No Pain, No Gain?
The basic idea behind congestion pricing is simple: make motorists pay to use the busiest streets. Under the Mayor’s proposal, an invisible line would be drawn around Manhattan from Eighty-sixth Street south to the Battery. Vehicles crossing this line on weekdays between 6 A.M. and 6 P.M. would be charged a fee—eight dollars for cars, twenty-one dollars for trucks. (Those travelling only within the congestion zone would pay half price, while taxis and livery cabs would be exempt.) The fees would be assessed electronically and could be paid either with a toll pass or over the phone or the Internet.Not only does congestion pricing free up traffic, it also cuts carbon emissions. Stockholm and London have already embraced the practice, to great acclaim. But, say critics, it isn't fair. As with the much-discussed (and much-dismissed) idea of a gas tax, they argue that it would hurt the poor and middle class, while the rich could blithely continue polluting.
Kolbert counters by arguing that the poor can't afford to drive in Manhattan under current circumstances and that proceeds from the program would buttress public transport, thereby benefiting the lower economic classes; and the net effect of the system would be good for the economy, since nobody's making money stuck in traffic. In the end, of course, the only reason the program works is precisely because it hurts. As Kolbert writes:
Any meaningful effort to address the problem will have to include incentives for low-emitting activities (walking, biking, riding the subway) and costs for high-emitting ones (flying, driving, sitting at home and cranking up the A.C.). These costs will inconvenience some people—perhaps most people—and the burden will not always be distributed with perfect fairness.Which seems like a good excuse for a poll. What do other folks think?