Price controls

I think James Joyner is absolutely right here:


I’m now commuting into D.C. on a near-weekdaily basis. According to GoogleMaps, the office is 13.5 miles from the house. I can usually drive there in 45-60 minutes during off-peak hours, although it can sometimes take much longer if there’s an accident. I can park in the garage next to my office for the day for $12. Conversely, I can drive 15-20 minutes to a Metro station, pay $4 to park, wait as long as 15 minutes for a train, pay another $2.65 to get two blocks from the office 35-50 minutes later, followed by a 5-10 minute walk to the office.

So, in order to save $2.70 (plus a nominal amount of gasoline), it would cost me 30-75 minutes each day for the round trip, plus the privacy and autonomy I enjoy in my own vehicle. Given that I earn enough that $3 is poor compensation indeed for that much of my time, I drive unless there’s a really good reason not to.

And they’re about to raise the rates for Metro fares and parking, further skewing the calculus in the direction of “drive.”

The massive subsidy provided to drivers in the form of free roads is obviously producing highly inefficient outcomes, which is why DC feels like a prison from which it is impossible to escape unless one wants to spend four hours on the Beltway. We clearly need to institute comprehensive road tolls combined with a congestion pricing scheme. Plus, of course, a carbon tax to compensate for the negative externalities drivers are imposing on those of us who use primarily mass transit.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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