Time to Reform “Soviet” Road Pricing

A TCSdaily.com column explains why market-based pricing for road usage would be an improvement over the current system, which encourages congestion by charging the same price (zero) for trips at the peak of rush hour and in the middle of the night:

…congestion pricing is conservative economics at its best. For decades, conservatives have championed market-oriented solutions to highway problems as a means to allocate scarce resources. Congestion pricing gives consumers the opportunity to decide when it is in their economic interest to ride crowded roads, and whether the price charged for a given trip is worth their travel time savings. In the former Soviet-bloc states, the standard way to allocate scarce goods was to set the purchase price low enough for everyone to afford, but to make consumers wait in long lines to buy them. The real price depended on what value consumers placed on their time. This approach is the way we’ve always allocated access to most roadways in capitalist America - access is “free,” just like for a public park. But our real cost skyrockets when we consider the time we spend crawling along in bumper-to-bumper traffic and with no option to pay extra for a faster trip. And even without factoring in the cost of time frittered away listening to satellite radio, highways have never really been “free,” but subsidized by taxpayer dollars. Congestion pricing is not a tax increase, but a user fee, which, conservatives agree, is a better way to divide costs.

The author is right that congestion pricing is not a tax increase. But roads today currently are financed by taxes. So if congestion pricing is implemented, it should be accompanied by a tax cut of equal magnitude to prevent politicians from inadvertently having a new pile of money to waste on other government programs.