Traffic Congestion Costs Philly Commuters $1018 a Year. Here’s What To Do About It.

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Here’s a cool idea out of Carnegie Mellon for “virtual” traffic lights they think could cut down on congestion. And maybe they can around the margins.

But it’s not enough to trifle with this kind of small-bore stuff around the margins. There is only one policy that can really take a meat axe to traffic jams, and that is congestion pricing.

Matt Yglesias explains why this works:

Build a useful road and you’ll find that space on the road at peak times is a valuable commodity. And yet it’s also a commodity that’s generally either available for free or else available for a price that’s unrelated to the demand for space on the road. Naturally an underpriced valuable commodity leads to overconsumption. Traffic jams, in other words. Every once in a while Ben & Jerry’s holds a “free cone day” that invariably leads to long lines. Roadways in dynamic metro areas are basically holding free cone day five days a week. Charge people enough money to eliminate routine congestion and you’ll find yourself with fewer traffic jams and an enormous pool of revenue that can be used to maintain your basic infrastructure and upgrade your bus service.

Lots of people don’t like this idea because they don’t like taxes, but I think the correct way to look at this issue is that traffic congestion is already costing you a ton of time and money.

Traffic congestion costs the average Philadelphia commuter about $1018 and 48 hours each year. It costs the typical Pittsburgh commuter about $826 and 39 hours.

That is so much! I am confident that anyone could think of something better to spend it on than sitting in traffic.

The trade-off here is really between hidden costs – where you’re wasting the time and the gas money without really thinking about it – and direct costs – where you’re paying some money to drive faster during the peak travel times.

Direct costs can be politically ugly, but in this case I think it’s a no-brainer.

Cashless tolls will unlock the option of congestion pricing for major roads in all of PA’s big metros. This will enable even more people to quickly travel within the Commonwealth’s most productive economic regions, increasing the number of people who can live and work in them, and decreasing the amount of dead time in their days.

At the same time, it will raise a good deal of much-needed revenue for transit and auto infrastructure maintenance and expansion.

Revenue raised from congestion pricing in Pittsburgh could potentially fund more trains and other improvements on the Pittsburgh-Harrisburg Amtrak line, or fund the Bus Rapid Transit network. In Philly, it could raise money to reduce SEPTA fares, or pay for repairs, or save some of the endangered routes, or expand service.

Since Tom Corbett has another $1 billion in transportation revenue to come up with to hit his own panel’s recommendations, this option deserves to be considered in the budget debate.

This entry was posted in Miscellany.

2 Responses to Traffic Congestion Costs Philly Commuters $1018 a Year. Here’s What To Do About It.

  1. Miketivist says:

    Cashless tolls need NEED NEED to be done in conjunction with funding for transit projects. Here in Virginia, congestion pricing on the Beltway is going to the developer, Fluor-Transurban. The state is also looking at putting tolls on major interstates, along which there is little or no transit option. The funds from these tolls are going into the general fund and looked upon as possible money for roads.

    Raising tolls like in Virginia is a regressive tax that will likely do little to relieve congestion (possibly pushing car traffic onto local roads) and raises the cost of living for many. So reject any congestion pricing plans that drop the transit funding aspect. Tolls can be a great solution to reduce car traffic, lower road maintenance costs, and clear pollution, but only if options to driving are made available.