Tag Archives: pricing

Fixing Transportation Problems With Pricing in Boulder Colorado


By Dom Nozzi

February 21, 2010

How can we improve transportation in Boulder, Colorado? Here are some of my ideas.

I prefer the efficiency of pricing as a lever to achieve GHG emission objectives, rather than land use policies.

I am convinced that we need to address the enormous problem of travel externalities.

Most all of the roads and parking in the Boulder area are either un-priced or underpriced. That means we have an enormous number of low-value car trips in the metro area. Since the costs of motorized travel is largely (exclusively?) externalized, we are experiencing an excessive number of motorized trips.

We need to institute and then calibrate road and parking pricing more comprehensively. We still have excessive GHG emissions, so those prices need to be ratcheted up until motorized SOV travel is reduced sufficiently. Revenue from the pricing needs to be why-tolls-are-neededexclusively dedicated to non-SOV travel (transit, bicycle, pedestrian), and perhaps toward assisting local governments to pay for the work needed to prepare new policies and regulations.

I recognize that pricing can have negative social impacts on other worthy community objectives, such as the need to allow lower-income groups to affordably live in the area, or commute to lower-pay jobs from remote locations (where false economies are assumed – but which often do not pan out when added travel costs are factored in). I therefore support travel pricing rebates or travel subsidies when lower-income people can provide sufficient evidence that they are low-income. Part of this affordable housing issue is the need to have the City provide adequate quantities of housing that is situated in mixed-use, relatively compact neighborhoods, so that the household can own less motor vehicles and devote more of the household income to housing instead of a second, third or fourth car.

By the way, while living in Richmond VA, I noticed that while the city has way too much free parking in the metro area, there are quite admirable road pricing strategies (via toll booths found on a number of metro roads and highways). I say this not because Richmond is an example of a city that has used pricing tactics to avoid sprawl (indeed, it has sprawled more than most any city in the US over the past few decades), but because the city shows that such road pricing is politically and financially feasible.


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Filed under Economics, Transportation

Sub-Optimizing the Poor

By Dom Nozzi

To “help” poor people, a counterproductive tactic that is commonly deployed is to run empty buses on routes that are so sparsely populated that it is inefficient (uneconomic) to run buses on such routes. Such routes are often maintained because they serve lower-income locations in a community and therefore are thought to “help poor people.”

By running low-ridership routes, the transit system suffers, which results in worsening transit service quality system-wide.

Is it somehow unethical to enrich the transit system — thereby improving service throughout the urban area — by serving more wealthy routes that generate large volumes of riders? Maybe if the bus system had the bloated budget of most city or county law enforcement agencies, they could afford to run what amounts to a social service agency that only ran routes in low-income neighborhoods with sparse ridership.

But bus system budgets are suffering, not bloated.

Many cities have a long, sorry history of running buses to serve poor people. A history that, as a result, sees a decline in the quality of service city-wide, which leads to a decline in ridership.Ottawa, Canada

Majorities of elected officials and administrators tend to champion the poor every time they mention transit. The result is a system that is pathetic in ridership and service quality for a long time (including for the poor).

The lesson, as a transit director friend says, is that ridership growth depends, in part, on quality service (it also depends, as an aside, on parking management, as well as residential and commercial and job density). A system that prioritizes helping the poor (instead of creating system quality) is doomed to be forever a system with low-quality service that serves only those without travel choices (in other words, a mediocre system that serves almost no one).

Let us also acknowledge that we need to have iron-clad evidence from quality studies and peer cities, prepared by qualified economists, showing a big jump in ridership before we move toward a costly transit system change.

A common change considered is to reduce or eliminate bus fares to increase ridership. However, I am unconvinced that there is good evidence showing substantial ridership growth with fare reductions.

Without being coupled with scarce and priced car parking, frequent service, and relatively high residential densities, low fares will be almost entirely ineffective in attracting motorists to transit — given the enormous financial as well as unquantifiable benefits of car travel.

Even today’s “high” gas prices are nowhere near enough to compensate for the significant, rational reasons to drive a car everywhere for all but a tiny minority.

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Filed under Politics, Transportation