San Francisco, the city in which I work, recently announced possible plans for a congestion toll to combat high traffic volume downtown during peak periods. The response from my otherwise progressive colleagues was not at all positive.
Let’s face it, people already spend a lot on their cars, especially in urban areas. 2008 estimates put the average annual operating cost of a car to be $4,100, and in urban areas one can only assume it’s much higher with tolls and parking. Parking in my building is over $150 a month for a space you share, end to end, with another car. Single spots are significantly more. So it’s understandable that the idea of more cost related to automobiles is an upsetting prospect. But let’s look at the facts.
As Streetsblog recently highlighted, automobile transportation is not just expensive for car owners, it’s just as expensive for government. Yet when was the last time you heard a real outcry when it came to repaving a road or building a new highway interchange? Sure, there are always the NIMBYs, but their complaints are usually unrelated to the tax implications and more about the fact that their house is going to have to be torn down to accommodate the new superhighway.
The sad fact is, many self-defined progressives are all for bike and mass transit infrastructure until it steps on the toes they’ve so delicately placed on the gas pedal of their hybrid. And who could blame them? The subsidies are invisible to the average road user, they show up on an annual tax bill instead of a bill with “vehicle congestion toll,” written on it. Charging them for using their car feels like a personal attack.
But what do I say? I’m prepared for this argument, but the outrage has already reached a fevered pitch. Nobody wants to hear the voice of dissent at a moment like this, especially from the bike guy.
As a cyclist in my office, I am constantly aware of the potential for my own marginalization. Colleagues may like to cheer me on in principle, but nobody wants to hear me preach when they’re at the pointed end of what I’m getting at. The second I start pushing my agenda, I’m fear my status as an outlier in my workplace will quickly turn from crusader to radical. And once you’re there, it’s much more difficult to get people to listen to what you’ve got to say.
So I sit on my hands; I bide my time. I write a blog entry. I wait for a better moment to tell my colleagues, some of whom live in areas less well served by public transportation, that charging automobile drivers really isn’t such a bad idea when you consider all the space they take up and damage they cause to our city.
I’m just not sure whether a convenient time is ever going to show up.