Marc Scribner

The idea that tolling is too costly ignores recent research. A recent Reason Foundation study found that modern all-electronic toll collection costs were now broadly on par with collection costs for fuel excise taxes. And under all-electronic tolling, there is no need for costly and congestion-inducing manual tollbooth collection.

In contrast to the claim that public-private partnerships (P3s) are “essentially crony capitalism,” P3s are important tools to advance private-sector ownership and control of the road network. While long-term concessions based on a “design-build-finance-operate-maintain” model do not technically amount to full privatization, they do increase private sector involvement in infrastructure ownership and management. P3s also serve as demonstration models that could facilitate full privatization at the end of the concession agreements.

Alexander also repeats the “Lexus Lane” myth that toll lanes are only for rich motorists. On the contrary, lower-income commuters also need to get places on time and are often willing to pay for the ability to do so, as research findings show. Yet somehow, Alexander suggests that denying lower-income drivers the choice to pay for travel-time savings is consistent with libertarian principles. Equity concerns could be better addressed by offering lower-income drivers toll reimbursements or travel vouchers.

Furthermore, linking the monstrously irresponsible Central Artery project in Boston (widely known as “The Big Dig”) with tolling is disingenuous at best.

The article she cites as proof of toll collection’s inherent evil focuses on engineering and construction mismanagement that led to shoddy infrastructure and out-of-control cost overruns. Nowhere is tolling mentioned—probably because Massachusetts’ limited use of tolling had absolutely nothing to do with The Big Dig disaster.

Concern over penalties for turnpike scofflaws and arguments to continue our current road subsidization schemes ignore the most important question: how should we be paying for roads? To transportation experts at national libertarian think tanks, including the Reason Foundation, Cato Institute, Independent Institute, and my own Competitive Enterprise Institute, the answer is clear: more tolling, more decentralization, and more private-sector provision of roads. And it isn’t just libertarians: conservative transportation analysts affiliated with the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute share our goal of curtailing road socialism.

Is it the case that virtually every libertarian transportation scholar in existence holds profoundly un-libertarian views regarding transportation and that their support for tolling is an egregious ideological sin? I suppose it’s possible, but Alexander’s case as presented runs against the overwhelming opinion of experts at some of the most renowned free-market think tanks in the United States.

Marc Scribner

Marc Scribner is a Fellow in Land-use and Transportation Studies at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Washington, D.C.