A Christmas wish: End traffic congestion in 2009

December 24, 2008

diana-furchtgott-roth_great_debate– Diana Furchtgott-Roth is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor. The opinions expressed are her own. —

Christmas Day in most cities will be serene, free of weekday traffic jams as workers enjoy a Thursday that is free of normal routines.  Many commuters wish that the free-flowing driving could last all year long. Traffic congestion wastes drivers’ time and gasoline, pollutes, reduces employment, and pushes businesses and shoppers away from cities.

There is hope. New global positioning system technology and congestion pricing can reduce traffic jams.  In mid-January, 10,000 transportation professionals, including people from the incoming Obama administration, will convene in Washington D.C. at meetings of the Transportation Research Board, part of the National Academy of Sciences, to discuss solutions.

Road use varies with time of day. Time-of-day pricing can encourage drivers to shift non-essential trips to less busy hours, and eliminate some trips altogether.

London’s system of road pricing, with cars charged $16 to enter the center, is held up as a model for other cities. But its main flaw is that drivers pay flat fees, and are not charged by miles driven or by routes taken.

A better scheme would be to have drivers pay per mile, with higher charges on more heavily-used streets and in periods of heaviest congestion.

With prices of transponders and GPS falling, sophisticated and efficient systems are now possible. In some places they are optional, with drivers volunteering to participate in exchange for a reduction in license plate fees or even a credit against fuel taxes.

Here’s how this could work. GPS devices could be given to drivers who choose to participate—one per car—and drivers pay as easily as they are now paying for cell phones or E-ZPass tolls.  Participating motorists could be exempt from license-renewal fees, but would pay road charges instead, charges that could vary by type of road used and time of day.  Driving in rush hour along a busy road would cost more than driving on a little-used road late at night.

In Oregon, GPS-based distance measurements are designed to replace fuel taxes it now levies to pay for the use of its roads (for the full report, click here). Oregon would not immediately require all vehicles to have GPS. At least to start with, motorists would have a choice of paying either fuel taxes or mileage charges.

Efficiency in road pricing would relieve congestion. But it raises the politically thorny question of what to do with the revenue.  In my view, cities must resist London’s unpopular inclination to use revenues to finance increased general spending, a measure defeated in New York and in Manchester, England.

To be acceptable to voters, a new road charging scheme should:

•    Use advanced GPS-based systems, of the kind being pioneered in Oregon;

•    Apply congestion pricing as part of a more general reform of financing road use, such as phasing out fuel taxes;

•    Use monetary incentives, such as abolishing annual licensing fees or introducing new charging schemes on a voluntary basis; and

•    Ensure that new revenues improve financing and use of roads, rather than for public transportation.

Employers could help, too. Some firms could enable employees to avoid high-priced peak driving rates by allowing flexible schedules or even telecommuting.

Critics claim congestion pricing is unfair to lower-income drivers. But if the system were voluntary, only those who wanted to participate would do so, and could receive rebates of fuel taxes.

Alternatively, low-income motorists could be given credits on their bills—cash incentives—to take part, ensuring that they have the opportunity to save money by avoiding peak-hour driving.

To reduce pollution and protect themselves from choking on traffic, cities must find a way to reduce congestion and enable people to travel more quickly and easily.

This Christmas Day, as we enjoy uncongested roads, we should think of a way to keep them like that all year round.

You can contact Diana Furchtgott-Roth at dfr@hudson.org. For previous columns, click here.

88 comments

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I never uderstand why those with such limited imagination are allowed to impose solutions on others. This article provides expensive, intrusive rules to treat the symptoms of a problem and COST YOU MONEY. Its really your MONEY they are after.

Simply desiginate certain north/south and east/west streets as high priority. Give them priority at intersections so that you can get on one of these streets knowing you will be able to drive unimpeded for say 20 to 30 blocks at a time and the problem is sovled with out the expensive solutions.

