When elected officials and others talk about reducing traffic congestion, one can only wonder what they are envisioning, or how they view traffic congestion in the first place. We all have experienced congestion on the roadways; it’s frustrating (to say the least) and results in hours upon hours of sitting in traffic each week. But, what exactly is it that we are trying to fix, and whatever the solution, how are we going to pay for it?
The gas tax has been a long-standing source for transportation infrastructure dollars. Florida’s gas tax is one of the highest in the country and the revenue generated is intended to fund the ongoing maintenance and restoration of our aging infrastructure. However, after record high fuel prices in the summer of 2008, consumers shifted towards purchasing hybrid or electric vehicles that use less gasoline. Meanwhile, rapidly advancing technologies are disrupting transportation norms. If our mobility future is destined to be more shared, multi-modal, and electric, then the gas tax will eventually be outdated and some would argue that it already is. As the gas tax base crumbles, what happens to our transportation infrastructure? Is there a better way to fund transportation infrastructure?
What is congestion and why should we pay for it?
When thinking of long-term, sustainable solutions for funding our transportation systems, Floridians should consider implementing congestion pricing, which requires drivers to pay a fee for entering heavily-trafficked areas; to bear the cost of contributing to more congestion in areas that are already congested. These areas, such as the urban core and business districts, are characterized by excess demand for limited roadway space during certain times of the day. A driver who is stuck in traffic is basically a consumer waiting in line to obtain a scarce resource that is in high demand at little or no marginal cost. Congestion is not so much the problem, but rather, congestion has been the answer we’ve accepted in response to the problem of excess demand.
Roadway volume is certainly a limited commodity, but simply adding more supply, such as additional lanes, does not solve the problem of excess demand. More supply only leads to induced demand, as the additional roadway capacity is quickly consumed, and we are faced with congestion once again, only scaled up. A more effective strategy that corrects the demand is congestion pricing.
Those in favor of congestion pricing argue the policy is good for cities, good for the environment, and good for the economy. The effectiveness of this strategy is broad because it applies to everyone that is creating the demand, but it does not impose a burden on society as a whole because it does not apply to those who are not creating the demand. In London, since introducing congestion pricing 15 years ago, the city has seen reduced congestion, decreased travel time and reduced air pollution.
Those opposed to congestion pricing often cite concerns that such charges would negatively impact low-income drivers. There are plenty of inequities in the current system too.
Congestion pricing in South Florida
For congestion pricing to be successful in South Florida, a significant investment in infrastructure that supports alternative modes of travel, before and during implementation, is crucial. Once viable transportation options are in place, commuters who do not want to pay to drive into congested areas and create more congestion can take advantage of high speed and light rail services, buses, or bike and scooter sharing services. A congestion fee would apply to any automobile, including for-hire vehicles such as Uber, Lyft, and taxis. The revenue generated could then be put toward other infrastructure projects.
By changing the way we fund transportation infrastructure, we are presented with the opportunity to rethink and reshape how to manage South Florida’s roads and streets.