Business & Economy
January 28, 2021

Why Mobility Pricing is So Immobile

The mobility-pricing conversation has been mostly about technology and social engineering.  Mostly speculation, not specifics.

No matter how much sense it makes, few places have done it.  The first cities that implemented a cordon-pricing congestion charge between 1998 and 2013 are still the only ones that have.

Economists agree that pricing a scarce resource is better for pretty much everything*, so why is  there only a handful of green dots on the map?  What’s the impediment?

We all know what the problem is: the closer a proposal gets to a visible tax on the citizen/driver, the more politically toxic it becomes.  There’s not been a good enough return for the political capital that would have to be spent.

Watch what happens every time another report on mobility pricing is released – like, most recently, this one:

Report is released in the morning.  By nightly news, after the media have done the afternoon scare pieces with interviews of incredulous citizens, accountable leaders are in full assurance mode that nothing is going to happen anytime soon.  Or ever.  Next morning, report is toast.

There is unanimous agreement, however, that no matter how often a decision is deferred, we have to keep talking about mobility pricing.

Here is the latest from Moving in a Livable Region – a consortium of organizations in Metro concerned with improved mobility and land-use planning.  They have produced this very accessible graphic to find out what’s happening now – and what needs to happen. Plus an opportunity for feedback.


Why keep the conversation going?  Because it’s just a matter of time before the time for mobility pricing in some form will arrive.

Is there any reason to think this it that time?  Well, possibly – and it’s because of another inescapable pain greater than the one incurred by the prospect of road pricing.  It’s not the imposition of a new tax; it’s the loss of an old one: the gas tax.

On that there is no choice – a decision must be made.  Electrification of the vehicle fleet is inevitable, as a technological reality and now a legislative one.  The fossil-fueled vehicle will be on its way out by the end of the decade.

This literally came in on my news feed as I was typing the previous sentence:

So ends a major source of revenue that funds infrastructure, maintenance and, in our case, transit.

Okay, what should we do now?  Answer in the next post.



*From the San Francisco County Transportation Authority:

  • Get traffic moving so people and goods get where they need to go
  • Increase safety for people walking, biking, and driving
  • Clean the air to support public health and fight climate change
  • Advance equity by improving health and transportation for disadvantaged communities
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