Posted by Eddy | Report as abusive

Ending road congestion by end of next year seems like a fine idea, but so is ending poverty and disease; grand, morally correct but inefficient.

The idea of taxing commuters as they go per mile is quite extreme as it adds financial burden just because they take a longer road to town. Imagine say, I have to pick my kids to school everyday. My colleague, who doesn’t have a car, lives two streets away, also have kids that attend the same school and, out of courtesy, I drive them to their destination as well. However, because of the per mile taxing system, I might have to fork out $30 more per month because of the detour I made to pick up my colleague and her kids. I dont see how I am adding to traffic congestion yet I have to pay more for it.

With this “per mile” system, irregular motorists might find it advantageous, but frequent users would suffer under this draconian measure in an effort to stem traffic congestion.

Maybe what the government can do is advertise under-utilized roads; though slightly longer, they have less traffic and might result in a smoother ride into town

Posted by Maurice | Report as abusive

Car pool or ride share. Save money and solve the problem of congestion at the same time.

Sadly, folks would rather talk about solutions that cost $$$$$$$$$ rather than use the solutions already at hand that don’t cost money.

Bob

Posted by Bob | Report as abusive

Finding alternative methods to beat the traffic is almost necessary in the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Area. Certainly, the ideas suggested by Ms. Furghtgott would work, but a lot of the congestion today really plays on the state and even federal prepartion of the planned highway systems. Perhaps the large influx of people was not contemplated when the highway systems were built; but the public transportation system itself could prove useful in curtailing congestion. I take the subway into work every day from one end of the red line, which I have to drive to. It takes me nearly 1/2 hour just to get to the subway. If the states and even the federal authorities are truly concerned about the congestion (and they should be), they should consider further expansion of the subway system. Understanding the multimillions such a project would cost, benefits would be reaped over the long term, monetarily, environmentally, and even health-wise. In fact, it would be worthwhile for states to launch massive public-transportation campaigns and ensure, as best possible, a zero-error policy on its bus routes and other modes of public transportation. I am not sure that I necessarily agree with a GPS useage tax, introducing fees for driving into large systems where congestion is bad would be one avenue, which has been discussed before, to curtail the use of private and encourage the use of public transportation. Thanks for your article on this troublesome topic!

Posted by Davina Hashmi | Report as abusive

I would seriously focus on promoting telecommuting to employers through strong tax incentives.
In this day and age roughly 50% percent of white collar staff could easily work from home (maybe more, I base that on my own observation at my company not any credible research).
It would reduce not only traffic but also demand for imported oil, thus keeping precious $ in the US.
For example in my company we could easily conduct a pilot program within the next six months and within a year we could have it up and running; however to get approval from the CEO/CFO we need to present them with some credible evidence that this will benefit the company, and what’s speaks better to the mind of CFO than reduced expenses (not only on taxes but also on utilities and office space).

Posted by PwlM | Report as abusive

I disagree with the proposal. I live in Florida and have to commute 80 miles per day, 5 times a week. Not only do I have to pay gas, car maintenance, insurance and suffer traffic but I’d be taxed, too? I don’t want to drive 400+ miles a week but I have no choice.

Wouldn’t it be better to create a massive transportation system? or actually do some car pooling?

Posted by Catherine | Report as abusive

NUTS NUTS NUTS

Posted by Michael | Report as abusive

Have it ever occur to anyone that we just need more roads?
And more bridges, and more tunnels.

Posted by Helen | Report as abusive

Ever notice how nice traffic is on government holidays?

Make government workers work 10-6:30 PM to stagger the traffic.

It would have the added benefit of actually being open after business hours.

Posted by Phil | Report as abusive

This is beyond ridiculous, particularly the thought that this is a better long-term solution (or a solution at all), than mass transit. Every other developed nation has a well developed mass transit system, to and from major cities, as well as within major cities. Trains NEED to be better utilized. Better train systems should get most trucks off the highways, lessening congestion, and would be an option for many commuters as well. This would also decrease the amount of fuel needed, and lessen our dependence on foreign oil.

