KINSLEY ON TRAFFIC
Michael Kinsley asks an interesting question: Should you be allowed to buy a faster commute? Strangely, he provides no answer to his question. Or even much in the way of information to help the reader decide for himself.
Having moved within the past few months from an area with virtually no traffic to a rather congested one, I find the question interesting. Even though I live and work about 40 miles from the District of Columbia, the area is quickly getting caught up in the traffic problem of the Metro area. Unlike residents of DC and the near suburbs, the Metro subway system is also not an option. The major highways are very congested and getting more conjected by the day; the county I live in (Loudoun Co., VA) is one of the fastest growing in the US and has gone from mainly farmland to a DC “exurb” in less than a decade.
Thousands of people pay what strikes me as exorbitant tolls to travel on the Dulles Greenway in order to escape the main roads and, ironically, the Greenway itself succumbs to traffic jams on a fairly regular basis. Is it fair that the relatively wealthy get to pay to bypass the traffic that the poor must sit in? I suppose it’s not. Still, were it not for the tolls, the Greenway likely wouldn’t have been built. Those cars would have to go somewhere. So, while eliminating the toll road would make life worse for the rich, it wouldn’t do anything to make life better for the poor; indeed, it would make things slightly worse for them.
I’m not sure what the “fair” alternative would be. Certainly, this area has the prerequisite traffic and population density to make public transportation desireable. But someone has to pay for that, too. If it is paid for by gas or other general taxes, the costs will be borne by riders and non-riders alike. Or it could be financed by a bond issue and then paid by increased fares for riders. Of course, that would make it more expensive to ride the subway and thus impact the poor. . .
I’m starting to see why Kinsley didn’t answer his question.