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The reasons for living in the suburbs are schools, jobs, perception of safety and for exurbs, housing costs. Perhaps some of those are becoming less important but the city-suburb axis is clearly the main cause of traffic congestion. Urban planners and architects have tried to force the population into areas with too few roads to encourage the use of public transport. So much for government planning. The public transportation system cannot take you where you want to go, is unreliable,dirty, noisy and sometimes dangerous. In the case of the Chicago CTA, there are no toilet facilities. Mayor daley wants to force people onto the buses by making cars less convenient, the easy way out. How about making the buses more covenient, much more difficult. Congestion taxes will force users to alter their behavior but not necessarily in the interest of the congested area. What are the population shifts into and out of the cities and states with the worst congestion? Illinois is one of the five most "moved from" states. Personally, I hate wasting my time and don't need a tax to convince me to avoid crowds of any type.


Just because people move out of Illinois doesn't mean it's because of congestion.

People respond to incentives; if you give them a disincentive to drive downtown during certain times, they will respond. To design this effectively, you simply need to put a higher price on driving to the most congested areas.

Regarding Becker's article: I have lived in many different cities, and have yet to be satisfied with any of their public transportation. Examples:

- Some cities operate buses at the same frequencies regardless of time of day. Buses running every 30 minutes at rush hour are packed, but empty at midnight.
- Some buses take extremely long rests to give the drivers the ability to maintain a schedule, even though that bus could do several more cycles in a day (albeit not on time). Would you rather have a timely bus arriving every 30 minutes, or one that shows up randomly but every 10 minutes?
- Lack of foresight from municipal leaders that don't build train platforms large enough to accomodate future growth. Ditto for putting trains above ground in already-congested areas, hindering road traffic. (Some 'solve' this problem by creating more train platforms, even though all that does is increase ridership onto an already strained train capacity)

I would love to hear from Becker/Posner how public transportation planning and operation could be privatized in such a way that a profit-maximizing transit authority would have strong incentives to provide transit where it is needed most.

Tom K

"Congestion tolls are more effective than gasoline taxes in reducing traffic during periods of heavy traffic since gasoline taxes do not raise the cost of driving by more during periods of heavy traffic."

How much gas is wasted by idling? By the constant starting and stopping? By turning highway mileage into city mileage? The more each gallon of gas costs, the more reason to avoid activities that waste gas.


Isn't it an unwarranted assumption that traffic time would necessarily be spent productively. That assumes that there are two kinds of time, idle and productive and when one is not idle, that time is economically fruitful. I doubt it. In fact there are economists who think that some "productive" time should be subtracted from the GDP, for example occupations which are required by negative social forces.

As to road repairs; a year or so ago when it seemed all of the roads were under repair and there was no logic to alternates (They were under repair) I called the Illinois DOT and spoke to someone fairly high up. I asked him if there was any coordination between the various governmental units regarding the mess. "Absolutely not", was the answer. In addition, there is the suspicion on the part of more than a few that the roads are deliberately poorly constructed so that the contractors will have perpetual profits from the tax trough. On the North Shore presently, both Wilmette and Evanston have embarked on major repairs, uncoordinated and funded by federal grants which stipulate a time period for spending the money regardless of the effects on the citizens. They shoot, we duck, they shoot, we duck...............


How about a federal airport delay fine (aka a fee or tax)? Since it is definitely interstate commerce (excepting intrastate flights, and even tehn one can reasonably argue such intrastate delays cause contagion interstate delays), it can be done via US legislation, avoiding freeriding issues imposed on other airports of delays in one's own airport.

For each flight delayed, the airport is levied a fine. Also, the longer the delay, the bigger the fine. Similarly fines for canceled flights.

One would need some finesse (sigh) in fines to avoid incentivising airports to delay flights that ought to be canceled, or vice versa.

Airports, and their congressional representatives, in lousy weather climes would no doubt complain that this is unfair. However unfair in this context means paying for what was previously unpaid for freeriding of the costs of delays nationwide.