Posted by Stacey | Report as abusive

Pricing mileage is not an efficient way to reduce congestion and pollution. Basically it will just make various entities lots of money since people HAVE to get to work and to the store, etc. What we need is:
More railroads.
More commuter trains.
More buses.
More monorails.
More car pooling.
More bicycle trails.
More De-suburbanization.

Mass transit is the only efficient way to take traffic off the roads and make life easier for commuters. It might even stop the current trend of building ever more “forever” toll roads that punish the middle and lower classes.

Posted by Ray | Report as abusive

It is easy to see how many might be confused by Diana’s proposal and think it would simply mean more money out of pocket. But, the whole point of it is to provide incentive to reduce an individual’s, or families, out of pocket commuting expenses. The whole idea is to disrupt the path of least resistance that creates congestion and other problems. And it is about getting people to change driving habits. A longer route would not necessarily incur higher fees if it is route designated to reduce congestion. Information sharing would be key to such a plan be successful, of course.

On a much larger scale it is about putting pressure on governments and families to adjust their land use patterns and promote more diverse and efficient transportation systems. What a suburban family cannot imagine being possible today – life without the minivan – can become a reality in the future.

Posted by Jody | Report as abusive

You can throw all the technology at this problem you want, it won’t solve it. No one talks about it, but the real problem is people. The world has too many, and it’s only going to get worse.

Posted by Rick | Report as abusive

Another waste of internet space.

“Christmas Day in most cities will be serene”-Do you ever go outside? Neocons just tell us how the world is, without participating.
Then, the article goes on to SELL GPS UNITS!
THIS IS AN ADVERTISEMENT! JUST LIKE THE JACK DANIELS BANNERS!

Posted by joethedumber | Report as abusive

Welcome to the middle class, rural Midwest…specifically Iowa. Land of the sparse and sparsely paid. Where holding a job requires driving…anywhere. The land of little towns of 1000-3000 people with no industry. The land where you may have to drive 40-50-60-70 miles one way to get to work. Where industry that does exist continues to fold, and fall apart, causing residents to search even further for work. The land where house sales are nonexistant.

In the past 10 years, I have worked for 5 different companies, of which 4 no longer exist…bankrupt, folded, foiled, kaput, phooey. Of those jobs, only one was within 20 miles of home. The furthest was 90 miles ONE WAY.

Sell my home and move closer to work, you say? First of all, SELL MY HOUSE? That is laughable and idiotic. Second, why would I leave my hometown for yet another “po-dunk got nothin’ sub 3000 people town” just to move closer to an employer that will probably close within a few years anyway?

So, I choose to drive. In a sense, it is my choice. Looking at it from another angle, I have no alternative.

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

“What a suburban family cannot imagine being possible today – life without the minivan – can become a reality in the future.”

Yes, and we can all live like rats, next to, on top of and under each other in little appartments with little posessions and little desire to live.

What is the real problem? Overpopulation…..

Interesting, as the “andi-spam word” was VAN. Ironic.

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

“On a much larger scale it is about putting pressure on governments and families to adjust their land use patterns and promote more diverse and efficient transportation systems. ”

Taxing ME will pressure the Government ? Interesting theory……

My theory is this: The company I worked for 10 years ago that employed 100 people in a town of 1800 no longer exists, just like sooooo many other small businesses in rural areas. If these small businesses hadn’t been eaten and digested by bigger business and greedy company owners, I would still be able to walk to work. This little town of 1800 could be self sufficient. Wouldn’t that be so “Mayberry”…..

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

One of Diana’s better efforts, which is more than can be said for some of the responses. Congestion fees are a no-brain winner in the city. (Traffic signal coordination and designated priority streets could help, but this would help more. Incidentally, my city was laid out by a spider. On LSD.) You’ve got to make it hurt to add to congestion, when there are alternatives, and there often are. This doesn’t justify any kind of government feeding frenzy, and we should consider whether some roads just have to be there, even if the cost per use is quite high and is largely born by the government. If the people speak loudly enough, there will be the reductions Diana mentions in traditional ways of extracting revenue from motorists.

