Singapore solution: big fees for drivers

Some experts think there's only one way to get Americans to give up their cars - make them pay a market price to drive.

"In simplest terms, capitalism stops at the edge of the pavement," says Siim Soot, a professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "We have a shortage of highway space because we don't have to pay for it."

Professor Soot recommends applying credit-card-like technology to keep a running tab on drivers' mileage. A monthly bill would be issued much like a phone or electric bill, with higher rates for peak hours.

A version of this is in place in, among other nations, densely populated Singapore. The average driver there pays an annual road tax of $1,800 (size of vehicle is a factor in this fee). Drivers also pay an average of $2,000 a year in fees assessed automatically as they travel along roads that are electronically monitored. (The fee rises when traffic is heavy.)

Singapore shifted to electronic road pricing in 1998, but has used some version of this system for 22 years. Anecdotal evidence suggests tweaking the rate charged does alleviate congestion for short periods.

But Soot and many who support the idea realize that Americans are less than likely to sing its praises.

"We take cheap cars as a given," says Robert Cervero, professor of city and regional planning at the University of California, Berkeley. "You can't just take that away from people. Politically, it's impossible to change that."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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