This doesn't mean there won't be public choice problems getting the legislation passed of course. Still, the masses (i.e. we the people) are pissed off at delays and cancellations so anything that plausibly ameliorates air travel has a greater chance of passing.


Broker. my guess is that even Profs have to do a bit of silly venting and whining sometimes. Much of the maintenance on busy highways has been done on week-ends for many years.

At night? Some of that is done too but I'm sure safety is a strong consideration both from (drunk?) drivers and being around heavy equipment at night. I suspect he doesn't know, or has forgotten what it must be like to punch in for a night shift of bridge and road repair work, though he does seem to think paying overtime would be more than compensated by the savings of others. But would the night shift get such a premium? I doubt it!

David Heigham

In transport economics, there are standard remedies for some of this:

1. For airline congestion and delay, auction take-off slots at airports. It is hairy, it needs to be done at a range of interconnecting airports, but it ought to work after the initial hiccups (which may well be severe).

2. For getting roads built and maintained, open bidding for toll road concessions - the toll may be collected from the drivers; or if congestion on competing free roads is a problem, through a shadow toll related to the traffic count and paid by the public authorites. The same principles should work for rail.

3. For timing road - or airport, or other network maintenance work - charge the contractor for the road (or other) capacity he holds out of use while doing the work - sometimes known as "lane rental" in highway maintenance. This works where there is honest bidding. It becomes very worth the contractors' while to pay decent shift premiums and keep the workforce happy.

4. For road congestion, road tolls in the areas and at the times that congestion is imposing significant costs on users. This proves popular once introduced.

When introduced to these remedies, the reaction of our political leaders is to say "Thanks. I see how to sort this out for the future - but please not just now, oh Lord!"

5. The cure for distorting, corrupt rake-offs is another story.

The phasing of road maintenance at the time least convenient for the road users goes back a long way. Our professors may be senior enough to recall a a charming cartoon on the subject by Dahl which got a nation-wide laugh in Spring 1940.


Cheers gentlemen. You have spurred the the thought of mass transportation and urban areas. Why can we not have a Texaco-Chevron urban rail? The complete "Green-line." I already see it, and I live in Austin, Texas.
I compare many cities in the U.S. to that of western europe, and I see no fault. With gas prices alarmingly high, why can we not switch to a system of boat/train transportation?
Response: "Americans need they're cars"-anonymous. I believe: that many americans see that life is short; the U.S. is fast, and the more we produce the better.
From what I view, U.S. life-span is increasing. Give anyone a few hundred, and they think they are gods. Who has lived thousands? We must approach the system in terms of limited groupism coupled with individual capitalism. It must be a moderate system. We have to play partisan.


Juggler, If you owned an airline what would be your response to paying a fine for late arrivals? If the penalty were high enough to be a threat, my response would be to be more conservative on my travel time estimates and if penalized for not making connections to make a longer "legal" layover time. Both of these would mean lower equipment utilization and higher costs.


Juggler, If you owned an airline what would be your response to paying a fine for late arrivals? If the penalty were high enough to be a threat, my response would be to be more conservative on my travel time estimates and if penalized for not making connections to make a longer "legal" layover time. Both of these would mean lower equipment utilization and higher costs.


Boluk: One way to improve transit would be to change cab licensing policies. In most cities a "cabby" has to buy a costly permit or medallion of $50,000 or much more. Then he can pick up one call at a time.

A "bus" is then runs a scheduled route. What we need, especially with modern communication is a semi-scheduled van offering service faster and more direct than a bus, but less costly and individual than a cab. I'd envision a private venture using a 12 passenger van roaming an area and making pick-ups that come in on a screen in the van.

In my town of Anchorage a guy tried to do something like a semi-scheduled "airporter" and ran into a lawsuit with the cab interests who are, rightfully very protective of their costly medallions that artificially limit the number of cabs and add expense to the consumer.

