Tuesday, November 21, 2006
In celebration of the most infamously busy travel week of the year, I'll focus on transportation for the days around Thanksgiving.
Imagine driving to the store in 2030: As soon as you start your low-emission-diesel-electric-hydrogen hybrid, coordinated signals from both the vehicle and the roadway are fed into a centralized computer system, which charges you, the operator, an impact fee for the miles traveled. As a result of this incentive, you combine trips to the automated dry cleaner (the new soy fibers are indistinguishable from cotton), to the drive-through grocery store (to pick up your halibut for dinner, ordered by e-mail yesterday and flown directly from the aquaculture farm in Uzbekistan), and five other errands, each completed within the hour. The regional transportation authority immediately debits your bank account as you return home.
Sound unlikely? Well, many skeptics predicted failure for London's imposition of a fee on vehicles entering central London. The impact fee system has worked fairly well in decreasing traffic, encouraging public transportation, raising revenue, and not crippling the central London micro-economy.
In a variant of the Peter principle, however, the leftist mayor of London has now proposed that the fee be raised from 8 pounds to 25 pounds for high-polluting vehicles. This plan confuses policies. It would take a straightforward land use policy -- charging an impact fee for usage of the limited public roads -- and mix it with anti-pollution policy. One problem is that air pollution over central London is not, of course, caused solely (or even largely) by vehicles in the fee area. Thus the fee matches up poorly with the harmful usage of the public air. One possible motivation for the plan is a dig at yuppie Londoners who (like their American counterparts) drive Range Rovers in the city and, not coincidentally, tend not to vote for leftist polticians.