I find it hilarious that so many suburban conservatives are up in arms over the toll plan. These are the same people who attack all sorts of supposed creeping socialism and proclaim that the market should solve all of these problems – and yet when it comes to a problem that actually affects them, all of the sudden they go weak on the orthodoxy. Of particular note are their vehement attacks on mass transit – which, unlike roads, requires a direct user payment at time of service (no, folks, gas taxes don’t count – the analogue here is tolls).
The fact is that “free” roads (no, folks, gas taxes don’t pay anywhere near the full bills) share more with communism than with capitalism. The trick here is to remember how the two systems handle “scarcity” (demand exceeding supply).
If the demand for a good, let’s say, TVs, exceeds its supply, the “solution” in the Soviet Union was a combination of rationing and simple long lines. People in Soviet Russia might have had to pay very little for TVs, but they were quite often unavailable and when they were available, they had to wait a long time to get them. In other words, the way that supply and demand are balanced in a command economy like the one the Soviets had is by making people stand in very long lines.
In a capitalist economy, however, if the demand for a good outstrips its supply, the market solves this problem by raising the price of the good until supply matches demand (usually by demand dropping; sometimes by supply increasing as additional production becomes more profitable). The trick here is that the capitalist solution (higher prices) is unquestionably more efficient in the long-run since it allows people to make rational decisions based on cost. (Maybe they buy a cheaper kind of TV; maybe they use their old TVs longer; whatever).
Note that both of these equations hold even if 1/4 of the cost of producing TVs is borne by the government through taxes, even when they’re specific taxes on people who watch TV. This means that the double-taxation argument is not welcome here, in other words.
Now, apply this to road space, which is a “good” provided in this area for which demand drastically exceeds supply at certain times of day.
In Communist Texas, everybody pays for highways in one way or another. Some of the funding comes from the gas tax (which you pay even if you’re driving on a big city street like Braker Lane which doesn’t get any money from this tax – I’ll start indignantly calling this Triple Taxation someday). Some more funding comes from property and sales taxes (much more than people think). None of it comes from tolls.
How is the demand-supply imbalance handled in Communist Texas? By long lines (congestion).
How is it handled with the new toll plan? By requiring people to pay if they want to use facilities for which demand exceeds supply. While there are no initial plans to change the amount of the toll by the time of day, that could be done fairly easily (it’s already done on a couple of HOT facilities in other parts of the country). This also means that there’s at least a small economic benefit to carpooling (finally).
What this also means is that instead of letting people be stuck in line on existing “free” highways until we gather the hundreds of billions of dollars necessary to double and triple-deck everything so we can temporarily handle the demand for free roadway space, it would be a lot more efficient (again, from the capitalist perspective) to price even existing roadway space. And don’t cry double-taxation to me as I fail to get a dime back on my property or sales taxes being used for roadway and highway construction and maintenance on the days I ride my bike or walk.
So it ought to be very clear by now that if you support the current “free” highway regime over the far more capitalist “toll” highway plan, you have more in common with Communists than you do with free-marketers. Cognitive dissonance is alive and well in modern suburbia.