Robert Frank is trying to defuse the political opposition to congestion pricing in Manhattan:
Essentially the same strategy could salvage the proposed congestion fee for Manhattan and other cities. Most people who commute regularly by car into Manhattan are not poor, and most low-income workers in Manhattan already use public transportation for their daily commute. The problem cases are low-income workers who must occasionally drive into the city on weekdays. For such people, congestion fees would indeed constitute a new burden.
But this burden could easily be eliminated by giving every low-income worker in Manhattan an annual allotment of transferable congestion vouchers. On the rare occasions when these workers needed to drive into the city, they could do so free of charge. And they could earn some extra money by selling any vouchers they didnâ€™t need on Craigslist.
I certainly think this is worth trying, but I suppose I wonder whether it will actually change the political dynamic all that much. It’s worth recalling that revenues from the charge were meant to fund transit, and that outer borough legislators opposing the plan largely came from Districts where lower income workers overwhelmingly used transit to commute. In other words, the crucial opposing push came from self-interested drivers, mostly middle and upper income individuals who wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the vouchers.
I suppose the introduction of the vouchers might be expected to amplify the voices of the low income commuters who would most benefit from the plan, which might be enough to put it over the top. But the biggest problem in getting market prices for scarce public resources introduced is that regular users just don’t seem to imagine that they’ll benefit. I don’t know how you get around that.