While free public transportation offered on Spare the Air days was an experiment in social engineering with mixed results (10 percent jump in ridership, but disappointing smog prevention for the high cost), this afternoon we are about to see a much more compelling combination of carrot and stick getting cars off the roads.
It’s the sort of scenario that transit advocates dream of: Make it more painful to drive and less painful to ride BART, buses and ferries. No free parking downtown for commuters, variable tolls (a.k.a, congestion pricing) for every segment of freeway.
Except that thanks to a mishap with a gasoline tanker and a collapsed freeway ramp in the middle of the MacArthur Maze, we get an even better stick than pay parking: Fear of unbearable congestion.
I’m no expert, but I’d say that’s one of the factors that forces so many New Yorkers onto the subways, buses and commuter trains. It’s just to painful to drive, and then you have to pay tolls and parking.
We’ll see how it goes this afternoon. If people see that driving is not so bad, they’ll go back to their cars in great numbers and learn their lesson later this week. I’m betting that enough fear was generated yesterday to get us through today without the kind of traffic armageddon that some have predicted.
But it’s early, and in an hour or so, those who didn’t heed the warnings, or thought enough people would do it for them, could be pulling their hair out and wishing they had taken BART.
Place your bets now.
Sunday demolition photo by Dean Coppola, Contra Costa Times.