The lack of imagination on this issue among politicians has become extremely frustrating to me. Metro is currently faced with all sorts of difficult funding decisions. It’s cutting services and facing costly delays thanks to a backlog of capital investments, due to funding shortfalls. Meanwhile, downtown Washington during rush hour is a mess. The region’s major highways are, at almost any time, a mess. Congestion is perpetual. Tolling of central business areas and major highways could meaningfully reduce congestion while generating enough money to significantly increase and improve transit service. Politicians struggling to figure out how to fund Metro should just walk down to 14th Street near the Potomac at 5 on a Friday, or to I-270 in Maryland at basically any time. The money is sitting right there, in the form of red brake lights as far as the eye can see.
Advocation for congestion pricing instantly generates complaints about regressivity. I find this argument to be extremely short-sighted. No one would benefit more from congestion-priced streets and highways than bus riders. Bus service could be increased immediately upon adoption of a tolling regime, and trips would become much faster, much more comfortable, and much more predictable in a world with congestion pricing. With increased demand for bus services, you might even be able to reduce bus fares — perfectly justifiable given the reduction in congestion produced by a shift from driving to bus-riding.
There’s going to be a point in time at which congestion pricing is universal and has been in place for decades, and people are going to find it hard to believe that it was once considered a controversial and politically infeasible notion.