This past week the Oregon Transportation Commission met and decided to advance an application for a decongestion pricing plan to the Federal Highway Administration.
Recognizing that our 20th century toolbox of capacity expansion has failed, the Chair of the Commission said, "We will not be able to build our way out of the congestion issues that we have."
The Congestion Relief Task Force here earlier this month saw a slide in the presentation that alludes to decongestion pricing as something possibly to consider. (Again, we call it "decongestion pricing" here because what is being purchased with a toll is less congestion
; a toll isn't purchasing more congestion. There is in the rhetoric about "congestion pricing" an inversion of what we usually mean when we say we are buying and selling something we find valuable. Decongestion is the valuable good.)
The politics of decongestion pricing and its widespread unpopularity are what will dominate news about the OTC's meeting, but there was another matter a little buried on the OTC agenda that was even more wide-ranging and important.
The Directors of three other State agencies, DEQ, DLCD, and Energy sent to the OTC an interesting letter
on greenhouse gases and transportation.
According to the Oregon Global Warming Commission’s 2017 Biennial Report to the Legislature, Oregon will not meet the Legislature’s 2020 target for greenhouse gas emissions reduction (ten percent below 1990 levels). We also are not on track for the Legislature’s 2035 and 2050 goals. With greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector increasing (rather than decreasing), and with transportation responsible for 39 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the state, it’s clear we need renewed focus on reducing emissions in this sector.
It's time we also tied pricing to greenhouse gas emissions. We need to price road use better so we can make more efficient use of transportation resources. That efficiency must include moving more people with fewer fossil fuels.
And no matter how you slice it, this means saying "we must drive less." (The OTC isn't quite there yet, it's true. Chair Baney also said that tolling was a way "to get additional [auto] capacity out of the system." The OTC will also need to come around to the value of driving less, not merely to an argument about efficiency by increasing capacity without new road building or widening.)
That's a big change. You'll note on the Task Force's slide above, it says of the Downtown Mobility Study's recommendations that "adopted projects...[will] reduce vehicle capacity."
Somehow we have to get over this fetish for vehicular "levels of service" and vehicular capacity. We must develop and hew to new metrics that evaluate service and capacity for people
who may be traveling - should be traveling - by any number of different modes. We need to make the drive-alone trip the mobility choice of last resort, not the default and automatic first choice for every trip. We have to start discouraging some car trips, even. A commenter here last month said this was "pie in the sky wishful thinking," but there are other things in the sky demanding even more urgent attention, things that have already generated plenty of wishful thinking. We have to change course.