I’m regretfully forced to agree that it doesn’t seem logically fair to charge for congestion in order to build mass transit. The mass transit riders will pay little if anything for congestion, and that’s the fairness in it. Mass transit should be built with general funds (which may come from congestion fees, but for purposes of fairness that’s only a coincidence).

People are right about one thing, though: give the government money and you can bet it will go into the general fund, no matter what; we learned that when we raised cigarette taxes to fund tobacco resistance education, which never happened. And speaking of education, most of us would just ask the neighbors with the kids to share gas, toll and congestion charges if it was bothering us.

Posted by Pete Cann | Report as abusive

Diana states “In mid-January, 10,000 transportation professionals, including people from the incoming Obama administration, will convene in Washington D.C. at meetings of the Transportation Research Board to discuss solutions.”

Then without a pause for thought goes on to say, “Road use varies with time of day.”

There is an ingrained assumption that people must move on the existing system of roadways using automobiles. The real solution lies in providing public transportation that mimics the privacy provided by the private automobile and actually improves upon its mobility

A great example of this type of system can be found at http://www.unimodal.com

Spend 30 minutes perusing this site. They have answered all of the questions and handily debunk all of the accepted “solutions” like automobiles, light-rail, and bicycles.

There is an entrenched transportation cartel that impedes real solutions. The Automobile Industry, Highway Contractors, and Oil Companies all stand to lose if a system like Unimodal is widely deployed.

Will the people at the Transportation “Research” Board even consider anything other than the automobile in their meetings?

Posted by Keith Frick | Report as abusive

We are so far behind the Europian and Japan rail system,,,Build a high speed rail system up and down the eastern seaboard it will create jobs and take away the stress of hyway driving and we can relax and enjoy the beauty of our landscape…City or county.. There would also be improvements at each stop area new buildings for food rest and parking…

Posted by Dominic Shippole | Report as abusive

What exactly is wrong with public transportation? Could you post an opinion?

Posted by summer | Report as abusive

Diana does not go far enough. Are not roads too important to be left to the vicissitudes of politics? Would it not be better to have them provided by private suppliers, as are food, water, telecommunications and most of our other necessities?

Private owners would have to respond to customers’ priorities and generally provide the roads that road users (and property owners) would be prepared to pay for. And, like hotels, airlines and theaters, would vary prices in response to costs and demand. Modern GPS-based road pricing make this possible, without invading the privacy of vehicle owners.

The Obama alternative may well be $3 a gallon fuel taxes to force the sales of “Green” cars made by GM and other nationalized manufacturers.

Posted by Joseph | Report as abusive

With so much going on and so many people losing so much during this holiday season, to focus on the perennial nuisance of the wealthy, a.k.a. “waiting in line”, is off the mark if not flatly offensive.

Better to figure out how to teleport.

Posted by Roger the Prof | Report as abusive

To Joseph:

Better the vicissitudes of politics than those of private investors! Look what that has gotten us, letting those with merely large amounts of cash run things — everything from feudalism to shadowy financial omni-corporations; both have failed, then and now. The age of the bourgeoisie is long over, deal with it.
At least government can be held accountable and even overthrown — the rich can always weasel their way out of failure by way of unethical practices.

Posted by Sergius | Report as abusive

Good points about low- vs. high-income. I wonder how it would go over to make the congestion fees so many thousandths of a percent of the nominal value (as in excise tax) of the vehicles. Just a thought.

We need the mileage charge idea to replace fuel tax with plug-in electric vehicles. You can’t put red dye in electric energy, as they do in diesel to make sure you’re not burning home heating oil (with no tax). Gasoline is also taxed for highway maintenance. That money has to keep coming from somewhere, somehow. Oh, sure, we can make plug-ins free for some years to give them a leg up, but not indefinitely.

