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Time for a D.C. Congestion Tax?

London has it, and traffic in the city is down by nearly half. New York is considering it, wowed by the possibility of thinning out the city's choking congestion. Now, Washington is talking about imposing a congestion tax, a daily fee for bringing a car into the District's downtown.

Mayor Adrian Fenty raised the issue in an interview on WTOP radio Friday, and immediately the debate began.

London is the primo example of congestion charging. To drive into central London, you must pay 8 pounds a day, or about $16. This has proven to be enough of a disincentive to take a car into central city that congestion is down by 26 percent since the program was launched in 2003. The tax raises about 122 million pounds a year--$244 million--most of which is spent on improving bus service in the restricted zone. Independent studies say the congestion tax has had a neutral effect on retail and other business in the central city zone and no adverse impact on traffic on the roads immediately surrounding the congestion zone.

The London program has been such a success that the mayor considers it "the only thing I've done in my political life that turned out better than I hoped."

New York City is considering such a move, and the early reaction from New Yorkers is an almost exactly even divide over whether it's the right thing to do (but a majority of New Yorkers agree that congestion pricing would bring great benefits to the air and to traffic levels.) (Side note: Sweden has moved to restore a congestion tax in Stockholm, and the shift in public opinion there is fascinating. While a majority opposed the tax before it was imposed, after it was in operation for a while, polls started to show a majority now favors the tax because of the benefits of reduced traffic and cleaner air.)

The need in Washington is clear: Washington's suburbs have the second longest average commuting time in the nation, after New York. Maryland commuters sit through an average of 30.8 minutes of traffic on the way to work; in Virginia, Prince William County drivers suffer in an average commute of more than 40 minutes.

And the alternatives necessary for non-drivers exist here: Washington has the third-highest usage of public transit, after New York and San Francisco. But there are very serious questions about capacity with Metro--as any rider knows, the system is straining to handle the crowds it already carries.

But Washington is different from London or New York in that a congestion tax here would serve more than one purpose: It would not only be a way to control the flow of traffic in the city, but it would also be an answer to the single greatest fiscal frustration facing the District--its inability to impose a commuter tax on the hundreds of thousands of suburbanites who earn their living in the city but contribute nothing to its coffers.

"You do have a lot of commuters who use our infrastructure and don't pay any taxes," Fenty said on the radio. A congestion tax would give the District a way to recoup some of its costs in catering to those commuters--street maintenance, utilities, emergency services, etc.

Fenty was non-committal about whether he will really push for a congestion tax. Obviously, he's going to want to put this to a study first. And suburban politicians aren't likely to embrace the idea for fear that their constituents might get all riled up about it. Powerful interests would surely oppose the notion--hotels, parking magnates, possibly the major arts and cultural organizations. But the evidence from London indicates that other than the parking folks, those business interests have nothing to fear from congestion taxing, which, by the way, are only in effect from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and only on weekdays, so nightlife and cultural and sports events are not affected at all.

So, is it time for a D.C. congestion tax?

By Marc Fisher |  April 30, 2007; 7:42 AM ET
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Comments

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And Congress should vote down any DC congestion tax. DC should not have home rule or a vote in Congress. Its unconstitutional. Idiots like Marc need to be disenfranchised! At the very least only those residents of DC with incomes under $60k should have the right to vote. Rich white liberals like Marc should not! And no ruch DC residents should not be allowed to vote in presidential elections.

Posted by: Fred | April 30, 2007 8:06 AM

London has the Underground. Goes everywhere in London. New York has the Subway. Goes everywhere in New York. Both cities have good rail systems feeding into them from the suburbs.

DC has, ummm, Metro. Which goes to parts of the city. There are good rail links to the city from, well, parts of Virginia and Maryland.

If the congestion charge is only applied on cars going to the places that are served by Metro then it might be workable.

Posted by: wiredog | April 30, 2007 8:10 AM

It is a wonderful way to pay for metro expansion.

Posted by: Ben | April 30, 2007 8:39 AM

The other question...would it apply to the DC boarders, or would it apply at the edges of "downtown" and where would those borders be? And would this be meted by EZPass or some other electronic system?

Posted by: not near a metro | April 30, 2007 9:31 AM

All I know is we need to do something to reduce the carbon emissions and make getting around more pleasant and humane/human. I think some roads should be closed to cars altogether so that more people will feel comfortable biking... or at least engineer the streets like Sweden or Denmark to have bike lanes in between the parked cars and the sidewalk... we need more action on this to provide more alternatives.

Posted by: LPC | April 30, 2007 9:43 AM

A congestion charge in downtown DC would be a great way to reach our transportation goals. As many people often lament, Metro is designed to bring people into the downtown core, so pretty much everyone who does so has an option to take public transit. The money recieved would also help to greatly improve Metro service throughout the city.

Posted by: Greg | April 30, 2007 9:57 AM

the way it works in London and the proposal for NYC is that just the central business district (or urban core) would be subjected to the congestion tax. In NYC the proposal is for 86th street south to Battery Park, and the tolls collected are deducted from the congestion tax. Also, you can use various types of technology like EZ Pass to collect the tax.

