or fuel.
  • Travel time could be increased by not expanding the highway system.
  • Or superior alternatives to the private car could be developed.

The most likely way to increase the cost of travel would be by increasing fuel taxes perhaps to as much as $4 per gallon, as some have suggested, says Roth.

Source: Gabriel Roth, "Pay More, Drive Less, Save the Planet: to Fight Climate Change, Washington wants you to Take a Bus," Wall Street Journal, July 6, 2009.

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