I also realized that in situations in which you can’t add roads (e.g. without knocking down buildings) but you can add public transportation to get people from and to the same places, in that particular case, using congestion fee money seems fair. You’re relieving the congestion (and the drivers will thus pay less in congestion fees in the future).

I see a privacy issue though; the government would know everywhere you’d been.

Posted by Pete Cann | Report as abusive

Why so many people drive to an office so they can use a phone and a computer is crazy. Both of these things are right at home. Just so the boss can see you at your desk? If your project is on schedule, who cares when and how you did the work! OK, so a factory, store or warehouse needs staff on hand to get the work done, everybody else can stay home and save a lot of ga$ money.

Posted by Bill | Report as abusive

I would work hard to oppose any sort of tax like this. I don’t mind paying fuel tax, which I think fairly reflects to what degree you use the roads. Small compacts use less Fuel A to B but literally have a smaller footprint and put less stress on infa- structure, Large trucks use more fuel and wear down roads quicker.

Additionally being what most would consider low income it would be difficult to swallow another lump sum tax. The fuel tax is literally taken out by the quarter which I can handle. That and the fact that ppl at my income would probably be exempted from the tax and large shipping firms would lobby out of said tax means that burdens would be unfairly shouldered by a smaller portion of the population.

Posted by Eron | Report as abusive

Public transportation is the correct answer. Create more subways, right-of-ways, and an overall increase in routes with more intervals. Anything other than that will be seen as an expense of doing business. We have had flextime for many years now and most still choose to work a 9-to-5 schedule with 8:00am being the worst time for traffic.

Posted by The Economer | Report as abusive

And let’s add a the following features; a carbon tax, a luxury vehicle tax, parking and vehicle operator enforcement section and wrap the whole thing up in some sort of progressive income scale. At all time the driver’s number should be displayed on all four sides of the car. The driver’s number would be the same as the one the government stamps on your forehead when your born. If you are shaking your head in agreement, your as sick as the author.

Posted by Bob | Report as abusive

This is a great idea. Let’s end traffic congestion in 2009!

Still no cure for cancer. Still no solution for world hunger. Let’s not feed the poor, that’s not too important. Why don’t we just sink more money into making roads less congested so my trip to work can be 30 minutes long instead of 45. Merry Christmas to all, finally the world can rejoice as we have solved a major problem.

Posted by Steve | Report as abusive

While Ms. Furchtgott-Roth’s prescription for relieving congestion seems reasonable on its face, it has several unsavory presumptions and consequences. First it assumes that driving is a social good that should be preserved. The most effective way to reduce congestion is for commuters to shift to mass transit, a change that brings large environmental and political benefits. Do we really want to push drivers off congested roads? Cars are inherently unsafe, and we can well imagine the hazards to cyclists, pedestrians, children and animals if commuters start using neighborhoods and side streets, particularly if they turn up during off-hours and late night.

Ms. Furchtgott-Roth also ignores the noise and air pollution caused by additional cars. Her congestion plan does not attack the basic problem– too many car trips, not enough alternatives. Instead it displaces the problems caused by cars into new areas. A more effective approach would be to tax trips into the city on a flat rate, and then to use the funds to develop healthy, comfortable alternatives to automotive transportation.

To Mike from the Midwest:

I think you just said it man. Being a city dweller from the Northwest I always forget those important details of life in other parts of the country. Real easy for ME to say sell your house and move close to the city, but I don’t own a house, and here people are buying. More people like you need to speak out so people like me don’t lull ourselves into thinking public transportation will save the world.