Locally, the congestion tax could be a pilot project for just the downtown central business district. The proposal definitely does not need to include the entire city.

Reducing congestion is a national policy supported by USDOT. The benefits are many, the drawbacks based on the London and Stockholm and Singapore experiences are well minimal to none.

It is definitely worth a pilot project.

Posted by: kthhken | April 30, 2007 10:04 AM

A congestion tax isn't going to significantly reduce traffic and pollution because it won't be much of a deterrant to drive into DC. Most people, mysrlf included who commute downtown to work or visit clients will be reimbursed by employers. The self-employed will take a tax deduction.

As Marc pointed out, the DC area already has the nation's third-highest transit usage. However, the existance of transit hasn't eliminated the need for roads. That's why we have the nation's second-longest commuting time (another observation by Marc) in spite of all that transit.

Instead of coming with silly "plans" and "alternatives" to make DC even more driver-unfriendly than it already is, DC needs to take steps to improve the flow of traffic. They can start with connecting some of the truncated freeways to nowhere.

DC and its apologists needs to stop pretending DC is like NY and London. Metro isn't in the same league as the NYC MTA subway and the London Underground. And as long as DC has building height restrictions, it will never have the density to justify making Metro into the kind of system that actually could mitigate the need for additional road capacity.

If a such tax is implemented, it will be a back-door commuter tax. Congress should therefor insist that DC spend a significant part of the revenue on meaningful road improvements - not just patchwork.

Posted by: CEEAF | April 30, 2007 10:14 AM

yes

Posted by: Anonymous | April 30, 2007 10:19 AM

I don't understand something here:

"... but it would also be an answer to the single greatest fiscal frustration facing the District--its inability to impose a commuter tax on the hundreds of thousands of suburbanites who earn their living in the city but contribute nothing to its coffers."

Doesn't everybody who works in DC pay Federal Income Tax? Isn't the Federal Government the primary source of funds for the "DC coffers"? And, most important of all, if a tax is placed on the commuters, what will be the impact (if any) on the money received by DC from the Federal Govt.?

I have heard a dollar-for-dollar amount talked about before. What is to be gained by DC if they generate a $100M tax and Congress reduces the DC appropriations by $100M?

Posted by: NoVA | April 30, 2007 10:25 AM

I thought that the federal government stopped appropriating money to DC almost ten years ago.

Posted by: Andrew | April 30, 2007 10:33 AM

I think a congestion tax, during weekday business hours for the downtown (K Street, White House, Capitol, etc.) area is a GREAT idea. Well worth trying. Thep proceeds should go to expand, improve and maintain public transit.

Posted by: Dan | April 30, 2007 10:54 AM

>

How about: Less air pollution. Less noise pollution. Less gridlock on city streets. Less traffic on major roads into DC. Less road rage.

Posted by: Dan | April 30, 2007 10:56 AM

So by Fenty's login and other pro-commuter tax proponents, Fairfax County (or any other jurisdiction) should be able to institite a congestions tax in Tyson's Corner, Bailey's Crossroads, or anywhere where there is congestions since the majority of workers in those areas don't live where they work. If they did, traffic wouldn't be so bad.

It would be nice if this region could form a true transit consortium. I used to live 40 miles outside of NYC, but never had to worry about getting home at any time of the day. The trains left every hour (the transit authority owns most of the tracks)and the busses left every 1/2 hour during non-rush hour times. I never felt like I would have been stuck in the city if there was an emergency at home.

Posted by: Missy | April 30, 2007 10:57 AM

The true purpose of this proposal in DC is quite clear. DC is bitter that they can't get a commuter tax, so they will take any back door method to make that happen. Perhaps they should better spend the money they do have first.
As long as the height restrictions are in place downtown, the traffic (and street parking) have nothing on Chicago, New York, San Francisco and the like. The reason we have the longest commutes in the nation are not because of downtown, but because the folks from Prince William and Loudoun counties are going to Ballston and Tysons Corner, and those from Frederick are coming to Bethesda and Tysons Corner.
As others have pointed out, in London and New York, you have a viable alternative to driving. Here, we have a metro system that is arguably more crowded than the roads, and the only plans for expansion to it are in the far suburbs.

Posted by: Joe | April 30, 2007 11:06 AM

I know who should be taxed. Big trucks, Presidential motorcades, tourists with blue hair, and Fred.

Yeagh!

Posted by: Brass tacks | April 30, 2007 11:14 AM

It would be great if those jerks who insist on driving their cars everywhere had to pay more taxes. Perhaps they could use the funds to purchase carbon offsets to make up for their car exhaust.

To be fair to tourists, however, they should only levy the tax during rush hours. 7-10 am and 3-7 pm. Let the tax paying tourist visitors drive into the city during the day if they want to, but keep them from doing so during rush hour when congestion and pollution are worst.

