Re: “Bridge tolls are more than fees” (TNT, 5-1).
Would all economists love tolling? Tolls cost far more to collect than taxes do. Some drivers are price-sensitive. Tolls that ignore price elasticity generate less revenue than tolls that differentiate market segments’ ability/willingness to pay. Tolls can encourage undesirable behaviors.
Furthermore, the users of the state Route 520 bridge are not the only beneficiaries of its existence. Those who routinely took Interstate 90 benefited from SR 520 being free; they are “paying” now with time and fuel since traffic on the free bridge has risen 10 percent. Won’t the free bridge need repair about 10 percent sooner?
Roads are a public good. They raise the standard of living of all citizens – like libraries and schools. Treating some roads like a consumable good burdens the few even though many benefit.
Does the median-income commuter who drives on the SR 520 bridge benefit five times as much as the wealthy retiree who crosses it once a week? According to the article, overall traffic from the east side to and from Seattle has dropped about 6 percent. So mobility has declined 6 percent.
At the Washington State Transportation Commission’s March meeting, Chris Mefford of Community Attributes said transportation investments that have the greatest economic benefit “reduce operating costs for employers” and/or “reduce access cost for employees.” Yet the state puts toll roads between employment centers and residential areas around Puget Sound and increased ferry fares more for commuters than for tourists and seniors.
The result: decreased mobility, disappointing revenue, increased expenses and rapidly rising tolls.