Commuter Taxes Today, Smart Traffic Solutions Tomorrow

Commuter Taxes Today, Smart Traffic Solutions Tomorrow

While traffic congestion doesn’t typically make the list of top challenges facing this country, it’s on most Americans’ minds at least twice a day – when they’re commuting to and from work. Take the traffic in New York – please. Manhattan traffic is so bad so often that Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to enact a “traffic tax” similar to the one London introduced five years ago. His "congestion pricing" plan addressed traffic congestion and pollution externalities through a tax on drivers entering certain parts of the city. The plan failed Monday when the state assembly tabled the proposal.

My advice to the frustrated mayor – who was so steamed he called the state legislators cowards – is this: Take a deep breath and contact NEMA. We’re teaming up with several other public and private sector groups to develop technologies that will reduce roadway congestion, accidents, and traffic-related pollution. It’s all part of our industry’s intelligent transportation management initiative.In fact, some advanced technology is already used. Electronic toll collection like E-ZPass, which uses radio or infrared tags and readers, keeps traffic moving quickly on toll roads. Ramp metering uses signal timing algorithms and real-time data to control the flow of traffic on highways. Sensors and messaging alert drivers where open parking spots are in garages. (I love this feature at Thurgood Marshall BWI Airport – Reagan National, take some notes!) And that’s just the beginning. Imagine “smart” intersections and “smart” cars that use vehicle- and road-based technologies to warn drivers about potential problems at intersections … and traffic sensors that allow emergency vehicles to move through intersections quicker … and road signs that send messages to drivers warning them about road hazards … and car sensors and auto-to-auto communications that control the speed and direction of vehicles while moving in traffic.

I fully expect cities to continue looking at congestion pricing as a way to alleviate the strain of traffic. But U.S. manufacturing innovation will ultimately do even more to relieve commuters of their daily burdens, while making our highways safer and our skies a little clearer.

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