The policy could change not just traffic, but also how we think about the infrastructure cars require

“They add up to a pretty giant system of subsidies,” said Michael Manville, a professor of urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles. “But they don’t look like what we often consider subsidies.”


Congestion pricing has the potential to significantly change how traffic flows through Manhattan streets, how commuters get around the city, how companies like Uber and Lyft operate.

But most radically, if the policy spreads it could challenge a deeply embedded cultural idea, requiring people to pay for something Americans have long demanded — and largely believe they’ve gotten — free of charge. 

The idea of the open road evokes these intertwined meanings: The freedom to use it should be free. Residential street parking should be free. Traffic lanes should be free. Stretches of public curb dedicated to private driveways? Those should be free, too.

In other ways, the government has heavily subsidized driving, or hidden the reality of who pays for it in places no one sees. Local laws require off-street parking from businesses and housing developers, who pass on the construction cost of it to tenantsand customers who may not drive at all.

Federal and state governments fund roads with gas taxes that feel far removed from a direct user fee (and that have come to operate like less and less of one in an era of fuel efficiency).