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It’s likely a visible Mobility Decongestion Charge or Tax – call it what you will – isn’t going anywhere any time soon.  The NDP, whenever the term comes up, reinforce their position that there will be no road tax – but they’re interested in what the regional mayors and the commission have to say.  (“Interested” is a political term in this context.  It means ‘we might read the report, but it isn’t going anywhere.’) 

All the more reason to be thinking now of less visible ways to price for transportation.  Like this.

From Wired:

Traffic Is a Disease. An Uber Tax Is the Cure

Why congestion charging won’t do much to fix gridlock in our cities—and how a traffic tax on Uber and Lyft could get cars moving again.

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The problem is that cities’ standard tools won’t work on the likes of Uber. Up until now, economists’ usual response to traffic has been to implement a congestion charge: set a zone where congestion is a problem, and then charge drivers a fee for driving there. …

Uber, however, breaks that model. Uber drivers aren’t using their car as a means of getting from A to B; they’re using it as a means of earning money. … Increasingly, they are the alternative to driving into town—only instead of driving in and then parking, taking themselves off the roadway, they drive in and then just continue driving, for hours and hours, making congestion even worse even as they effectively amortize the cost of any congestion fee. …

What’s more, if you charge Uber drivers, you’re charging some of the lowest earners in the city, people who really need the money they’re making. The tax might be effective, but it would also be regressive.  …

What we need instead, then, is a real incentive for the puppetmasters—Uber and Lyft—to free up road space and get cities moving again.

Such an incentive would not need to touch regular car owners at all, and it wouldn’t even require local governments to define congestion zones or times. All those political decisions about who’s in the zone and who’s out, whether bridges are included, what happens at weekends—all of them could be rendered moot. After all, cities no longer need to work out ex ante where the congestion is going to be: Uber and Lyft have that information, in real time.

And so a tax naturally emerges. Every day, or month, or quarter, whatever makes sense, Uber and Lyft would need to make a tax payment to the city government, based on the number of hours its cars spent stuck in traffic. The tax could be quite simple: 10 cents per minute, say, for any time that any car spent traveling below 10 mph on surface streets or 40 mph on highways. Or it could be more complex, involving a sliding scale of higher payments for slower traffic speeds. Importantly, the tax would be paid by the companies—Uber and Lyft—rather than by the drivers. …

Such a tax would create all the best incentives. Uber and Lyft would start charging more for journeys in high-congestion areas or at high-congestion times, reducing demand and therefore reducing traffic. …

One of the big lessons that Uber has learned—and one reason why the company continues to lose money—is that its passengers are very price-sensitive. … If fares were significantly higher for people wanting to journey through a congested area and lower for everybody else, then two things would happen. Firstly, demand for cars would naturally shift in the desired direction. Then, inevitably, supply would too: drivers without passengers would gravitate away from the congested core, towards low-congestion areas which offered a higher likelihood of picking up a fare.

On top of that, the routing algorithms would change as well. Uber and Lyft would have a financial incentive to route cars around high-congestion areas, even if the journeys took a little longer. Meanwhile, people in congested areas who were thinking of ordering an Uber would have a choice: Either pay a bit more and wait a bit longer to get your car, or find alternative means of transportation. That might be unwelcome news to today’s Uber passengers, but it’s exactly the kind of incentive that cities want to provide to their inhabitants. …