OPINION: Congestion taxes might just solve our problems

Congested freeway in LA, lots of traffic and cars
The 110 Freeway in downtown Los Angeles is congested March 25, 2015. (Courtesy: Prayitno via Flickr)

The New York City subway was instrumental in binding together a city that would become the financial capital of the world and lift millions of immigrants out of the tenements. However, much of the system depends on equipment that predates World War II.

The now-archaic system has overcome past challenges, including the crime-ridden 1970s, the aftermath of 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy.

But now, the city faces a crumbling infrastructure catastrophe.

The New York Legislature recently passed legislation that gives the city a chance to help alleviate the projected $43 billion cost of fixing the subway and offers other cities around the U.S. an example to follow: congestion pricing.

Congestion pricing plans vary in different cities around the world, but essentially, they tax those driving in most congested areas of a city. In New York, the plan would charge drivers entering the busiest parts of Manhattan through a toll between $11 and $25, according to The New York Times.

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While the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will have to finalize many of the details, it does give an exemption to those with less than $60,000 in income in the form of tax rebates.

Public transportation systems in the majority of cities around the U.S. lag far behind those of Europe and a handful of American cities for a variety of reasons, including low fares that are incapable of supporting a vast network and the growth of suburbs during the Cold War era. This dependence now connects to another vital issue: the risk of climate change.

As Los Angeles prepares to host the 2028 Summer Olympics and works to build the public transportation infrastructure necessary to handle such an influx of visitors, congestion pricing offers lawmakers a way of closing the gap in funding that still exists and reduces the infamous traffic that often brings the LA area to a standstill.

Just last month, the LA Metro’s Board of Directors commissioned a two-year study to evaluate the proposal. Success stories from other cities around the world offer a model.

According to The New York Times, London saw clear improvements in the years after its plan’s implementation: a 12% decrease in nitrogen oxide emissions, a 30% drop in traffic delays and an increase in the average speed of cars driving in the congestion. Yet, in recent years, the rise of ride-sharing companies and delivery vehicles from soaring amounts of online shopping have forced British lawmakers to adapt their plans to account for these new challenges.

In Stockholm, the number of cars on the road dropped 22% in the year following the implementation of the tax, thereby cutting average commute times in half, according to The Times. And despite the rising number of cars in Singapore, due in part to the country’s rapidly growing population, the average speed has increased along with the number of people utilizing public transportation.

“While social equity has hindered plans for many cities to implement congestion pricing, policy makers also point out that congestion slows down the buses that many lower income residents use to travel to work and elsewhere.” — Christopher Murdy PO ’22

Throughout the U.S., the average American spent 97 hours in traffic in 2018  — up 15 hours since just four years ago — costing the U.S. about $87 billion in lost efficiency.

While social equity has hindered plans for many cities to implement congestion pricing, policy makers also point out that congestion slows down the buses that many lower income residents use to travel to work and elsewhere.

As LA races to complete the “Twenty-Eight by ’28” initiative, a plan to finish 28 infrastructure projects before the Olympics, and mulls over plans to implement a congestion tax as a way to offset these costs, they are also offering cities around the U.S. a vision to follow.

To attract and maintain the attention of young professionals, American cities need to implement proposals that would decrease emissions, offer commuters alternatives to driving and reduce commute times of those who must still use cars. Congestion pricing gives cities a way of covering the costs.

Christopher Murdy PO ’22 is an intended international relations major from Lido Beach, New York. Agree? Disagree? Different suggestions? Email him at christopher.murdy@pomona.edu.

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