McSweeny on Pricing Transportation
Pat McSweeny's new column is another in his series breaking down and discussing the problem of sprawl. I feel very uneasy about what he suggests.
If Virginians want true efficiency, an assured source of revenue for roads and public transit is not the answer. It will lead to rigidity. The policy debate over congestion has proceeded in precisely the wrong direction. Rather than looking for more tax revenues, we should be dismantling the current funding arrangement and demanding that Congress do the same.In terms of the long distance commuters, everyone needs to understand that while a few high-flyin' fancy-pantsed tech guys with salaries topping 250K are buying houses out in Jeffersonton and making that commute to Reston, a good number of their neighbors are cops and public school teachers in Burke or Vienna who can't afford a spacious home near work. Hard working people adding extra hours on their commutes because they feel their families deserve a chance to live in a big house with a lot of land. Not only will some sort of a usage system on roads punish those already bearing the long commute, it will actually make it impossible for some people to live in a decent size home. McSweeny said the solutions won't be painless, but we've got to keep our eye on the American dream as we move forward with this debate.
The only way to achieve a more efficient transportation system over the long term is to price transportation the way telecommunications and energy are priced. The old model may have worked tolerably well in a simpler time, but it is ill-suited to the ever-changing and increasingly complex mobility challenges we confront in metropolitan areas.
For decades, we have built government roads to accommodate scattered development. More people drive more vehicles on more trips over longer distances than last year. Without a radical change, we can expect that to worsen in the future.
Congestion of these roads is an example of the tragedy of the commons. Because everyone can use a road without a user charge, no one takes the cost of the road into account in deciding where to live, work or engage in any other activity requiring travel. Pricing of transportation that reflects its true value would contribute more to rational patterns of development than any set of government land use policies and regulations devised ever could.
So here's the question I pose to the readers- what's the matter with sprawl?