NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Giving "Road Pricing" A Chance

June 28, 2000

Free-market economists have long advocated charging motorists fees for the roads they use -- adjusted upward or downward to discourage some rush-hour driving and thereby avoid congestion.

Now an unlikely combination of car manufacturers, gasoline refiners and environmentalists has voiced support for the concept in California. The California Environmental Dialogue -- whose members include General Motors, Chevron, BP Amoco and the Sierra Club -- published a paper recently endorsing the principle that the "user should pay" for road use and that "tolls and congestion pricing should be utilized whenever possible."

Drivers' groups, such as the American Automobile Association, are firmly opposed to the idea.

  • The Reason Foundation's Bob Poole argues that rather than just imposing new charges on crowded freeways, California could make use of its network of under-utilized high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes by opening them to lone drivers willing to pay a toll.
  • California already has two of America's four high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes-- one of which requires a driver to pay to use a HOV lane, with the amount depending on the time of day
  • The other HOT lane imposes a fee ranging from 50 cents to $4, depending on the volume of HOT lane traffic, with the current price flashed on electronic screens and transponders electronically recording use, eliminating tollbooths.

Although average commuting times in California have remained stable throughout the 1990s, the average distances commuters travel has grown as they have chosen to live further from their places of work.

Source: "Tolled You So," Economist, June 24, 2000.


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