Congestion Pricing: Necessary Evil

April 8, 2008

By now we’ve all had time to digest the fact that Sheldon Silver single-handedly nixed Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to introduce congestion pricing in Manhattan. London and Stockholm have introduced congestion pricing to much success and it was hoped that a New York plan would similarly 1) reduce traffic 2) reduce congestion 3) provide a much needed revenue stream for the MTA 4) encourage transit oriented development, and 5) convince China of the inappropriateness of their actions in Tibet, causing them to leave Tibet, thereby producing a ripple effect whereby all hithertofore global crises are resolved including, but not limited to, a) the Iraq war b) the Clinton-Obama tussle and c) how to produce the 1.21 gigawatts of electricity required to send Marty McFly back to the future. In short, there was a lot more at stake than an increase in tolls. I’m pro-congestion pricing, but conflicted about its larger consequences. While I was in favor of the New York plan, a recent article in the Washington Post situated the New York plan within the context of the department of transportation and the changes there-wrought by the Bush administration. As the article explains:

“For Gribbin, Duvall and Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, the goal is not just to combat congestion but to upend the traditional way transportation projects are funded in this country. They believe that tolls paid by motorists, not tax dollars, should be used to construct and maintain roads. They and other political appointees have spent the latter part of President Bush‘s two terms laboring behind the scenes to shrink the federal role in road-building and public transportation. They have also sought to turn highways into commodities that can be sold or leased to private firms and used by motorists for a price. In Duvall and Gribbin’s view, unleashing the private sector and introducing market forces could lead to innovation and more choices for the public, much as the breakup of AT&T transformed telecommunications.”

In other words, the public will be removed from public transportation, and the Eisenhower legacy–to say nothing of new rail lines–will be lost.

This story alone would be worth commenting on, but it’s just one of many ways in which the Bush administration has treated previous policies with disdain and bent the public interest to its narrow private interest. Just last week, This American Life devoted a show to some of the odder ways that Bush has pushed the unitary executive theory, the same kind of charming and heartening stories that This American Life normally features except terrifying because of their actual implications. Appropriately enough, the episode was called “The Audacity of Government.”

It’s really quite amazing to think of the really small things that the Bush administration has done to effect large amounts of people.

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