Posted by: HillResident | April 30, 2007 11:17 AM

A congestion tax is an excellent idea. money should go to transit and bike lanes. It could really help the city be a nicer place to live and work. I'm for it 100%

Posted by: DC | April 30, 2007 11:24 AM

Commuters don't pay taxes? What about that 10% we pay at restaurants? What does that get used for? Not much on a one time basis, but it adds up. And I totally agree about the motorcades. A week ago a VIP motorcade went steamrolling up Independence at 7:35am. Motorcycle cops were screaming at people to get out of the way at the traffic light by the Tidal Basin, but traffic and the resulting confusion from the hystrionics of the cops made it difficult.

Posted by: tough to avoid working in DC | April 30, 2007 11:37 AM

For everyone who is complaining about a potential central business district congestion tax, HOT lanes are also a form of congestion tax.

Go to the USDOT website and you'll see several different types of possible demand reduction techniques to support congestion reduction.

The issue isn't about what is best for the individual, I know this will shock many, but it is about what is best for the community overall. As it exists now with double and triple parking in the urban core on streets like 19th St., congestion is terrible. By applying market economics you learn who elastic the demand curve really is because if the congestion tax is priced correctly many people will choose to park in outlying locations and take buses, rail, and other forms of transport. This is especially true if Bus Rapid Transit is deployed allowing for frequent, comfortable, and timely runs from points inside and outside the beltway to the city core.

The point is to reduce congestion, not eliminate it. This benefits the community as a whole, if nothing else it should help to lower the greenhouse emissions in the city lowering the numbr of red and ornage days we have.

As a citizen of DC I'm not interested in the possibility this will raise new revenue, in fact it could be constructed to be revenue neutral. The environmental and congestion mitigation improvement alone would be worth trying it out.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 30, 2007 12:30 PM

I live in London and so many people were against a Congestion Charge when it started but its proved to be a life saver!

The air is just so much better!

If a Congestion Tax saves a life! Then it's worth it!!!!

Posted by: John Deansworth | April 30, 2007 12:36 PM

Just do it.

Posted by: Nike | April 30, 2007 12:37 PM

I don't think the biggest congestion problems are actually in the city -- I think they're mostly on the Beltway and surroundings. I think one of the things that would most help congestion downtown would be to reopen Pennsylvania Avenue and other areas that have been closed for bogus security reasons.

Posted by: Mel | April 30, 2007 1:16 PM

I also agree about opening up streets closed due ostensibly for security reasons. Unfortunately history is not on our side once a road is closed at the behest of the security establishment it is hard to get it reopened.

One other point there may be a number of policies that can support congestion mitigiation. These are not all one offs where you just do one program at the expense of others. It is the positive collective outcomes of all these programs which have the potential to benefit the community, and enforcing existing traffic/parking laws is also an important component to an overall strategy.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 30, 2007 1:50 PM

Comments to people above:

1) There is no 'metering' method. You buy a yearly, daily, monthly pass. There are cameras inside the 'congestion zone' that take pictures of all the license plates of cars inside it, and if you get caught, you get a fine.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_congestion_charge

2) A lot of the problems with the transit in DC (and many other places) revolve around money. There are generally speaking, 2 choices. You can take in more money, or you can spend less money. This would seem to be a good way to take in more money. Of course, it would have to go to a good purpose. Expanding metro seems to be at the tip of everyone's lips, but we need to make sure we attack the proper problem, and not the wrong problem.

Posted by: aaronw | April 30, 2007 1:55 PM

Love the strongly defensive comments from those who obviously live outside the city... As a longtime DC resident, I think it's a great idea. Bring on the congestion fee. I agree with restricting it to commuting hours during the week, but would love to see MD and VA residents contribute to the infrastructure they use, and apparently according to these comments, take for granted everyday.

Posted by: Gen | April 30, 2007 2:09 PM

just was down watching the Georgetown Public Library burn and heard from co-workers that it took an hour for some of the fire trucks to get there, and they saw how many of the trucks couldn't get through because so many cars were in the way! We need fewer cars on the streets just for public safety, if nothing else.

Posted by: LPC | April 30, 2007 2:18 PM

Before we institute a commuter tax we should look at the much easier fix - the incredibly liberal rules we have for residential parking. Right now commuters can park all night, all weekend, and two hours each business day in DC residential neighborhoods. And the idiotic system we have for policing even that tiny restriction is ineffective. I'm sick to death of paying DC taxes yet walking by thirty or forty cars with MD or VA plates when I'm carrying groceries back to my house on the Hill. Make it like Philly, NYC, or even parts of Arlington. Make at least one side of each residential street parking for DC residents only 24 hours a day, every day. If Arlington can do it, why can't we?

Posted by: Hillman | April 30, 2007 2:37 PM

Some of us cannot afford to live in the city. I didn't chose to live in 70 miles away in VA because I prefer it. I live there because I got priced out of neighborhoods here. Until the region can come up with some way to fix the disparity between where I can afford to live and where I can earn a living wage, a lot of us are going to have to commute to feed ourselves. If I had my druthers I'd never cross the Potomac on a weekday again--but currently I have no choice.

And for those who said it should just be during peak hours of 7-10 and 3-7-- you want to charge us to LEAVE the district, too?

