Every day, millions of Americans lose billions of hours stalled on our nation's "free"ways. They may be free for the taking, but we are paying for them with precious time. The brute force solutions come in two forms: build more roads, and force people out of cars. What we need to realize is that we already have far more capacity then we realize, but congestion is destroying it. We can rescue that capacity.
There's another way to eliminate congestion: Charge demand-calibrated tolls. The technology exists to charge tolls without hiring toll takers or even having vehicles slow down, so transaction costs are minimal. Simply require every vehicle entering a freeway to carry an anonymous transponder.
Tolls can then be charged automatically, the amounts varying by time of day and segments traversed. Those amounts would be calibrated to reduce peak traffic volumes to uncongested (and safer) levels.
Rush hour drivers may complain, but what they are buying is the privilege of driving at the limit at a time of day when nobody has been able to drive the limit in living memory.
Commuters then can decide how to economize. They can carpool, switch to mass transit, use alternate routes, shift hours, cancel trips, or move closer to work. With individualized economization, the plethora of government intrusions can be scrapped. Gone will be the diamond lanes, bus lanes and other social engineering. In its place will be a free-market price system for a scarce commodity: road capacity during rush hour.
First, congestion is a tragedy of the commons. When too many drivers flood the road, carrying capacity collapses. It is *destroyed*, a permanent loss. Placing a price on freeways' scarce capacity preserves it from destruction, thereby preserving a common good to society.
Second, if we follow through, then eliminating all of government's tyrannical attempts to get us out of our cars will liberate us. We will be free to zoom around town at the height of rush hour... if we're willing to pay. Even more, we could even demand that gasoline taxes, which don't target congested times and places, be rolled back to compensate for the tolls. Then, those who economize will come out ahead. Ain't that the way things ought to be?