A Terrible Argument Against Congestion Pricing

Traffic Jam

Via Ryan Avent, David Owen says that congestion pricing would be bad for the environment because traffic jams inspire people to take transit instead of driving.

This is, in my view, a very silly line of argument. It’s probably true that you could construct a model of a situation in which congestion pricing increases the net quantity of driving. But if that situation exists, and you want to change it, then there are lots of good policy options available. You could use the revenue from congestion pricing to finance more attractive transit options. Or you could take advantage of the reduce congestion to start taking lanes away from private automobiles and building bike and bus lanes. You could do all kinds of things.

The main point I would make is that the issue of whether or not you should congestion-price roadways is more-or-less at right angles with the question of how much your public infrastructure should promote driving versus cycling or transit or walking or anything else. The point of congestion-pricing is that the most efficient way to manage the scarce resource of space on crowded streets during peak hours is via a congestion price. That’s true no matter how much or how little driving you’re hoping to see. If you want people to drive less, the thing to do is to build narrower roads and invest in transit and bike infrastructure. If you want people to drive more, the thing to do is to build narrower roads and be stingy on transportation alternatives. But either way if you want to avoid productivity-killing traffic jams you ought to charge people for driving at peak hours.