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why you’re stuck in traffic, nowhere to park

Tom Vanderbilt, from Traffic:

In other words, cities should set prices on parking meters at a level high enough so that an area’s spots are only 85 percent occupied at any time. The ideal price, says Shoup, is the “lowest price that will avoid shortages.” Spaces with no meters at all, in a city like New York, are total anathema to Shoup.

“People who want to store their car shouldn’t store it on the most valuable land on the planet, for free,” he told me in his office at UCLA, where a vintage parking meter sits atop his desk.

What about all those fuel taxes? Drivers in the United States pay one-half the fuel taxes of drivers in Canada, one-fourth that of the Japanese, and one-tenth of the English. Adjusted for inflation, the fuel tax brings in less revenue than it did in the 1960s.

In traffic, the basic model has been a state-subsidized, all-you-can-eat salad bar. Take as many trips on the roads as you like, whenever you want, for whatever reason. It may be a good deal for society—a loss leader, like Costco’s cheap televisions—but it’s such a good deal that everyone does it. Recently, however, as we have been running out of money and space for new roads, the thinking has turned from “How can we get more people on the roads?” to “How can we get fewer?” The answer, of course, is congestion pricing. As an idea, it’s hardly new. The idea of taxing people for the “externalities,” like congestion, that they create goes all the way back to economists like Arthur Pigou, who talked about the problems road users create for other road users in his 1920 book, The Economics of Welfare.

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Filed under: Economic Policy,

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