Good on ya man

Posted by Josef | Report as abusive

In addition to the elitist tone of this solution, there is one more teensy widdle problem with this genius’s plan. I would fight to my last day against the government knowing exactly where I am at any time. Perhaps the liberals don’t think this should be an issue. Sure. Then why don’t you all just sign up for implanted devices to track yourself? Like the barcode on your neck, which is coming. Lady, shut up. Let the roads be crowded. If you don’t like driving in congestion, then don’t drive. Simple. Another example of the free market solving it’s own problem. Perhaps you would like a 900 BILLION DOLLAR bailout for the GPS companies, too. I hate government meddlers, and this lady is a Queen Bee of that vermin. HANDS OFF of us. LEAVE US ALONE. STOP, STOP, STOP making stupid, offensive new laws. Repeal two old laws if you want to pass a new one! “DON’T TREAD ON ME” !!!!!!!!! We could use that flag again!

Posted by Digby | Report as abusive

Let’s keep socialism alive! Keep our roads and highways socialized! This thing of paying for what you get is capitalism; we don’t want that.

It is true that the fuel tax doesn’t pay the real cost of road maintenance. But road maintenance should be paid by bonds similar to the bonds used to pay for road construction. If road construction is socialized, why can’t road maintenance also be fully socialized?

Let’s keep our libertarian traditions: socialism for everything that benefits us. We don’t want to pay for what we get.

Posted by Luigi | Report as abusive

This only works to reduce congestion in areas where people who can’t afford to pay the fee want to go. I’m not sure how this really reduces the daily drive from sub/ex-urb to financial districts around the world….except perhaps for the service workers. Class segregation via taxes?

Posted by roymeo | Report as abusive

The very first thing to do is to stop people from driving who don’t need to drive. “If you can work at home, work at home.” Businesses are not taking advantage of this for some reason. Modern technology can make this work quite easily. Businesses can save a lot of money by doing this.

As an added incentive to doing this companies should receive a tax break if they have x% of American workers telecomuting.

Of cours this will not work for every profession, but there are many people clogging up the roadways who simply do not need to be there.

Thanks for reading :-)

Posted by Brian | Report as abusive

We pay for telephone by the minute. We should pay for roads by the mile. What we have now is socialized roads. It is like giving everybody free telephone service.

The fuel tax is a small fraction of the cost of roads. It doesn’t pay for planning new roads, or for buying land for new roads, or for actually constructing new roads. It doesn’t pay for the environmental impact of the new roads.

Free parking on the street is another form of subsidy for car owners. Why is it that they can store their 5000 pounds of metal on the street for free? We all pay for the streets but those who park on the streets are getting much more benefit; they should pay for what they get according to how much they get.

It is interesting that the same people who oppose Social Security want socialized roads. Social Security is not subsidized; it has had a surplus since the early 80′s and is projected to have a surplus for at least another 10 years.

Posted by Luigi | Report as abusive

Gee, this sounds a lot like cable TV. At first it was: “We’ll charge you nothing, but if you want more channels and stuff, you pay your cable provider. Just by coincidence the cable company turned out the most politically connected and wealthiest group in town who were awarded a monopoly. Then they sold that monopoly to Time Warner or one of those guys and they, and the local elected officials all walked away grinning.

Then cable rates doubled and doubled again. And now that we became sometime viewers of CNN, TBS and perhaps HBO, almost everyone kept their service. Now they go to DTV and we absolutely need the cable system and the fees are sure to continue their inexorable rise. Meanwhile, these private entities that have turned a free, advertiser supported medium into an expensive advertiser supported medium. And all that money can go to politicians, their campaigns or to their relatives in undisclosed third party arrangements.

Posted by Marco Polo | Report as abusive

“Christmas Day in most cities will be serene, free of weekday traffic jams as workers enjoy a Thursday that is free of normal routines. Many commuters wish that the free-flowing driving could last all year long.”

It can but doesn’t. Ignoring traffic lights that just stop traffic flow, there is a simple reason for this phenomenon, it’s because the roads infrastructure as its presently designed is only able to accommodate the vehicle flow rates that are much reduced.
Once you add the extra vehicles then it can no longer do so.
Add peak traffic and you will always have the same problem no matter how much money you throw at it.
All current roads intersections create the jams gridlock and congestion. Yes every single one.
No matter what electronic gadgetry you have in any vehicle its utterly useless if the roads infrastructure just cannot work and give free flow.