Posted by: KTB | April 30, 2007 2:48 PM

I would argue that the residential parking issues (good and bad) are separate from the public policy issue of trying to reduce congestion in the core. That is what congestion pricing tries to do. It is not a commuter tax (one in which one is taxed just by entering the city since a congestion tax would only affect people who choose to drive into the central business district).

Residential parking does need to be addressed but that issue has different requirements and therefore solutions.

Indeed another positive benefit is improving response times to emergencies in the central business districts. Also, it can have an affect on how we respond to events such as happened on Sept. 11. Anyone who was in the central business district knows that not only could one not drive their vehicle, but emergency vehicles had a very difficult time getting around the core.

There are a myriad of benefits that can be had if congestion mitigation policies for the central business district are implemented thoughtfully and reasonably.

One form of congestion pricing will eventually happen, because of supply and demand. There will never be enough roads or parking (supply) to support the number of people and cars who have the demand to want to be in the central business district. By using pricing, you can set an equilibrium which balances reducing folks (and businesses) who don't want to pay the price, and those to whom the need to drive into the core (perceived or not) are willing to pay. Market forces at their best!

The end result being as in London, Stockholm and elshwhere being a 20 percent reduction or more in cars driving into the core reducing congestion, decreasing emmissions, and improving travel times for emergency responders. Sounds like a good opportunity to give it a try.

Posted by: kthhken | April 30, 2007 3:21 PM

Certainly the 10 percent meals tax -- effectively the "commuter and tourist tax," no matter what it's used for -- acts for me as a a fairly strong deterrent from purchasing lunches from restaurants near my Dupont Circle office. I suppose the congestion charge would do the same (though I already take Metro).

Posted by: Greenbelt Gal | April 30, 2007 3:35 PM

Greenbelt Gal you are being good the community citizen already by taking metro.

Those of us that live in the city pay the food tax, tax on concessions at Verizon and RFK, and all the other taxes that commuters and visitors pay also. Heck I eat out for lunch AND dinner almost every day imagine how much I contribute to the coffers. But for me at least it is a pleasure and a nice convenience to have which makes living a joy.

Understand it is different for everyone. But there are some who won't take public transit no matter how convenient for them, they will insist on driving, the evidence from London is that it is that person that lands up paying the majority of tax. Taxing stubborness can be a virtue.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 30, 2007 3:46 PM

"but it would also be an answer to the single greatest fiscal frustration facing the District--its inability to impose a commuter tax on the hundreds of thousands of suburbanites who earn their living in the city but contribute nothing to its coffers".

Just an opinion from one of the evil leeching suburbanites: I am an Arlington resident who worked near McPherson Square for 6 years. I would get to work by either paying for Metro or paying to park my car downtown. At lunch time, I would frequent any of the dozens of nice lunch spots within a couple of blocks from my office. Sometimes, I would need to buy a gift or shop for clothes at lunch time and I would walk up to K Street or down to The Shops at National Place. Sometimes I would pay for a taxi to go to a meeting somewhere else in the city. If someone in my office was leaving or celebrating a birthday, often we would get a big group together and go out to a big lunch in one of the downtown hotel restaurants. Often I would go out to happy hour or dinner with some of my colleagues right downtown. Other times, I might enjoy a Capitals or Wizards game and the accompanying concessions because I was already downtown. A few times, I remember overstaying my meter and having to pay for the nice red ticket that one of DC's finest placed under my windshield wiper. I can also remember walking through the city during the day and seeing store fronts and advertising for other DC places and events that made me want to enter or make plans to attend them. I bet there were even times that I suggested a downtown restaurant or store that was near my office to some of my Virginia friends and they probably took my advice and went there. Additionally, I heard a rumor that my employer was paying rent, utilities, and business taxes for all its employees, not just the ones who lived in the city.

I must have missed that law that funnels the sales and use taxes I paid, business and income taxes due to increased profits from my spending, and fines from parking violations, in addition all taxes and fees paid by my employer back to Virginia. Does it work that way for the DC residents working in Tysons Corner or Bethesda? Why does the city encourage companies to build office space that can't possibly be filled by city residents, then complain when workers cross the bridge to fill the space?

Posted by: Paul, Arlington, VA | April 30, 2007 4:41 PM

Saying that a meals tax is the same as commuter tax is ridiculous. When I (a DC resident) eat out in Arlington, I pay meals tax there too. When I eat out in DC, I pay the same meals tax as you. I also pay MUCH higher income taxes. I also pay astronomical taxes on car registration and excise taxes. Please don't complain about the extra quarter you paid in tax on your Cosi sandwich.

Posted by: CBGB | April 30, 2007 4:48 PM

" agree with restricting it to commuting hours during the week, but would love to see MD and VA residents contribute to the infrastructure they use, and apparently according to these comments, take for granted everyday."

If this foolish back-door commuter tax is implemented, perhaps VA and MD should consider a tax on DC residents who use our airports - and the roads to reach them - THEY "take for granted every day".

There's no free lunch, pal.

Posted by: CEEAF | April 30, 2007 4:50 PM

Paul, Arlington, VA , Well said. You made some excellent points. We "evil suburbanites" contribute quite a bit to DC's coffers, Marc's incorrect statement to the contrary.

