By Micah Perry
Driving around Portland could get a lot more expensive. The Portland City Council just passed a resolution to create an “equitable mobility task force” to study how imposing steep new fees on city drivers could reduce congestion.
Proponents say the fees will help Portland meet its carbon reduction goals. They also claim that, by increasing the cost of driving and parking, low-income residents and people of color will be better off. Ironically, the city itself noted that “65% of peak car commuters in Portland are medium or low income,” meaning any new fees will actually hurt the communities they seek to help.
Fees being considered include increased parking prices, Uber or Lyft surcharges, a mileage tax, and tolls to enter certain areas of the city. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to most, as Portland frequently pursues anti-car policies, such as a citywide gasoline tax, a reduction in street parking downtown, and the city’s notorious “road diets,” which essentially create congestion by design.
If Portland truly cared about easing congestion amid a growing population, it would add lanes wherever possible. And, rather than try to tax people out of their cars, the city should reevaluate its approach to transit and create a public transportation system that can be attractive to commuters without having to resort to coercion.
Micah Perry is a Research Associate at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.
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By John A. Charles, Jr.
The Oregon Department of Transportation is hosting three Open Houses this month to discuss the possibility of changing how several local highways are managed.
Currently, we finance roads through gasoline taxes. However, a growing number of cars use little or no gasoline. Therefore, the legislature is requiring ODOT to study an alternative finance mechanism for I-205 and part of I-5 that would rely on user fees collected electronically.
In addition, those fees would vary in price depending on the time of day, direction of travel, and day of the week.
While this may sound punitive, the fact is that a single highway lane can move anywhere from 700 vehicles per lane, per hour, to more than 2,000 vehicles, depending on the density of traffic. At times of hyper-congestion, throughput drops dramatically as we sit in stop-and-go conditions.
An alternative would be to use variable toll rates to even out demand, thereby tripling the number of cars per lane while averaging about 45 miles per hour.
Is it a good idea to make our highways three times more productive through congestion pricing? That’s what the Open Houses will explore. Interested motorists should attend, because policy belongs to those who show up.
This is the schedule for ODOT’s community conversations, according to the department’s press release:
- Tuesday, Jan. 23, 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., Clackamas Town Center Community Room (Level 1 near Buckle and across from Macy’s), 12000 S.E. 82nd Avenue, Happy Valley
- Saturday, Jan. 27, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Lloyd Center (Level 1 between Ross and the ice rink), 2201 Lloyd Center, Portland
- Tuesday, Jan. 30, 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., Vancouver Community Library, 901 C Street, Vancouver.
- 17 to Feb. 5, the Online Open House will be active at odotvaluepricing.org. The public can see materials, view video recordings of the project Policy Advisory Committee meetings and leave comments for the project team.
John A. Charles, Jr. is President and CEO of Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.
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