City News Flash: Tolls Work.
posted by November 24 at 15:09 PMon
No big shock here: People drive less when they have to pay for it.
For about eight months, drivers in 275 Seattle-area households agreed to pay for something the rest of us get for free: The right to drive on the region’s freeways and streets.
They were guinea pigs in a pioneering study that explored how motorists’ behavior might change if they had to pay tolls — not just on a few bridges or highways, but on almost every road with a yellow center line.
Researchers established virtual tolls ranging from a nickel to 50 cents a mile. They gave participants pre-paid accounts of between $600 and $3,000, and told them they could keep whatever the tolls didn’t eat up.
At the end of the experiment, researchers found that nearly 80 percent of the people involved drove less, modified their routes or drove at off-peak hours to avoid the higher rush-hour tolls. On average, they took five percent fewer trips and drove 2.5 miles less per day. And keep in mind that the money they were “spending” wasn’t their own; and they didn’t get any benefit (such as a faster, less congested commute) from the tolls. Factor in real money and real benefits, and the real-world effect would likely be much greater.
So our leaders are responding with overwhelming support for tolling, right? Um, no.
“The politics of that is just too tough,” said Richard Ford, chairman of the state Transportation Commission.
State Rep. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, said even constituents in his green, liberal district complain to him about the prospect of tolls on a new Highway 520 bridge.
“This isn’t Amsterdam — this is the West,” he said.
That attitude—”It hasn’t happened here, therefore it can’t happen here”—combined with the belief that no one should ever have to pay the true cost of driving, is exactly why we’re building a massive new freeway on our downtown waterfront.