Monday, December 28, 2015

Why Hasn't Traffic Been More Neo-Liberalized?


If there's one thing I do over the holidays that I almost never do otherwise, it's drive. In my normal life I take the bus, but -- I know this will shock some people -- there are some places in North America where public transportation is sort of impossible.

In my experience, there's nothing like driving to make you contemplate driving -- at least, once you get past the weird anger issues that driving seems to bring out in people. Driving recently, I started to think about carpool lanes, and that reminded me about the temporary "car pool lanes" we had in Toronto last summer for the Pan-Am Games.

The "car pool lanes" weren't really car pool lanes. They were nominally "car pool lanes" that would encourage car pooling to reduce traffic congestion during the games. But to use the lanes you had to either have three people OR you had to be a Pan-Am dignitary -- so everyone quickly understood the lanes were really there for the big shots to be able to get around without the little people getting in the way.

I remember thinking at the time: traffic elitism, eh? Not too surprising. It's actually surprising you don't see it more often.

Then this month the Toronto Star reported that they're taking the whole thing to the next level. New lanes on one of the GTA's busiest highways are going to be "high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes" -- meaning, you can drive on them if 1) you have two people in the car 2) you have a green energy car or ... 3) you are willing to pay.

That really got me thinking. Partly, sure, I was thinking about the fact that this is yet another step  toward the marketization of everything. It's kind of hilarious that a CRITIC of the plan put it so mildly:
"We're concerned about whether or not this is just a way for people who have a lot more money to pay their way to get to work faster than the rest of us, or people who can't afford to get to work quicker."
Um, yeah, that seems to sum it up pretty well actually.

More than that, though, I started thinking about the weird egalitarianism of traffic up to now. I mean, it's kind of weird if you think about it: rich people might have helicopters, but otherwise they're pretty much in the same traffic jams we all are. Someone else might be driving, but they're still stuck. I remember when poor Tracy Morgan got hurt in that awful car crash, and I was like "Oh that sucks. But also: celebrities, they're just like us!"

In a world in which you can upgrade any experience, join the Star Alliance Gold or whatever, how has traffic stayed for so long the one experience you really can't upgrade? Or, to put it another way, why haven't these kind of toll lanes been spreading like kudzu since forever?

Is it that in terms of pure practical materiality we didn't have the technology to monitor the permits so traffic markets couldn't function properly?


Is it that traffic somehow speaks to people of some prelapsarian Wild West, so that even when you're stuck in traffic you tend to see the solution in terms of "more roads" instead of the more obvious "keeping out the hoi polloi"?

Is it something to do with actual old-fashioned democracy, where actual political people who put these into place would get voted out of office?

I don't know. I did find it amusing that the person criticizing the plan felt the need to put the word "fairness" in quotation marks -- like, you can't be concerned just about the fairness of HOT lanes in general, you have to be concerned about the "fairness" of HOT lanes.

Like fairness is some kind of weird quasi-literary concept, rather than an actual thing.

1 comment:

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