April 29, 2008

The Future of Mass Transit

The LA Times had an op-ed this weekend about the problem with doing congestion pricing in southern California, and the reactions (from Ryan Avent and Josh Patashnik, inter alia) point to a major dilemma for both congestion pricing policy and climate change policy: You can't provide incentives for people to switch to mass transit, and thus reduce both traffic and CO2 emissions, if there are no mass transit alternatives -- something that's the case in much of the US, and particularly in the western states. Outside of New York City, the District, and a few other places, mass transit infrastructure is pitifully small, if not nonexistent. This will make carbon or congestion pricing harder on most people, low-income people in particular, and there won't be much in the way of immediate amelioration -- building new mass transit systems takes years, after all.

I agree with Ryan that new mass transit should start being built now -- and I would add that it should be build with the anticipation of receiving revenue from carbon/congestion pricing schemes. It would be a rather large bet on the likelihood that states and cities would adopt such schemes, but I don't think anyone can truthfully say they won't happen in the near future.

UPDATE: With the caveat, of course, that carbon pricing will likely be more widespread than congestion pricing, which will probably be limited to large cities.

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