The Political Wisdom of Gordon Price

When Gordon Price spoke at the PSU Traffic and Transportation Class a few weeks ago, he illustrated some fundamental problems with the way society thinks about its transportation choices. Here are three illustrations.

Where does the money go?

What’s the largest capital investment in transportation we make as a society?

I ventured that it was the Interstate Highway System.

Gordon’s answer: our cars. Our collective vehicle fleet is a much larger investment than all the roads and transit systems put together. We readily plunk down $20,000 for a car, but argue bitterly about an increase in gas taxes or registration fees that might cost each of us $100 per year.

Six Assumptions

Gordon presented a series of slides with six assumptions he believes most people make about the road network. This assumptions guide our day-to-day behavior but clearly have only a loose conneion with reality:

1) The private sector builds vehicles, the government builds the roads.

2) As we buy more cars, the government will build more roads (a place to drive our car is an entitlement).

3) There’s always room for one more car (congestion is the government’s fault – not the result of our individual choices).

4) The road is our commons (ugh!).

5) The next trip is free (as long as the gas tank isn’t empty, you don’t have to pull out your wallet to start the car).

6) The car should not be constrained by other cars (when is the last time you saw a car ad with more than one car in it?).

What we expect of our politicians

Gordon’s accumulated understanding of what we expect our politicians:

– Widen the highways, build the bridges

– Mitigate the impacts on neighbourhoods

– Respect the environment

– Fund an alternative transit system

– Increase taxes and user charges

– Do it fast enough and often enough to keep the traffic moving

And we get frustrated with our politicians when they can’t deliver…

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