Rationing and road pricing

The Times tells us: “there are only two ways to ration the space on the roads: by queue or by price” (Editorial, 31st October 2009). Rationing is about how resources are allocated. There are many other ways to ration besides queues or pricing. The standard approaches include service restriction, dilution, filtering and reallocation. This might mean e.g. restricting the class of vehicles or drivers able to use certain roads; redefining the use of the road space through line markings; reserving space for certain purposes (e.g. breakdown lanes, bus lanes, car sharing lanes); changing traffic flows (in the US they use gates to open or close road sections at different times for traffic moving in different directions); changing the rules of the road (should there be fast and slow lanes, instead of all outside lanes being for overtaking?); and redefining the use of existing roads (freight-only roads, motorways and ring roads are examples). I’m a specialist in social administration rather than transport, and I cannot tell which of the options is better; that needs evidence. Pricing may or may not be better than the alternatives, but we should never assume it is the only option.

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