There is a comment that is frequently used that you cannot build your way out of congestion.
That is the most absurd and incorrect statement and is wrong.

If you build a Liquid Flow Traffic intersection infrastructure then you get Liquid Flow Traffic.
I’m Jozef Goj the engineer, inventor, designer of Liquid Flow Traffic intersections.
I asked a simple question.
How can I drive across town in peak traffic and never have to stop at a single intersection?
Followed by the second question all engineers must ask.
Is it foolproof?
The answer is Liquid Flow Traffic
What I can say and will continue to state that it is stupidity itself to invest into the 21st Century with infrastructure, namely intersections, that are unable to answer the question I posed.
For that you need 21st Century technology http://www.ubtsc.com.au.
If you are to reconstruct the economy, for the sake of the people, do not use outdated infrastructure that has never solved transportation problems in the past, will never solve them today and will hinder forever the growth of tomorrow.
Take a giant step into the 21st Century with ‘Liquid Flow Traffic’.
Invest in the future not the past.

GOOD LUCK. With the infrastructure stimulus package obsessed w/ roads & bridges, we’ll spend the next 3 years sitting in traffic. Three engineers confer around a pickup without a single construction worker in sight amidst the 10 miles of orange cones.

Eisenhower built highways that increased national efficiency in goods transit & travel (and encouraged Federal civil rights reform through interstate commerce). The dot com prosperity was from online systems that increased efficiency. But the stimulus package will decrease efficiency–counterintuitive to stimulus (except for state unions).

Posted by Stiles | Report as abusive

I hope your idea dies a horrible death. Freedom to move about should be a guaranteed right. Taxing your every movement is a terrible idea.

Posted by Guy Thompto | Report as abusive

Ms. Furchtgott-Roth seems to desire an Orwellian society. Her idea scares the tar out of me. When we begin to gps enable all automobiles, motorcycles, and trucks, our movements are a simple to track via a GPS program by the government and other unsavory characters. What ever happened to America? Were we not founded on a desire to escape over-reaching government, freedom of belief, and the elimination of monarchs and tyrants?

Posted by Marc Ramos | Report as abusive

Friends,

Many of you have criticized my article on the grounds that they do not want to pay for driving. But we already pay for driving with fuel taxes. The idea I am proposing, the one pioneered in Oregon, would substitute mileage fees for gasoline taxes. So instead of paying a fixed amount per mile in gas tax, we would pay an amount that varies by road we use and by time of day. in addition, this plan would be voluntary.

Here’s how this worked in the pilot program in Oregon. Those drivers who wanted to pay by the mile received an GPS electronic transponder that went in the car to measure miles driven and time of day. When they filled up with gas, they swiped a device at the pump, and they paid for the gas without the gas tax. Their mileage charges were paid on a separate bill.

This does not have to violate privacy concerns. Private firms could be in charge of billing and the bill could be received without places and times driven.

One reader, Summer, asked my views on public transportation. I have nothing against it. Many people, especially in densely-populated cities, prefer it as a mode of transportation. Others, who live in suburban or rural areas far from bus stops or subways, cannot use it to get around. Many who need to pick up children or groceries also prefer cars. There is no reason for drivers to subsidize public transportation. Users of each type of transportation should cover their own costs.

Thanks for reading,

Diana

Posted by Diana Furchtgott-Roth | Report as abusive

Investment in efficient rail systems in areas where congestion is worst seems like a more practical approach. Rail transport will attract many drivers who would see this as a less expensive, green alternative to fines and time allotments.

Posted by Garrett | Report as abusive

I tend to agree with the writers who don’t like the surveillance and tax options Mrs. Furchgott-Roth advocates. It will only make owning a car more expensive when there are few real alternatives to the private automobile. But those commentators who think more highways and roads are the answer should know an axiom popular with traffic planners. That new highways make more traffic even though they are designed to handle more than the loads they are expected to carry. New highways encourage more driving.

