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Getting people out of cars

Couple of driving-related tidbits from the past week:

Washington, D.C. just built a brand spanking new ball park. They didn’t build many parking lots to go alongside the ball park, opting instead to provide a free bike valet, enhance the nearby subway station, and add a ton of bus service. They also ran an advertising campaign asking people not to drive to the park.

Many predicted various bad things that would happen as a result of the lack of parking. Here’s what actually happened: on opening night, 21,492 baseball fans (out of a total of 25,000) took a train to the ball game and watched the Nationals beat the Braves in an auspicious debut for their new stadium. Nearby parking lots remained conspicuously unfilled.

Meanwhile, further north, the New York City Council finally approved Mayor Bloomberg’s congestion pricing plan. There’s still one more hurdle to clear, but it looks increasingly likely that New York will be the first U.S. city to institute a fee for driving in the city center, modeled on similar successful plans in Europe. (The mayor of London just proposed raising the congestion fee to $50 for some gas guzzlers.)

I mention these two things by way of echoing Ryan Avent’s point that gas taxes are not the only or even necessarily the best way to reduce driving. There are other costs of driving — parking and traffic among them — and these costs right now tend not to be borne by drivers. Parking is heavily subsidized, and congestion affects other people more heavily than it affects the person causing it. Simultaneously making parking and congestion more expensive while also enhancing public transportation can make a real difference.

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