You left out one thing, though: the speed cameras. The speed cameras are already the DC "congestion tax" and "commuter tax", considering most of them are deployed on commuter routes.

Posted by: CEEAF | April 30, 2007 5:27 PM

I would be THRILLED if they implemented the congestion charge here. In 10 years, every city is going to be doing this. Here's a chance for DC to be a leader instead of a follower for once. Any chance we can do this before NYC does?

For the record, I live in DC. I'd really like to know how many of these negative comments are people from the burbs. From now on, everyone please say where you live in your comments!

Posted by: Chris L | April 30, 2007 5:54 PM

I have a 3.5 mile commute across town from Capitol Hill to Foggy Bottom. Some days it can take 30 minutes either way at rush hour on Constitution. Using Metro takes almost 45 minutes door to door -- to go 3.5 miles -- not very efficient. I am not sure if a congestion tax is the answer -- a commuter tax (for non-residents) seems more acceptable to DC residents. I was in London recently, and I think that because their tax just covers central London, it applies to people living in the city, but outside that zone. If D.C. residents had to pay a congestion tax for road useage between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., I don't think it would go over too well. But a large number of the cars around me have Maryland and Virginia plates. Taxing those drivers with the understanding that the fees would be used for Metro expansion (including the suburbs) and some surface trams makes for a more viable option to reduce congestion at rush hour.

Posted by: Washington, DC | April 30, 2007 6:41 PM

In regards to the building height issue, D.C.'s density is just 3,000 people per square mile less than London's and is almost on par with Paris'. Another city that has successfully implemented a congestion charge, Copenhagen, has a lower population density than D.C.

Posted by: Jaime | April 30, 2007 6:54 PM

People would do well to read the evaluation of the Stockholm congestion scheme. - A scheme so successful its residents voted in a referendum to keep it. It also survived a change in local government.

http://www.stockholmsforsoket.se/upload/Sammanfattningar/English/Final%20Report_The%20Stockholm%20Trial.pdf

The debate in Stockholm focussed a great deal on the municipalities outside Stockholm county who were the majority of those driving into the city. As such, there are many parallels between Stockholm and the issues DC seems to face.

But the success of these schemes ultimately comes down to the ability to provide viable and reasonably fast alternatives to car use. Its no good pricing someone off the road without a good alternative.

In Stockholm they procured additional busses (many powered by biodiesel) equivalent to the size of the entire bus fleet in Sweeden's third largest city....just to make the scheme work.

Posted by: Chris | April 30, 2007 11:30 PM

Really guys, do you all think you are so exceptional in the DC area that a congestion price wouldn't work for you? You really aren't so different.

When car driving gets more expensive, to represent the TRUE price of driving, you may realize that the relatively cheap ride you take now just might not be worth it. You may also see a lot of viable options, like express buses (coach style, not metrobus) that can take you from your cars to the city, even faster now without all that congestion.

The point is that these things are tried and true, and yes, everyone in London hated it and wrote all of these same things. And everyone in Stockholm hated it, and wrote all these same things. And everyone in Queens and Staten Island are writing the same things now. It is to be expected. Please, look at the other cities, and give it a chance. If you hate it, and if everyone does, I'm sure it will be revoked.

But in the meantime, you will always be able to take your car, and your commute will be ten times easier, because the highways will be handling the traffic they were designed to, and the city streets (and suburban streets) will be handling their designed capacities.

Driving will be a real pleasure, and well worth a fee.

And yes, this would actually help the beltway, and people driving suburb to suburb. Because less DC bound people would be driving. So suburb to suburb people would get a free benefit from this! Look happy, folks!

Posted by: Louis | May 1, 2007 12:20 AM

My company left D.C. ten years ago. It totally changed my life in a commuting sense. If a commuter tax were imposed, perhaps other companies would simply choose to relocate outside D.C. There is life outside of Washington, believe me. That would solve many problems, but boy would the Mayor howl!

Posted by: kieth miller | May 1, 2007 7:31 AM

Keith-

Granted, there is life outside DC, but its in Philly, NYC, Boston, London, etc. If my company relocated to another city, great. If they located to the DC burbs however, as I suspect you're talking about, I'd find another company.

Posted by: Chris L | May 1, 2007 8:12 AM

Chris, you are quite correct. Our company moved to Bethesda. To each his own.

Posted by: kieth miller | May 1, 2007 8:39 AM

A congestion tax would be a fantastic idea. But, while we are talking about things that will never happen, how about we also require all of the commuters to pass a basic test indicating that they know DC streets, and where they can and can not turn, and during what time periods? That would be nice as well.

A congestion tax is a fantastic idea (as is a commuter tax), but it won't go anywhere...bummer.

Posted by: Rudy and Blitz | May 1, 2007 10:33 AM

"When car driving gets more expensive, to represent the TRUE price of driving, you may realize that the relatively cheap ride you take now just might not be worth it."

If riding transit gets more expensive to reflect IT'S true cost, you would whine and howl like a little girl-dog.