Conversely – new taxes on major roads and highways could encourage people to use alternative side streets – the very roads the highways are designed to relieve. A city like New York has limited access to Manhattan via bridges and tunnels. They don’t need surveillance. But many cities built since the highways were created are really endless networks of roads of different types.

Cities like New York and Boston were congested even before the private automobile was created. They built subways and streetcars to relieve that problem – Our problem is we are now dependent on private automobiles to reach the greatest part of the metro areas – the suburbs. And those areas become congested with traffic as well.

Perhaps the new Administration should consider making new communities that disperse development. England built a lot of satellite towns in the fifties and sixties to disperse population density in the major cities. WE should be doing the same in the suburban areas. But suburban areas in this country try to freeze their development in single-family homes and commercial strips. The artificial scarcity of the zoned bedroom community is creating that urban congestion not only at the center but also throughout the suburban sprawl. It also creates the artificial scarcity of housing in suburban communities. Zoning legally allows them to limit housing stock.

The history of a city like New York or Boston showed increased population density as it grew and replaced formerly single family or town house development with apartment buildings. They also allowed the conversion of former private homes into multi family houses (sometimes to squalid slum like conditions). Most of that is not allowed by suburban zoning today

Europe and South America both have traditions of compact development. It is amazing to look at world cities like Sao Paolo on Google Earth and see how sharp and edge they make on the landscape. They are dense wherever there is development and then wide-open country outside that edge. Our cities don’t ever have a discernable edge. Except for Havasu City perhaps.

If we can’t change the characteristic of sprawl – only the Orwelian nightmare of the all-seeing traffic eyes seems to remain. And the best comment I see in these pages is the person who advocates work at home for most office jobs. Isn’t that the kind of support the computer is perfect for? Modern Office building can be converted to apartment buildings; they are only frames with partitions.

Posted by paul rosa | Report as abusive

A visitor from another planet, where reason is the order of the day, would look upon our having paved so much of our landscape and then covered all that concrete with millions upon millions of two-ton hunks of metal, each one propelled by an absurdly inefficient motor and occupied by a single operator who thinks he or she is entitled and obligated to go faster than all the others, would stare in wonder. That same visitor would fall down laughing to learn that this is what we call our “transportation system”.

This whole mess is completely unsustainable, folks. The longer we spend debating about whether replacing it “costs too much” or “deprives us of freedom”, the more costly and unpleasant will be what fate imposes upon us.

Posted by Art Marriott, Seattle | Report as abusive

I have encouraged my employer (a major telecommunications provider) to promote communications solutions that will make “teleworking” more common. It is a major push for our marketing folks in 2009.

If we can extend company LANs to your house, provide conferencing abilities, even (if needed to make management feel better) let your boss see your shining face via a webcam, what is to prevent a large number of people from working from home? I think our marketing group is estimating that 25% of jobs can be done that way. That would have an enormous impact on traffic, gasoline prices, global warming, pollution, the US balance of trade, …

Posted by Gary | Report as abusive

I don’t care how you try to package this — this is s terrible idea. People should not be taxed for their movements. This is social engineering on steroids. Please, control your urge to run other people’s lives.

Posted by Guy Thompto | Report as abusive

This is one of the most stupid, brain dead, elitist proposals. We taxpayers are forced to bailout financial and other companies in the hundreds of billions of dollars, if not potentially trillions of dollars. Now, amidst a severe receession and people losing jobs left and right, we are asked to pay more for using the highway system. Gee, this is a loser for sure. How can you stimulate the economy by forcing people to pay more when driving to work or doing essential commutes? The public transit system in most states are already over-crowded — in many localities, you can’t even find a parking space to park-n-ride, especially when you far away from the bus route.

Posted by proposal sucks | Report as abusive

Diana, isn’t the real issue that we seem to insist on continuing a self important lifestyle? When will we learn that individuals are not important? ANTS have figured that much out.

Posted by Colin | Report as abusive