November 25, 2006


Tolls could cut congestion, test shows (Eric Pryne, 11/25/06, Seattle Times)

For about eight months, drivers in 275 Seattle-area households agreed to pay for something the rest of us get for free: The right to drive on the region's freeways and streets.

They were guinea pigs in a pioneering study that explored how motorists' behavior might change if they had to pay tolls — not just on a few bridges or highways, but on almost every road with a yellow center line.

Researchers established virtual tolls ranging from a nickel to 50 cents a mile. They gave participants pre-paid accounts of between $600 and $3,000, and told them they could keep whatever the tolls didn't eat up.

The experiment ended in February. Preliminary results, released this month, suggest that if such so-called "road pricing" were widespread, it could make a significant dent in traffic.

Make driving cost the individual what it costs us as a society and folks won't.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 25, 2006 10:31 AM

It's doubtful tolls would lead people to stay home or use public transport. Local roads would just get congested again causing unrest among residents as well as the motoring public. Anyone remember the the agony driving on the old Berlin Turnpike?

Traffic flow on the Connecticut Thruway improved dramatically when the toll booths were removed. Bringing them back would be madness.

Posted by: erp at November 25, 2006 10:55 AM

Here we go again: the debate between the riders and the neolithic wheelbarrow people. The toll-road scheme is to pull down the riders, the Ritter, the Caveliers, the equites, down to the level of penny-pinching shopkeepers, counting the cost of every mile.

Keep in mind that the rider goes where he wills, when he wills, how he wills and with whom he wills. It may be hard, pehaps impossible to one with the soul of a shopkeeper to calculate a spiritual value, but the agility borne of the motor-music has such a value. We would not want to give this civilizational benefit up, we would not want to become European peasants. It is well worth the coat.

Posted by: Lou Gots at November 25, 2006 11:44 AM

Great post, Lou!

Did they have to do a study to figure this out? This is economics 101 - if you make something more expensive, then people buy less of it. People already pay costs to drive. There's the cost of a car, licence tax, maintenance. Then there's the cost of insurance. Then there's the cost of gas, and the gas taxes that are used to fund road mantenance. It's not free.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at November 25, 2006 12:23 PM

This is different from the gas tax in what practical ways? And before you start getting all excited about the time-based differential tools, remember that there's already a huge time-based incentive to not drive during rush hour if you don't really have to.

Posted by: Kirk Parker at November 25, 2006 12:32 PM

Note too that the article doesn't contain a single word about the gas tax, and what might happen to it if such a plan were adopted. Now I don't for a moment think that the people running the study were so stupid as to be completely ignorant that we already have a vaguely-mileage-based incentive already, nor to be unaware of the difficulties (including the political ones) of phasing out such a tax in favor of more direct mileage pricing.

But I most certainly do think the journalists involved in bringing us this article could be--or mendacious, take your pick.

Posted by: Kirk Parker at November 25, 2006 12:39 PM

To address erp's point about tolls and traffic: I suspect that any such scheme would use open road tolling.

It was recently introduced in Ill on the toll road that runs west of chicago from Wisc to IN.

A radio signal zaps the ipass in your car. No toll booths, no slowing down.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at November 25, 2006 12:50 PM

Make sure ALL road users pay equally: that includes bus riders and bicyclists and a surcharge (by weight) on all freight shipped, too.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at November 25, 2006 1:26 PM

If we had this thing, where all roads are toll roads, could we get rid of the gas tax?

Posted by: Bryan at November 25, 2006 1:43 PM

Gas taxes need to be hiked too, or all roads made toll roads.

Posted by: oj at November 25, 2006 4:57 PM

Widespread tolling is only a possibility if you have sensor-based assesment of the toll. No one is going to accept both a monetary and time increase in cost. BTW, great point Raoul.

Posted by: Jay at November 25, 2006 8:51 PM

Personally,I'd prefer the zapping system like they have in the Toronto area. That way, I can drive everywhere without paying, since I have license plates that cannot be charged for those kind of tolls - Alberta!

Posted by: obc at November 25, 2006 9:36 PM

The idea that you can tax and reduce driving without crippling the economy is, er, quaint. And I say this as a person with a home office who commutes not, but who has the bigger picture in mind.

Posted by: HT at November 25, 2006 9:46 PM

Yes, that's the point. Most could do the same. Or use mass transit. And we'll just transition to alternate energy sources muy rapido.

Posted by: oj at November 25, 2006 10:31 PM

I'll bet the cost differential (to the state) between driving 20 or 30 miles in Seattle (or any other urban area) and driving in Richland (or any other moderately-sized town) is at least an order of magnitude, if not more.

Try negotiating that price level with voters. Will each county have a different gas tax? Each zip code?

And will the "trust fund" just sit there, earning interest until the next transportation bill comes roaring through Congress?

Posted by: jim hamlen at November 25, 2006 10:44 PM

Yes, oh government, please take my money, I trust you so. Brilliant, just brilliant...

Posted by: darryl at November 25, 2006 10:53 PM

What a beautiful world, let's give our money to the government and let them decide where and how we may drive. Brilliant...

Posted by: darryl at November 26, 2006 1:13 AM

We will keep the "trust fund" in a "lock box."

Posted by: Algore at November 26, 2006 3:24 AM


None of the rules apply on your own roads, just public ones.

Posted by: oj at November 26, 2006 10:01 AM

Whoa! I didn't know we could have our own roads! Where do we go to get them?

Posted by: erp at November 26, 2006 11:08 AM

You'd build them, were you not freeloaders.

Posted by: oj at November 26, 2006 11:12 AM

Somehow, I doubt any level of government will allow private citizens to build their own roads.

Just think about all the trouble people have had keeping those fences and gates closed out West.

Posted by: ratbert at November 26, 2006 11:26 PM

They're all over the ranchlands.

Posted by: oj at November 27, 2006 7:56 AM

Yes, and I dare you to try and take a car on them. They aren't roads - they are (shall we say) extended driveways.

No one who buys gas is a freeloader.

I bought gas in VA yesterday. $0.184 per gallon went to Uncle Sam and $0.185 went to Richmond.

Posted by: jim hamlen at November 27, 2006 10:53 AM