Good ideas take time to come to fruition

Alistair Darling tells us that perhaps the time has come for us to have proper road pricing:

Over a decade ago, as transport secretary, I backed plans for road pricing, unsuccessfully. This time, there’s a better chance, not least because the ubiquity of smartphones has solved many of the technological issues. Even so, success will depend on getting the politics right, which means gradually bringing in a scheme, over ten years or more, but laying the groundwork now.

We would not back the use of a smartphone itself as the mechanism but the ubiquity (and cheapness) of the technology does indeed make it much easier. Which is why we backed the idea back when Darling was in office, why people were identifying the idea with us as far back as 1989. A fuller exposition of the idea is here.

At heart the idea is terribly simple. Road space is a scarce resource, scarce resources must be allocated in some manner. Economics tells us that normally - although not always - the best method of allocating a scarce resource is by price. Thus let us allocate the scarce resource of road space by price.

This is of course open to the accusation that the rich will get all of the benefit, only they will be able to afford to drive their Rollers through Hyde Park. Yet this is not actually how this works. Lighter traffic volumes, constrained by that price, makes all other forms of transport in the area more efficient. Bicycles flow more freely, buses are faster, even the air breathed by pedestrians kills them more slowly.

The benefits of road pricing flow only partially to those who still drive, the majority to everyone else who isn't driving.

Madsen Pirie of this parish insists that our job is to be off there howling in the wilderness over some idea or other and then to turn up a decade later when everyone agrees with our previous lunacy as the accepted wisdom. It's obviously a pity that this has taken three decades so far (and Alan Walters was arguing for it as far back as the 50s) but perhaps we'll get there all the same.