Road Pricing - Fairness for the Disabled

Dear Mr Grush,

How do you and your concept/company propose to deal fairly with those whom public transit does not serve effectively?

The disabled are still not and may well never be adequately, never mind equally, served by any public transit system.  There are and probably always be far too many compromises imposed on the disabled who always have fewer options available to them in virtually all areas and especially in terms of mobility.  Are you aware how your systems would further disadvantage the families and friends of the disabled?  How would you suggest the family of a child with Osteogenesis Imperfecta cope?  Have you considered how would a family with one or more disabled child (cerebral palsy, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy autism spectrum disorder, hearing impairment, blindness or any of hundreds, even thousands of syndromes or conditions) be affected by the additional costs of negotiating life?

Have you considered how the elderly, especially the frail elderly, would be negatively affected by your systems?  How would their care and ability to maintain their own homes and any independence or any social life be accomplished without entailing enormous additional costs and logistical difficulties?

As well, as long as many medical services are made available mainly in a few major urban centres there will be many patients residing in other regions who will continue to be forced to travel by private vehicle to these designated facilities in order to receive essential treatment.  Besides spending time, money and energy simply to have access to medical care your system would impose additional burdens, adding to costs and logistical barriers.  How would propose minimizing or, preferably avoiding completely, these further undeserved difficulties for an already disadvantaged population?   

I look forward to receiving your well-reasoned reply to my questions.

Margaret Trethewey
Dear Margaret,

Thank you for your questions. I think your concerns are very important. However, these are matters of policy.  While such policies are easy to describe, I am not a legislator so I cannot set them, rather I am cybernetics engineer that likes to address complex social problems (congestion is a social problem, but is not often recognized as such, which is why it remains unsolved)).  More importantly, with reasonably simple policies not only can those people who must use private motorized transportation (and there are many - indeed I doubt that there are very few who never need it), have that access at a free or reduced cost (similar to not having to pay a fuel tax), they would also have that transportation at a reduced level of congestion.  Consider all the people that use the TTC's WheelTrans service [a door-to-door service for disabled passengers in Toronto], but get stuck in heavy traffic.  These people will also see a benefit.

As a matter of considerable bearing on the answer to your questions, one of my patent applications provide for a way for government to grant travel credits to individuals (for whatever reason deemed necessary – and you provide the start of such a list).  Such credits can be provided in a number of ways.  My personal preference is to provide travel credits as a form of fungible units that can be sold (for example if a person does not need all the credit available, she may be able to give or sell them to another. This allows people more choices.
An alternative, mentioned by Andrew Coyne in this week’s Macleans is to collect all the money from all the road fees and return it to all citizens in equal measure.  That would mean than some physically disadvantaged people would receive a surplus.

There is no reason that anyone with a disability need experience any additional hardships as you fear may befall them, but I would never suggest you should not remain vigilant.
I would like to examine further re a criticism buried in your question about the elderly. You describe a road-pricing system as “entailing enormous additional costs and logistical difficulties”. Although it is possible to do it this way (London did!), there is no reason for either outcome.  A properly designed system (EVEN WITHOUT TRAVEL CREDITS) would be cost neutral – even cost saving (!) – for people who travel off-peak.  So any ‘elderly’ drivers (I assume you to mean people who are retired or whose caregivers may be driving them) can avoid high costs by traveling off-peak. There is also no need for “logistical difficulties”, as a properly designed system is as easy to use as a cell phone that an elderly person carries, but never uses – it is mounted on the windshield of their car and a bill (amounting to $10 or $20 a month in today’s dollars, depending on whether they still pay fuel tax) arrives in the mail – or in their children’s email, which is how I would handle it. I wrote more about low per-driver charges in North America, here.
Bern Grush


libertyscott said...

Bern you are quite right that if road pricing replaces existing taxes, then there is really no issue.

Disabled people don't tend to get exemptions from fuel taxes, vehicle licence fees and other taxes used to pay for roads.

If those are reduced or eliminated, then the average status quo is maintained, so there is no issue of fairness. Indeed, for many of the example (e.g. elderly) they may pay less if they are not cross-subsidising highway capacity used at peak times, or if off peak charges are effectively lowered because of windfall revenue from congestion based charging at peak times.

Transfers for social purposes tend to be far more efficient and effective if they are in the form of money, rather than targeting very specific parts of people's expenditure.

Given that energy companies, telecommunications companies, supermarkets and the right are not all required to provide discounts, it is unclear why roads are special, particularly if the net effect is neutral.

It may simply be better for the general tax system to acknowledge this by offering those in these situations significant tax credits which they may use to deal with any issue, from mobility to media to home assistance and the like.

Bern Grush said...

liberty: I agree completely. I provided the examples I provided rhetorically - to show off the flexibility of this new technology to policy needs. I, too, would rather see disadvantaged persons receive tax credits to be spent how they wish. It would be better if an elderly person used a tax credit to move to a nicer facility that required less transportation, than to give that person free gas (or a gas-tax exemption).

We know that handicapped parking passes are greatly abused, BUT if handicapped persons received a state-or-federal parking tax-credit instead, there would be far less abuse. Such a credit would be funded by a state-or-federal tax on parking operations.

Matt Young said...


Get your company over to NYC ad solve the cab licensing problem by charging cabs for time spent in the city. I am tired of listening to economists bitch about this.

We need to let anyone be a cabby as long as they manage their time spent on NYC city streets. The city can license time by the hour and skip the restricted licensing thing.

Matt Young

Bern Grush said...

Well, Matt, good thinking. Who do I talk to? No one in NYC DOT answers the phone...

Anyway, just so you don't think you are all alone, see this similar idea. http://www.skymetercorp.com/cms/images/news/ManagingJitneyServices.UTM.PDF