Here’s yet another way to fight the inversion

Yesterday I floated the idea of cutting free parking for government employees as a way to fight air pollution and spur better neighborhoods. Here’s another option to consider: congestion pricing for roads.

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“Congestion pricing” is a term that means you pay more for using something when it’s congested. If you’ve ever paid more to ride a train during “peak” hours, for example, you’ve experienced this concept. Paying to use our own HOV lanes in Utah also would fall into this category.

What I’m talking about here, however, is basically some sort of toll system for major roads, like freeways. There are an infinite number of ways the details of this idea could be worked out, but on a basic level it accomplishes two things: incentivizing alternative forms of transportation, which in Utah would help fight the inversion, and raising money that could be used for infrastructure.

In China — the only other place that has worse air quality than Utah right now — this idea is gaining traction as a way to fight pollution. Streetsblog reports:

Increasingly, however, with traffic and vehicle exhaust demonstrably harming business as well as human health in dozens of cities, and with strategies like quotas on new vehicles unable to offset the growth in driving, officials are looking to “economic measures.” Tolling vehicle entries to congested city centers has established a strong enough track record elsewhere in improving traffic flow and air quality that it is attracting interest not just from municipal officials but also from China’s national transport and environment ministries.

The Streetsblog post later points out that both pollution and congestion are major drivers behind this idea.

Many people would surely hate this idea, but we have a dramatic pollution problem in Utah — one I suspect is hard for people to comprehend when they don’t live here, where you can literally feel your lungs burn — so we need a dramatic solution. Charging people for the amount they contribute to the problem seems like a fair and effective way to accomplish that.

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3 comments

  1. Aaron Guile

    Hmmm . . . after living in London, I can tell you congestion charges has done nothing to reduce pollution: it is only another tax and angers just about everyone. A proposal to increase taxes — particularly one that is arguably punitive — will always fail in very red Utah. I am glad you are proposing solutions, but I just don’t think this one will fly — especially since it doesn’t work in the nations that utilize congestion charges.

    Tax breaks for non-polluting cars is a far better option. If my son could have afforded it when he bought his car a month ago, he would have purchased an electric car. Utahns are such notorious cheapskates, a tax credit would yield immediate results.

    • jimmycdii

      I’d keep it low at first, but it’d also probably need to vary depending on time of use, etc. However I think even something as low as a dollar a day wold begin to make a difference. For some people who say transit is too expensive to ditch their cars, that small fee might be enough.

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