Congestion Charge, Commuter Tax and Metro

Dc_traffic(Rerun - Originally posted Nov. 17, 2007) Last week a Washington Post reader named Bill Suffa wrote a letter to Dr. Gridlock in which he suggested that:
1) a congestion charge is essentially nothing more than a commuter tax and,
2) that Metro would be incapable of handling the extra ridership that would be created if a congestion charge for the district (or a portion of it) were enacted.

On point 1, I suppose he's essentially right, although "commuter" would include anyone who enters the congestion zone regardless if they are a resident of DC or not. My personal opinion is I don't see a problem with that. If the District wants to charge people for using its infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc.) then why not? Would it be good policy? Personally I think it would be, but others will disagree. There would be trade offs between raising money and driving away business, maintaining and improving infrastructure and irking suburban commuters, environmental advantages to reducing car traffic and other benefits and costs. I don't pretend to know what the right balance for the District would be, but I do maintain that they should have the right to decide for themselves, and I would suggest that if Fairfax County or any other jurisdiction wanted to charge for the use of its infrastructure, too, it should have that right.

On point 2, the challenges facing Metro have been written about a lot. Just recently it was reported that ridership has grown by 70,000 riders per day over the last 5 years (WMATA press release). Crowding on the system is getting worse despite new rail cars and eight-car trains being introduced. Mr. Suffa has experienced this himself, as have thousands of other riders. I doubt anyone would disagree with the statement that Metro service can be improved and capacity needs to be increased.Congestion_sign

London put #'s 1 and 2 together. A significant part of the reason London was able to enact a congestion charge was that they simultaneously invested more money into buses and trains to make it easier to travel in London without having to drive in. It was part of the plan.

Newnats_aerial_581x376We can take a lesson, too, from the new Nationals Stadium. DC was able to float more than $600 million in bonds to finance the stadium from taxes that haven't yet begun to be collected and will continue for many years. London collects an estimated $244 million per year from its congestion charge and estimates for DC start at $60 million per year. Using similar financing rates to the stadium deal (and assuming between $60 million and $244 million per year were collected), if the congestion tax were dedicated to WMATA, bonds could be floated for between $900 million and $4 billion--money that could be put to work immediately to make significant improvements. Using the stadium strategy would allow for starting the improvements in advance of instituting the congestion charge, increasing the capacity needed before it is required.

No comments:

Post a Comment