Transportation Finance & Pricing

THE ACCESS ALMANAC: Traffic Congestion Is Counter-Intuitive, and Fixable

Brian D. Taylor

To live in Los Angeles is to endure chronic traffic congestion. Cities are places where people cluster together to create and enjoy the benefits of economic wealth, cultural vibrancy, intellectual exchange, and more. But with clustering comes traffic — often lots of it. While nearly everyone agrees that traffic is a problem, opinions diverge widely on what to do about it.

A Bathtub Model of Downtown Traffic Congestion

Richard Arnott

William Vickrey is the “father of congestion pricing” and a Nobel Laureate in economics. While watching the ebb and flow of traffic from his Manhattan office, he developed a hypothesis that the dynamics of rush-hour traffic have the same properties as water flowing into and out of a hypothetical bathtub.

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From Fuel Taxes to Mileage Fees

Paul Sorensen

For much of the past century, federal and state taxes on gasoline and diesel have provided the majority of funding for US highway construction and maintenance. Fuel taxes perform well in this role: they distribute the tax burden among drivers in rough proportion to their use of the road network, are inexpensive to administer, and offer a modest incentive to buy and drive fuel-efficient vehicles. Download the PDF.

SFpark: Pricing Parking by Demand

Gregory Pierce and Donald Shoup

In 2011, San Francisco adopted the biggest price reform for on-street parking since the invention of the parking meter in 1935. Most cities’ parking meters charge the same price all day, and some cities charge the same price everywhere. San Francisco’s meters, however, now vary the price of curb parking by location and time of day. Download the PDF.

Peering Inside the Pork Barrel

Gian-Claudia Sciara

During the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Congressional earmarking played a larger role in federal transportation funding bills than ever before. Through earmarks, the US Congress directs federal funding to selected transport projects in specific places. Between 1994 and 2006, highway earmarks more than doubled. Notorious earmarks like Alaska’s Bridge to Nowhere and Florida’s Coconut Road together with fiscal pressures from the 2008 US economic crisis have led both the House and the Senate to adopt temporary earmark moratoria, calling time-out in the game of pork barrel politics. Download the PDF.

2017-05-26T22:57:15+00:00 Categories: ACCESS 41, Fall 2012|Tags: |

Political and Public Acceptability of Congestion Pricing: Ideology and Self-Interest in Sweden

Björn Hårsman and John Quigley

Thirty-five years ago, economist John Kain proposed several simple pricing mechanisms for roadways that would "improve urban transportation at practically no cost." At about the same time, Nobel laureate William Vickrey championed a number of likeminded ideas, especially in New York City, that would reduce traffic congestion and improve the efficiency of the transport sector. Some of these proposals would also involve "practically no cost," even using the technology of the 1960s. For example, Vickrey proposed varying the tolls on New York's George Washington Bridge with the time of day, which would make rush-hour driving more expensive and reduce traffic congestion.

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Free Parking or Free Markets

Donald Shoup

Cities should charge the right prices for curb parking because the wrong prices produce such bad results. Where curb parking is underpriced and overcrowded, a surprising share of cars on congested streets can be searching for a place to park. Sixteen studies conducted between 1927 and 2001 found that, on average, 30 percent of the cars in congested downtown traffic were cruising for parking. More recently, when researchers interviewed drivers stopped at traffic signals in New York City in 2006 and 2007, they found that 28 percent of the drivers on a street in Manhattan and 45 percent on a street in Brooklyn were cruising for curb parking.

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THE ACCESS ALMANAC: Graduated Parking Fines

Donald Shoup

Cities often increase their parking fines when they need more money. Los Angeles, for example, is facing a major budget crisis and increased its fines for all parking tickets by $5, regardless of the violation. This across-the-board hike suggests that the higher fines are more about raising money than about enforcing the law. But a few cities have discovered how to enforce the law and raise money without costing most drivers anything. Cities can achieve these three goals by using graduated parking fines.

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2017-05-26T23:32:31+00:00 Categories: ACCESS 37, Fall 2010|Tags: , |

Just Road Pricing

Lisa Schweitzer and Brian D. Taylor

Economists have long advocated road pricing as an efficient way to reduce congestion and improve the environment. Many critics, however, object to road pricing on the grounds that it unfairly burdens low-income drivers. Implicit in these objections is the idea that existing transportation finance methods burden the poor less, or at least spread the burden more fairly. Most of the equity concerns about road pricing stem from the fact that it is regressive; that is, poorer people spend a larger share of their incomes on tolls than do wealthier people. But in the US, road systems are financed primarily through fuel taxes, vehicle registration fees, property taxes, and, increasingly, sales taxes—all of which are also regressive. Thus the relevant question is not simply whether road pricing is regressive, or even if it will burden the poor. The relevant question is whether road pricing will burden the poor more than other ways of paying for roads.

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Fixing Broken Sidewalks

Donald Shoup

Public infrastructure often decays invisibly, and we are shocked when a bridge gives way or a water main breaks. Sidewalks, however, decay right before our eyes and under our feet. Perhaps because sidewalks fail gradually rather than collapse spectacularly, many cities have neglected sidewalk repairs and have let neighborhoods become less walkable. In Los Angeles, for example, 4,600 of the city’s 10,750 miles of sidewalks need some degree of repair at an estimated cost of $1.2 billion. Despite this backlog, the city fixed an average of only 67 miles of sidewalks a year between 2000 and 2008. Even if sidewalks miraculously stopped breaking, at that pace it would take 69 years to repair all the existing damage.

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