I just love how subsidy-addicted transit riders, WHO PAY A SMALL SHARE OF THE COST OF THEIR RIDE whine and lie about "the relativly cheap ride" of those who drive.

Posted by: CEEAF | May 1, 2007 11:28 AM

For people talking about tax rates and burdens in the area: the District of Columbia is not actually a particularly high-tax jurisdiction. Sales and income taxes are somewhat higher, but the auto excise tax is lower and the property tax is much, much, lower. For the $50,000 to $100,000 income bracket, the District's total tax burden is typically at or below the regional average.

As regards paying sales taxes, sales tax is not a big moneymaker. For most income ranges, a District resident can expect to pay between 1.3% and 2.3% of total income annually, making it one of the smaller contributors to the District's total tax revenues. The area average, by comparison, is between 1.2% and 2.0%. If a commuter makes as much as a quarter of their purchases in the District -- which seems awfully high -- one would expect their total "your higher sales tax is a form of commuter tax!" payments to represent around one-half of one percent of income. For a $100,000 salary, that's $500 annually, which hardly comes close to covering the infrastructure costs. Now, the number might be a little higher, since the District's sales tax is less regressive than those of surrounding jursidictions -- it exempts groceries, unlike Virginia, and utility payments, unlike Maryland -- and so falls slightly higher on the luxuries that commuters are more likely to buy. But a big pot of money it ain't.

As for the congestion pricing proposal, I'm willing to listen, but I'm far from sold. My objections are privacy-based: monitoring for congestion pricing compliance requires a level of camera surveillance far higher than prevails in other public areas in America. As regards the proposal's being a commuter tax under another name, it's not. It's worse. A commuter tax isn't a tax *increase*, because you get to deduct amounts paid through a commuter tax from your tax bill in your home jurisdiction. Congestion pricing, on the other hand, would be borne out of pocket or passed along to you by an employer in lieu of raises.

(Stats are as of Jan. 1, 2006, and can be found at http://www.cfo.dc.gov/cfo/frames.asp?doc=/cfo/lib/cfo/services/studies/Tax_Burden_05METRO.pdf)

Posted by: quaker | May 1, 2007 11:52 AM

I'd be interested to see the results of the study once it comes out.

We so far only know that a congestion tax would only be in effect basically during business hours on weekdays, so it's really targeted at people commuting to downtown in their cars either from MD, VA, or outer parts of DC. I'd be curious to know the precise borders of the "downtown" area. Does this go as far as Georgetown? Capitol Hill? Metro Rail service is sparser in some of these areas, but keep in mind that, assuming congestion is reduced, it would make travel by buses that much faster. The Downtown Circulator is already a success, and I bet it'd be even better with less traffic to contend with.

Another issue is who the tax would apply to. What about commercial vehicles and people who's jobs involve driving from place to place downtown in cars? Would they be exempt? I suspect there'd be an exception, and I also suspect that (with the exception of double-parked delivery trucks) they're not the primary cause of downtown congestion, but rather the auto-commuters are.

Personally I doubt that by itself, congestion charging would be a silver bullet. Based on a comment I read above, I think that the congestion charging scheme would have to be paired with a program whereby employers no longer subsidize employee parking, (and certainly employers would have to be prohibited from reimbursing congestion charges for employees who drive) and if they subsidize employee transportation to any extent, that it strictly be via a smart card/ transit pass. $20 a day for a garage is pricey; even pricier with a congestion charge. But it's meaningless if employers are willing to eat these charges.

As for whether it's "fair" for DC to institute such a charge I'm firmly in the camp of the notion that the District is a real city with real people living in it, and has been granted significant home rule and autonomy to the point where it is essentially getting shafted fiscally. I think with the exception of New York, DC has more suburbanites commuting to it than any other US city, certainly more than any other its size. Though many of these are riding mass transit and thus paying their 'fair share' for using that infrastructure, there don't currently exist tolled roads, bridges, or tunnels leading into the city for auto drivers, and they will probably attest to the sorry road surface conditions in many parts of the city. I think it's certainly fair that, since commuters' cars are a significant wear on the roads, that commuters pay their share to maintain them through user fees such as a congestion charge during peak times in the CBD.


Posted by: R | May 1, 2007 12:06 PM

LOL, Hillman has obviously never driven into NYC. There's no resident parking restriction in NYC. Anyone can park on the street, resident or not. It's bloody hard to find a space, but if you know where to look, you're golden. You just have to be prepared to move your car for alternate side street cleaning.

I would ride the Metro more frequently if only it were more convenient. But bus-subway-bus ends up turning a 30 minute commute into an hour and a half (assuming the bus ever shows up--I waited half an hour for a Metro bus the other day at rush hour, during which two buses were scheduled to pass my stop). Even at rush hour, it takes longer by public transit than it does to drive, which is crazy. When I lived in the NY 'burbs, I rode the commuter train--which was faster than driving, and cheaper too (tolls on the bridges, instead of free like here). But I'm eagerly awaiting the Purple Line, which will make a public transit commute much more practical, assuming they ever build the durn thing.

