Carpooling won't do much to reduce U.S. highway congestion in urban areas, and a better solution would be to build new highways and charge drivers fees to use them, the White House said on Monday.
"It is increasingly appropriate to charge drivers for some roadway use in the same way the private market charges for other goods and services," the White House said in its annual report on the U.S. economy.
While some urban areas have designated roads for vehicles with two or more passengers, those high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes are often underused because carpooling is becoming less popular, the administration said.
Carpooling rates falling
Based on the latest data supplied by the White House, only about 13 percent of motorists carpooled to work in 2000. That compared with 20 percent of daily American commuters in 1980.
"This trend makes it unlikely that initiatives focused on carpooling will make large strides in reducing vehicle use," the White House said.
Building more highways won't reduce congestion either, unless drivers are charged a fee, according to the administration.
"If a roadway is priced -- that is, if drivers have to pay a fee to access a particular road -- then congestion can be avoided by adjusting the price up or down at different times of day to reflect changes in demand for its use," the White House said. "Road space is allocated to drivers who most highly value a reliable and unimpaired commute."
Roads for the wealthy, gas-guzzling?
Critics of such fees argue that road tolls would make new highways reserved mostly for wealthy drivers, who are more likely to travel in expensive, gas-guzzling vehicles.
But the White House said urban road expansions should be focused on highways where drivers demonstrate a willingness to pay a fee that is higher than the actual cost of construction, allowing communities to avoid raising taxes on everyone to build the roads.
The administration argued that congestion pricing is already used by many providers of goods and services: movie theaters charge more for tickets in the evening than they do at midday, just as ski resorts raise lift prices on weekends. Similarly, airlines boost prices on tickets during peak travel seasons and taxi cabs raise fares during the rush hour.