NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

DC's Transportation Plan: Discouraging Driving

June 20, 2014

Washington D.C.'s proposed transportation plan will reduce the mobility of DC residents, explains Randal O'Toole, senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

The District of Columbia's goal is to reduce auto commuting from 54 percent of all workers in the district to no more than 25 percent. How does the city council plan to do this? By instituting toll roads and cordon pricing.

  • While properly designed tolls can relieve congestion, the district will likely design them wrong, says O'Toole, using them more as a punitive and fundraising tool rather than to relieve congestion.
  • Cordon pricing charges drivers to drive within congested areas. Instituting such a system will only penalize suburban commuters and push jobs into the suburbs, rather than discourage people outside the district from driving.

The plan will substitute high-cost urban transit for low-cost driving, even though transit emits more greenhouse gases per passenger mile than driving does.

  • The average car and light truck on the road in 2012 emitted 268 grams of carbon dioxide per passenger mile, compared to 285 grams per passenger mile emitted by Washington's transit system.
  • In 2012, Washington's transit system cost $1.20 per passenger mile, compared to the automobile cost of 25 cents per passenger mile.

The plan does not make sense. The real goal of the "MoveDC" plan, says O'Toole, is to reduce people's travel, which reduces mobility. City planners, for example, believe that placing a grocery store near a cluster of homes prevents the need to drive, but doing so also reduces the competition that the ability to drive to multiple stores creates.

Moreover, packing more people and services into smaller areas drives up property, housing and consumer prices and forces people to live in smaller homes.

Source: Randal O'Toole, "Move DC or Move Out of DC?" Cato Institute, June 6, 2014.


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