Technology Review has an interview with Kara Kockelman from the University of Texas about transportation technologies, pricing, and other ways of reducing congestion. When asked about the effect of new technology like cameras, she observes that
But while information is helpful to those seeking to avoid some congestion, these basic technologies are not moving traffic much, if any, faster because travelers receiving the information already are on the road. Right now, radio-broadcast traffic reports may be just as effective for relaying news of such events to drivers.
Furthermore, she argues that “pricing is needed, so that people can decide how much they are willing to pay to get somewhere faster”. Her group has been modeling something called credit-based congestion pricing:
Credit-based congestion pricing is a policy wherein tolls rise with traffic demand, thus keeping traffic moving, and distribution of travel budgets ensures a reasonable level of access for everyone. For example, the first 100 miles a vehicle travels during peak periods each month would be “free.” But after that, the driver is on his or her own, paying tolls out of pocket, via a transponder account. And the tolls would be higher during times of congestion. This incentive structure optimizes demand by allowing tolls to vary with congestion, on each link in the system across all times of day.
I’ve wanted to test the electricity pricing analog for a long time: $40/month buys you 400 anytime kilowatts. After that, you pay either a real-time price that reflects the fluctuations in the actual underlying production cost, or a time-of-use rate (different block prices at different times of day). If as hidebound an infrastructure industry as transportation can do this, why can’t electricity?