Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a big supporter of road pricing. I think it’s an incredibly efficient way of reducing congestion, improving regional productivity, making us more sustainable, and funding other infrastructure, like transit.
But one of the arguments I often hear against road pricing is that it’s unfair to force a segment of the market out of their car if there’s no good alternative (ie. proper transit). And even if the revenue produced from road pricing goes towards transit, we all know that new infrastructure takes a very, long, time.
So we end up with a chicken and egg problem: Road pricing is a great way to fund transit, but it’s difficult to implement without the proper transit in place. So what should we do? What comes next?
I have two thoughts.
First, road pricing doesn’t necessarily mean that you can no longer drive without paying. Effective road pricing matches price with demand. Therefore if there’s nobody else on the road, you wouldn’t be paying (or at least wouldn’t be paying much). This is what makes it efficient—it adjusts. So for somebody without the willingness to pay for peak congestion pricing, they could still have the option of driving at another time. Go in early or go in later.
But what it does mean is that no matter what time you’re driving, the road could be priced so that it actually functions again. In Toronto today, many of our roads are completely failing. Demand greatly exceeds available supply (the amount of road we have) and so you can’t use them to get anywhere in an efficient way. So what we have is equal access to terrible non-functioning roads.
Second, there’s no such thing as a free lunch and nobody said it was going to be easy to build phenomenal infrastructure. We all complain and say we want it, but when push comes to shove, are you willing to open up your wallet and pay for it?
So I say forget pontificating about chickens and eggs and just do it. If we priced roads and setup other appropriate revenue tools, I’m sure there are some financial wizards in this city that could use tax increment financing or other mechanisms to ensure that we get shovels in the ground today for the new infrastructure that we so desperately need.
These are important discussions to be having no matter what city you live in. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below or on twitter.