Re: How to end traffic congestion

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From: Alexander Blakely (
Date: Fri Mar 10 2000 - 10:50:39 PST

I know this may be beating a dead horse, but I think your solution is not the
most politically viable solution.

In your quick dismissal of the 'Lexus Lane' solution, you assume that Americans
are motivated by envy. Russians are motivated by envy (trust me on this one);
Americans are motivated by greed. Americans don't revolt against first-class
sections on airplanes. Sure, it is mostly rich people who fly first class. But
the average American can treat himself to a nice flight every so often. More
importantly, every American harbors the dream of becoming rich one day. The
first class seats and Lexus lanes serve not as insults to the poor and
middle-class, but rather, as infrequent rewards and frequent incentives.

Also, Americans are a very skeptical bunch when it comes to 'free lunch' offers,
which, I'm afraid, your negative toll during off hours feels like. The average
American isn't going to assume, "Wow, I'm going to make a lot of money while I
drive." There are too many late night TV adds promising the unemployed "Make
money while you watch TV." Or something similarly ricockulous. Disregarding P.T.
Barnum's wisdom, I think that most Americans would feel their intelligence
insulted by a plan that promises to 'pay' them to drive.

Another problem: You're taking away a free good. Driving is a free good right
now (unless you count car payments, insurance, gasoline, taxes, maintenance,
etc.). But once the driver is on the road, there is almost no marginal cost
except gasoline. Your plan would get rid of all 'free' lanes, and replace them
with toll roads. Trying to take away free goods (even if they are not really
free) from people is not an easy prospect. The British have 'free' national
health care. They pay the heavy eternality of waiting in line--often for
weeks--just to see their doctor. They complain about it a lot, just as Americans
complain about traffic. But there is no way Parliament is going to discontinue
the national health plan. There would be a revolt. Britons would take to the
streets demanding their right to free medical services (and long lines).

Therefore, I really think Lexus lanes are the most politically expedient
solution. They offer the driver a choice (something fundamental to capitalism):
pay the price to get into the fast lane or due the time in the 'free' lanes. If
you are worried about the polarizing effects of having Lexus lanes and 'free'
lanes, then take the airline analogy one step further. On major highways,
introduce a three-tiered system: free lanes, fixed-toll lanes, and variable-toll
lanes. That way the drivers feels empowered to make the choices that best
reflect his own time/money tradeoff.


Dan Kohn wrote:

> But that's why we need to PAY people for going at on-peak times. That's the
> only solution to the demagoguery. (And it will still require a great PR
> campaign to explain the benefits.)
> - dan
> --
> Daniel Kohn <>
> tel:+1-425-602-6222 fax:+1-425-602-6223
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Rohit Khare []
> Sent: Monday, 2000-03-06 18:19
> To: Carey Lening;
> Subject: Re: How to end traffic congestion
> >I errored in not being specific enough. I meant the areas (wash D.c. etc)
> >where the subway system is larger.
> Even there, in particular, we can watch the success of arguably the
> #1 or #2 best subway in America, and it's not enough. It's great,
> especially for getting tourists off the street, but the real reaction
> has been to keep new development *outside* the beltway, in NoVa and
> out into maryland, where the highways do reach to. Turn US50 into an
> interstate-grade highway, and you might have a better chance of
> bringing real jobs into the city from College Park, say.
> >take yourself out of the high
> >tech sector ) making Jack and shit, and they often have to do the lovely
> >commuting.
> I suspect that we're not communicating about the ultima ratio --
> whether such folks' lives -- including my life, for the forseeable
> future -- would be strictly enhanced by the kind of accurate costing
> Dan is proposing.
> Initially, in particular, I can't change wages, but let's see where
> we can game the system out to. First off, postulate, as Dan did, that
> this is a zero-flux system: by charging a $2 premium in the morning,
> that same amount of money will be rebated back to its users during
> the rest of the day. Your goal, as traffic planner, is to smooth out
> the spikes in demand, and in return guaranteeing a constant,
> maximized throughput.
> *Any* load over that optimal point makes everyone worse off.
> Including our friend Jack.
> Now, clearly not *everyone* has to be where they're going at 9:00AM
> sharp (those who do are already paying the price of uncertainty by
> getting up so early they arrive in an 8:30-9 window anyway). By
> enacting a transfer payment, the planner is attempting to sort out
> those who absolutely, positively have to get somewhere from those who
> can afford to shift their schedules a few minutes earlier or later.
> Question: are the kinds of jobs that demand -- inherently, not just
> due to foreman meanness -- timeliness the same ones that can't pay
> for the $2? Stockbrokers, yes, shipping clerks, perhaps not.
> Then Jack should be strictly better off under Dan's regime. Remember,
> all we're trying to do here is minimize the harm of traffic, not
> punish nor build new highways. At the same time, I can see how we're
> never going to get very far because our "democratic" impulses allow
> demagoguery to drag everyone's performance down with the mean.
> Rohit

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