Posted by: MG | May 1, 2007 12:13 PM

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Posted by: Tom Balish | May 1, 2007 3:28 PM

"If riding transit gets more expensive to reflect IT'S true cost, you would whine and howl like a little girl-dog.

I just love how subsidy-addicted transit riders, WHO PAY A SMALL SHARE OF THE COST OF THEIR RIDE whine and lie about "the relativly cheap ride" of those who drive."

Dear CEEAF,

If you knew how much your driving was subsidized, you would see that it is subsidized MUCH more than transit is. This is chiefly because your splendid contribution to pollution is subsidized by everyone's taxes toward environmental clean-up. Not only that, but everyone has to pay taxes for highway repairs, which is significant.

You see, it's good for the drivers if people take transit. It's really really bad for transit riders when people drive.

So don't even act like you are helping anyone out by driving, and please don't pretend that you are being cheated because transit is so subsidized. Transit is a service, driving to work is a disservice to yourself and your community.

Posted by: Louis | May 1, 2007 7:27 PM

Get your fact right.
I've lived in London for 68 of my seventy two years. I do know what I'm talking about. Following the introduction of the congestion fee, trade went down in the congestion zone area - in individual shops - by an average of 25%. That has s l o w l y recovered in some areas. During the recovery time those businesses suffering received no relief from the property taxes levied. Indeed, Livingstone has raised his part of the property tax levy every year - this is called 'Council Tax' here and has now reached (thanks to the local Councils) rates that are disproportionate. Local Councils levy a tax to which Livingstone's tax is added. By the way. Try thinking of it this way. All the congestion monies levied go to the thirty-or-so privately owned bus companies in London. Means that the Mayor's congestion tax is a subsidy paid directly to the private shareholders/owners of the bus businesses.
If you think thats OK than by all means vote for it. Also. Buses and taxis are all diesel here. Ever thought about the particulates distributed by such vehicles?
Contrary to rumours they are not 'cleaner' than petrol engines. I'm an engineer and the politically motivated claims on 'cleanliness' don't add up. By the way. US visitors might like to know that Oxford Street (all buses and cabs, no cars allowed) is THE most polluted and traffic jammed street in Europe. Don't believe me? Come and have a look.
Lastly never believe a politician, If they are talking, they're lying.
Norman Speight normanspeight@onetel.com

Posted by: Norman Speight | May 2, 2007 7:12 AM

The congestion tax idea is an interesting one, but one thing I find odd is that parking in Downtown DC is actually pretty cheap when compared to other cities.

I read recently that the average daily rate to park in a Downtown DC garage is about $14, whereas it's around $28 or so dollars in Boston or San Francisco, and much higher in Manhattan.

It's true that the height restrictions create less density pressure on prices in DC garages, but it seems like charging more (maybe through a city tax... say $5 or $6 per spot, which could be applied to transit improvements in the core) might be a bit of a deterrent against driving into Downtown.

Posted by: hellothere | May 2, 2007 10:15 AM

I love the idea of a congestion tax (just make it HIGH!), however, note that DC already collects millions of dollars of revenue via speed photo enforcement. The entire city's speed limit is 25mph, unless otherwise marked. The speed cameras are generally placed in areas in which the comfortable and safe driving speed is more like 30 to 35 mph. That's what we used to call a gotcha.

I doubt that congestion taxes could be policed, though: People would find a way to drive during the congestion periods without paying the tax.

Posted by: The Reverend Bob | May 2, 2007 1:05 PM

I love the idea of a congestion tax (just make it HIGH!), however, note that DC already collects millions of dollars of revenue via speed photo enforcement. The entire city's speed limit is 25mph, unless otherwise marked. The speed cameras are generally placed in areas in which the comfortable and safe driving speed is more like 30 to 35 mph. That's what we used to call a gotcha.

I doubt that congestion taxes could be policed, though: People would find a way to drive during the congestion periods without paying the tax.

Posted by: The Reverend Bob | May 2, 2007 1:06 PM

Let the advertising campaigns begin! Start the campaign right away! The mechanism of a toll -- a per use fee -- is elegant; no tracking down unpaid tickets or scofflaws who challenge the photographic evidence. Let the suburbs build the parking lots on their side of the border for shuttle bussers who left their wallets at home.

I can smell the cleaner air now. Do I finally have a reason to cheer Marion Barry?

Posted by: Lisa | May 2, 2007 4:47 PM

Let the advertising campaigns begin! Start the campaign right away! The mechanism of a toll -- a per use fee -- is elegant; no tracking down unpaid tickets or scofflaws who challenge the photographic evidence. Let the suburbs build the parking lots on their side of the border for shuttle bussers who left their wallets at home.

I can smell the cleaner air now. Do I finally have a reason to cheer Marion Barry?

Posted by: Lisa | May 2, 2007 4:49 PM

Go ahead.

Implement the "congestion" tax and make it HIGH. But there will be no need for the suburbs to build parking lots at the District line for "shuttle bussers who left their wallets at home", because many businesses (and possibly some Federal agencies) will relocate to our backyard.

