VMT Rears Its Ugly Head Again


So The Los Angeles Times ran a story today all about possible “congestion pricing” schemes coming soon to certain roads in the LA area soon.

While the article lauds the social engineering aspect of the concept – even quoting one expert that “LA needs to stop pandering to automobile drivers” - the Times story literally never mentions either the downsides or how congestion pricing or vehicle miles traveled (VMT) taxes work in practicality.

Here’s the story: https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2023-05-30/congestion-pricing-study-la-drivers-freeways-405-10-101 . If you hit the paywall, it’s almost worth signing up for the dollar-a-month digital promo to be able to read the exact opposite of a proper news story.

Due to that egregious oversight, we at the Globe thought it would be a good idea to let the public know what the idea actually entails.

First, the basics. A VMT involves charging a driver a fee when they drive on a particular street, or in a particular area, or at a particular time of day – or all three combined (for an in depth look at the possibilities, see here - What Is VMT?).

LA Metro is reportedly looking at pilot programs that would charge drivers on the 10 from downtown to Santa Monica, people driving around downtown, and folks going up and over the hills to get to the Valley. There are no set fees at this time, but these three zones embody each of the three main concepts – downtown would be the particular area, or “cordon,” the 10 would be the particular road, and to and from the Valley could be a combination of all three.

For example, the much touted “cordon” pricing systems in London and Stockholm charge a fee when you enter a certain part (that part keeps growing for some reason) of the city. In London, it’s about $18 to drive around in the city center between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. on a weekday. Also, if you happen to not have an “Ultra Low Emission” vehicle (ULE’s are currently defined, if its gas powered, as being built relatively recently though it is more detailed than that) you will get dinged an additional $15 for the day and that applies in an area much larger than the congestion price - https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/driving/congestion-charge. And the zone will expand in August, which is a typical feature of VMTs – they start small but metastasize over time.

In Stockholm, the system pings a car each time it enters or leaves the downtown area and charges a time-dependent amount. For those who get charged multiple times, it does have a daily cap of about $12.

New York City is about to institute a similar cordon program, potentially soon charging between $10 and $15 if you want to drive below 60th Street in Manhattan. The justifications include reducing traffic, cleaning the air, and, of course, “Promoting equity by providing expanded access to the transit system.”

Read the rest of this piece at The Point.

Thomas Buckley is the former Mayor of Lake Elsinore and a former newspaper reporter. He is currently the operator of a small communications and planning consultancy and can be reached directly at planbuckley@gmail.com. You can read more of his work at thomas699.substack.com.

Image: courtesy The Point.