The ‘Movie Ticket’ Theory of Transportation Pricing

Let’s say you’re at the movies, and you look up at the box office
only to see no ticket prices listed. You know you’re going to have to
pay for the show eventually — perhaps even during income-tax season —
but for now you can watch all you want, seemingly for free.

2777481403_e25bf63dde.jpg(Photo: Roloff via Flickr)

How many movies would you see? One, two … or as many as you wanted to?

Former federal highway official Steve Lockwood presented that hypothetical at today’s University of Virginia conference to illustrate the nation’s wacky notion of transportation pricing.

"The reason we don’t have a flexible dialogue when it comes to pricing is that we don’t know how much things cost," he said.

Right now
tolling is prohibited on existing interstate highway systems built with
federal funds, with a few exceptions. But conference speakers on both
ends of the political spectrum agreed that the transportation system
must be priced more accurately in order to avoid catastrophic

In other words: It’s time to start properly labeling the price of a movie ticket.

Douglas Foy, the former development secretary of Massachusetts, and transit critic
Adrian Moore of the Reason Foundation, sparred on many issued but
agreed that any new highway capacity should include charges beyond the
gas tax.

The comparison of film-going to driving is an
imperfect one, to be sure, but the core need to inform the public about
the consequences of decision-making applies to both activities.

love to believe they can be free riders," Jay-Etta Hecker of the
Bipartisan Policy Center told conference attendees today. "People need
to be educated that this isn’t a free-rider system."

federal effort to encourage sounder urban transportation pricing
remains in its infancy, however. Mary Peters, George W. Bush’s second
transportation secretary, introduced the Urban Parternship Agreements
(UPA) in 2007 to incentivize congestion mitigation efforts, but New
York City lost its chance at the UPA cash after the state legislature
voted down congestion pricing.


Fred Barnes: Americans Mainly Want to Stay in Their Cars

After yesterday’s electoral drubbing, the Obama administration will have to deal with a starkly different Congress when they make their expected push for a multi-year transportation bill early next year. We know that some influential House Republicans, like John Mica, don’t necessarily believe that bigger highways will solve America’s transportation problems. And we know that […]

SFMTA Launches SFPark to Much Fanfare and Political Support

San Francisco launched the world’s most innovative parking pilot today, a federally-funded trial that promises to revolutionize the way cities manage and price metered curb parking. SFPark will make it easier for motorists to find spaces in busy commercial districts, while reducing congestion, speeding Muni, and improving air quality and safety for bicyclists and pedestrians. […]

Six Lies the GOP Is Telling About the House Transportation Bill

The transportation-plus-drilling bill that John Boehner and company are trying to ram through the House is an attack on transit riders, pedestrians, cyclists, city dwellers, and every American who can’t afford to drive everywhere. Under this bill, all the dedicated federal funding streams for transit, biking, and walking would disappear, leading to widespread service cuts and more injuries and deaths […]