Trust me. The congestion tax will DEFINITELY be the last anti-commuter and driver-unfriendly straw that will finally push suburban residents and their reps in Congress over the edge.

So go ahead. Levt te congestion tax. Do it in honor of Marion Barry (who created the current congestion and pollution mess with his anti-freeway demagougery).

You'll have all that "cleaner air" to yourselves while you figure out how to balance your budget.

Posted by: CEEAF | May 2, 2007 9:58 PM

Hi CEEAF
I'm sure everyone here would be happy to call your bluff.

Posted by: Louis | May 3, 2007 9:50 AM

Louis, Louis, Louis.

One thing I notice is how the most ardent transit advocates and car-haters are so uninformed about the financing of highways and transit.

And so willing to spread misinformation, conjecture and outright lies with an argument based not on facts, but on slogans.

Let's look at some of your comments:

"If you knew how much your driving was subsidized, you would see that it is subsidized MUCH more than transit is. This is chiefly because your splendid contribution to pollution is subsidized by everyone's taxes toward environmental clean-up."

Most of the pollution from vehicles in this region are generated by vehicles stalled in traffic on our inadequate road network. A road network mande inadequate by transit advocates who believe the fallacy that transit makes roads unnecessary. Vehicled stuck in traffic pollute. Duh! Remember that the next time you feel compelled to join the knee-jerk road opponents in their efforts to kill every planned new road.

And get this: your precious Metro is fueled by coal-fired power plants in Appalachia and the Ohio Valley. Guess which fossil fuel is the dirtiest and pollutes the most. Need I say it?

And, contrary to your misinformation, your transit ride is in fact heavily-subsidized, much more than is driving. According to the WMATA's own figures, only 28 percent of its revenue comes from the farebox. The rest? Subsidies paid by everyone, whether or not they use transit.

On the other hand, drivers pay 100 percent of the cost of owning and maintaining a vehicle. How much do they - and you - spend on highways? See below.

" Not only that, but everyone has to pay taxes for highway repairs, "

Not at all true. Highways (and the interest on highway bonds) are financed primarily with fuel taxes, tolls, registration fees, weigh station assessments, and insurance premium taxes. Did you know that 70 percnt of the price of a gallon of gasoline consists of Federal and state taxes?

If you don't drive, you don't pay much to finance highways, Louis. That's 8th-grade civics.

City streets are another matter. But before you make an issue of of what's spent on city streets, remember that if you ever have an emergency, help isn't coming on Metro.

"it's good for the drivers if people take transit."

Sure, it is. But not to the extent transit advocates like to make us think. For example, Metro only carries 30 percent of commuters and 10 percent of total daily trips in the region.

And Metro certainly hasn't significantly reduced traffic. Not even in the core, which is its primary market. Know why? Because the highway infrastructure is so small.

We canceled more lane-miles of highway than we built and spent $14 billion to build the nation's second-largest subway, thanks to transit advocates who convinced many that building Metro would make the highways unnecessary.

The result? The nation's third-worst traffic. I don't know what that tells you, but it tells me that a transit-only transportation policy is a failure considering the effect of that policy on traffic congestion and its attendant pollution. And doing more of the same would be insanity - repeating the same actions while expecting different results.

"It's really really bad for transit riders when people drive."

Try telling that to the riders of the MTA trains, buses, and subways in New York. 20 percent of its budget comes from Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority tolls.

The PATH trains in New Jersey are financed by tolls from the Lincoln tunnel, GW Bridge, Goethals, Bridge, and Holland Tunnel.

"So don't even act like you are helping anyone out by driving, and please don't pretend that you are being cheated because transit is so subsidized."

I never said I was being cheated. I was complaining about your ingratitude and sense of entitlement, both of which are well-reflected by your comments.

"Transit is a service,"

Agreed.

"driving to work is a disservice to yourself and your community."

Why? Because YOU and the car-hating fringe groups and agenda-based websites that have indocrinated you say so? Try formulating an intelligent thought instead of merely reciting slogans.

Posted by: ceeaf | May 3, 2007 10:16 AM

"Hi CEEAF
I'm sure everyone here would be happy to call your bluff."

Do it at your own peril.

And I'm not sure who you mean by "everyone", because I don't see that everyone here is in favor of the congestion tax.

Posted by: CEEAF | May 3, 2007 10:18 AM

"I'm sure everyone here would be happy to call your bluff."

I wonder what the reaction of DC apologists and their "leaders" would be if Maryland and Virginia decided to charge them a predatory and discriminatory tax to use our airports.

Yep. A surcharge on airline tickets purchased by people who live in DC to help pay for the services provided to them when they come over. We don't need Congress' permission to do it.

Just a thought.

Posted by: CEEAF | May 3, 2007 10:36 AM

Why not also tax those who drive in DC if congestion is the real problem. I live in DC and take public transportation, but most of my co-workers drive even though they live blocks away from a metro station. It's not just out of city folks who are causing the problem, and those of us to take the metro are also paying taxes to keep up the roads for in-city commuters just as much as out of city commuters.

Posted by: DC | May 3, 2007 12:55 PM

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