Street Signs

Traffic Tax: The Drive To Clear The Roads For A Price

Are you willing to pay more to drive in less traffic? We're talking about paying a premium on top of those hefty tolls already charged by many highways, tunnels and bridges. Transportation officials are meeting at the White House to talk about this very kind of traffic tax. They say it would unclog city streets and fight global warming. Are they right? Would it transform the roads into a dream for drivers, or would it make motoring a nightmare?

Imagine driving along and suddenly encountering the “Lexus Lanes;” a chunk of road reserved for those willing to pay a premium. That’s pretty much the concept behind something called “Congestion Pricing.” Essentially it’s an added tariff for driving in the city center during the busiest times of day.

Kathryn Wylde is President of the Partnership for New York City, a group that favors congestion pricing in the New York City. “What we have to understand is we’re all paying a traffic tax already because of the cost of traffic delays,” she said. The cost is substantial. “We quantify this in the New York City Metro area at $13 billion a year...we have to do something about it.”

Congestion Taxes a Good Thing?

“Congestion pricing is not the best scheme to deal with congestion problems,” argued Walter McCaffery of Keep New York City Congestion-Tax Free, a group partially funded by the parking industry.

“In NYC we need to have strict enforcement put in place such as blocking the box regulations (cars in intersections when they don't have the light).. and we should have the construction industry policed so they don't knock out lanes of traffic.”

In Washington, the US Department of Transportation is pushing for "Congestion Pricing", nationwide. And the U.S. is not the only nation facing this kind of traffic tax. Something similar was implemented in England in February 2003 to relieve London's traffic-choked streets.

Drivers who enter central London between 7 am and 6:30 pm must buy daily, weekly or yearly passes and register their license plate numbers. A network of 800 cameras photograph license plates within the zone, and motorists who have not paid are fined. As a result, congestion inside the zone fell 30 percent.

“There is no support in the City of New York for this,” added Walter McCaffrey.  "It does not have political viability, here.”

He might be right. The Queens Chamber of Commerce issued a report in February 2006 arguing that New York City's economy would be hurt if a London-style congestion tax were imposed.