Since airlines service is mentioned here too, we need a new type of van. Instead of the clunky truck based things we ride into town on, we need something like a stretched Suburban or MiniVan with a suspension designed for the task.

Brian Davis

I'd prefer to live out the remainder of my years as a Futurist instead of a Luddite. But I'm probably a little of both in that I see the way to a better America by depopulating the congested urban concentrations - the East and West coasts especially - and growing more of us in less-populated regions. You can go out to West Texas, it's marvelous. Peace and quiet as far as the eye can see. The air is clean and - don't let anybody mislead you - there's ample water for responsible agricultural uses and human consumption. Out in the desert reaches of Arizona you can plant and grow anything if you can get water to it. When we pontificate about fixing and expanding America's highways (to handle more traffic for the principal benefit of urban dwellers), we're whistling past the graveyard. Americans don't want to pay the taxes or the user fees. And who am I to say we're wrong? The intractable problems with the airlines are 1) a mountain of debt and 2) insufficient capital reserves. The industry we fly today is headed for collapse. It'll be difficult if not impossible to squeeze any more cost-pressure relief from the Bankruptcy Code than what the UALs and Northwests made out with their last time through. What's left to bust down except payroll and benefits again?


Brian, Thanks, and I've seen jitney service in Korea, where it fitted in between over crowded buses that like all buses, didn't always go where you wanted to go and taxis. It works, but our cab licensing is outdated and now more protective of their "deal" than serving any useful function. It should be reviewed and completely rewritten and there is no time like $4 gas to do it!

As the politic would be to "take something away" from the cab owners so it would be tough; perhaps we'd have to give the existing cab owners some of the jitney rights.

Here's what we're up against:

The original source of Medallion’s wealth was an ideal moneymaker: Seemingly unlimited demand for a restricted supply. In New York City, there are only 13,150 cabs with city-regulated medallions. The number is controlled by the city Taxi & Limousine Commission, which reported in December that the average medallion cost $426,000 for individual owners and $600,000 for corporate owners.

.......... WHY in this age should the "right" to drive a car for hire sell for half a million bucks????

Medallion Financial (Nasdaq:TAXI) is now a publicly traded company whose board includes baseball great Hank Aaron, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and former Connecticut Gov. and U.S. Sen. Lowell Weicker.

Murstein’s son Alvin and grandson Andrew run the company, and they’re branching out into sectors that could hardly be considered niches. Medallion is a lead investor in public companies looking to acquire sports ventures and security firms.

Sports Properties Acquisition (AMEX:HMR), a Medallion investment chaired by former Buffalo Bills quarterback and U.S. Sen. Jack Kemp, raised $200 million when it went public in January


Brian: (Whoops! Meant Patrick in my last post) Living in Alaska it become quickly apparent that the cost of building and maintaining roads is more costly per user/resident than in the suburban and urban areas.

While urban roads are extremely costly to expand the number of vehicle miles is nearly at the road's maximum the instant it's finished, while the rural roads may be used at 10% of capacity or less.

I completely agree that the airline industry is broken beyond repair. Today's news blip was something about UAL losing 80% of its value this past year; not good when they are trying to sell themselves! Jack


Thanks Pat! good read! You know EVERY where we look today there seems a stagnated system in dire need of reform. I'm in OK just now and a case involving some local politico revealed some of the finances of a guy that owned several title and "abstract" companies here. (Here they "read the abstract" to "create" a clean deed for the title "insurance" to "insure" (they rarely have a loss) His salary was quoted as $200,000 to $400,000 per MONTH. OK has one of the lowest per capita GDP's and salaries typically reflect that fact, so some poor working guy is paying these massive transaction costs while going w/o healthcare at one of the highest rates in the nation.

Alan Kellogg

Caltrans, California's transportation agency, has scheduled road repair and maintenance at night for years now. Turns out, what with safety and the attendant insurance/legal considerations, night work is cheaper over all.


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