Driven to conserve

I went on a day trip to Jochiwon yesterday to give a guest lecture at a university. I should get a map and start putting thumb tacks in places I’ve been over the past 15 months. I feel like I’ve seen a lot of the country now, enough to forget all the places I’ve been.

It was a three-hour drive there and another three back. A colleague from my university drove. South Korea is full of toll booths on the highways. As we returned to Busan we went though one. I looked at the charge and it was just under 18,000 won. (about $18 ) I was shocked. Eighteen dollars just to drive. So I asked if Koreans pay taxes for highways. He said no. It seems that the highway system, as far as I can tell, is a pay as you go kind of thing. The price depends on the distance you travel.

I thought about this and about whether it would work in America. It sounds to me like it would be a good idea. Rather than everyone paying a small share in taxes to the government to build and maintain roads, only those who use it pay for it. This makes sense to me from two angles: First, you’re directly paying for a service that you are actually using when you use it.

Second, and more interesting to me, is the incentives aspect. If you have to pay for the trip, you’re more likely to take one together and thereby reduce traffic and pollution. You’re also more likely to find some alternate forms of transportation, such as a bus or train.

I would guess that most Americans would hate the idea. I wonder how many other countries do this, and whether it works.

By the way, for Americans freaking out about the price of gas: It costs about $8 a gallon in Korea. You’re still way under what the rest of the world has to pay.

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