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Friday, December 23, 2005

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.

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.
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.

So here's the question I pose to the readers- what's the matter with sprawl?


Anonymous porter4chris said...

Nothing is wrong with sprawl. Just don't ask me to pay for it. I live in a small house walking distance to a metro. I encourage anyone who wants to move out to McMansion land to do so.

However, DON'T get all pissy and demand "services" that you want to be supported by the general tax base. User fees and tolls are a much fairer way to pay for the development of the exburbs.

9:00 AM

Blogger Sam McCord said...

Nothing is wrong with living in a small house and taking the Metro to work. Just don't ask me to pay for it.

The debate on sprawl does better when people don't throw around words like "McMansion" and "pissy" and as long other people subsidize about 45% of the operating cost of your mode of transportation to work I wouldn't use scarequotes around the word services.

But seriously? Do you think we'd be better off with denser growth around Metro stations?

9:55 AM

Anonymous Tugboat Phil said...

"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."

So....dumping millions into mass transit over the same decades, to subsidize the McSophisticates who want to live near a Metro is different? Doesn't it seem odd that ticket prices change very infrequently, even with drastic changes in fuel prices? Oh yeah. It's that pesky subsidization again. Forgive me for being so pissy.

12:39 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is just another way for the down-staters to get Northern Virginians to pay more for basic government services. How much more can the so-called "conservatives" steal from NOVA to satisfy their spending habits?

5:27 PM

Blogger Chris Porter said...

You guys are so easy to get a rise out of.

I'm a firm believer in paying full freight on Metro. I've advocated a price increase for some time, but until then I'll have to settle for swiping my card twice on every trip.

As a conservative, I believe that users should pay for services. I say more power to someone who wants to live in Haymarket in a 6000 sq. ft. house. If they want to get to Ballston in 25 minutes, though, then they should pay whatever toll it takes to build the road it would require to make that happen.

6:39 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess subsidies are ok as long as they support what we like and not what we oppose.

11:16 PM


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