Intolerable road habits

Reader's View
Page 2 

You mention road pricing in your last edition. The evidence Anthony Ockwell presents seems convincing, but is there really such a thing as an optimum toll price that will clear the roads of unwanted traffic? Somehow I have the feeling that were road pricing built into our system, people would adapt to it.

Take cigarette smoking: has raising the price really caused fewer people to smoke? Or is there a country where people simply do not go to work because income taxes are too high? No, the traffic would be no better after a while.

That is not to say I disagree with the aims of the piece – something has to be done about road congestion, but I am just not sure that market solutions can work in this case. Surely, tighter regulation would be more effective – if pollution does cause harm, then regulation is justifiable. Also, companies should do more to support public transport. Cars are often offered as perks that come with the job, regardless of where you live, and perhaps companies could do more to encourage their executives to take public transport. And how many people drive to work every day who could take public transport or cycle? People like their cars. Habits are hard to break and we get the price we deserve.

Attitudes have to change: I would say that more than anything, it is social intolerance that has led to a fall in cigarette smoking in the United States. Another approach has to be technology; as far as I know, technology for alternative fuels does exist. The market is too expensive, we are told, but how much of that is to do with lobbying from the automotive sector, whether unions or employers? Have customers been asked? Funny, some publicly funded bus services already use these fuel alternatives. Publicly funded bus services in several French towns, for instance, use Diester made from vegetable oil, mainly colza (canola). Car manufacturers are watching, demonstrating that if policy leads, then the market will follow.

R.J. Doyle,

Paris, France

©OECD Observer No231/232, May 2002 

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