by Ryan Avent
Progressives in of favor congestion pricing on highways and in central cities tend to argue for those policies on progressive grounds (shock!) -- that such pricing systems reduce emissions, improve air quality, and fund transit improvements, which benefit lower and middle income households. Those are all nice benefits to congestion pricing programs, but we shouldn't neglect the congestion reduction function.
Congestion costs America some $80 billion per year, in the form of lost time and wasted fuel. And as it turns out, commutes extended by congestion have other effects, as well:
There is a strong empirical evidence demonstrating that labor force participation rates of married women are negatively correlated with commuting time. What is more, the analysis shows that metropolitan areas which experienced relatively large increases in average commuting time between 1980 and 2000 also had slower growth of labor force participation of married women.
Long commutes are typically associated with dense cities like New York, but in recent decades, congestion has grown fastest in places with rapid exurban growth -- like Dallas, Riverside (California), San Diego, and Washington.
At the heart of the problems of increased congestion and longer commutes are three related issues. We have focused excessively on inefficient transportation technologies (namely, personal automobiles), we have underpriced the infrastructure supporting those technologies (subsidized or free parking and roadways), and those policy choices have led to poor land use decisions.