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Another Reason for Congestion Pricing

By Matthew Yglesias on March 30, 2010 at 12:58 pm

"Another Reason for Congestion Pricing"

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David Brooks mentions one of what is, in my opinion, among the most under-discussed research findings:

If the relationship between money and well-being is complicated, the correspondence between personal relationships and happiness is not. The daily activities most associated with happiness are sex, socializing after work and having dinner with others. The daily activity most injurious to happiness is commuting. According to one study, joining a group that meets even just once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income. According to another, being married produces a psychic gain equivalent to more than $100,000 a year.

Brooks doesn’t pivot from this into any real policy specifics. But the upshot of the commuting point is very clear—we should charge people a fee to drive on crowded roads at peak hours. If you look at it in strict dollars and cents terms, the policy looks great. A relatively small fee can eliminate large economic losses due to congestion, and then the fee can finance useful public services or reductions in other taxes. But when you add in the fact that commuting time makes people miserable, you can see that the social gains from congestion pricing in our most-trafficked metro areas would be extremely large.

Stockholm achieved (PDF) really substantial reductions in morning car commuting delays:

stockholmAM 1

And even bigger ones in the evening:

stockholmPM 1

As I said before, someday people are going to look back on the Unpriced Road Era and be baffled. Then someone will point out that for the first several decades of the relevant period, the technology simply didn’t exist to do the tolling in a feasible way. That created an unpriced road status quo, which became extremely psychologically powerful for years after the unpriced road model had become technologically obsolete.

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