Or road pricing, or value pricing, or tolling. The basic idea is that the only realistic way to ease highway congestion in urban centers (or anywhere) is to discourage people from using the freeways. So a toll is paid usually on a per zone rate – distance traveled, time of day, being factors that can determine the exact rate when you are driving the freeway. London, Stockholm, and Singapore all claim success with their congestion pricing schemes. New York City has seriously considered a congestion pricing scheme for people who will drive in to Lower Manhattan during business hours, though the New York State Legislature recently backburnered the proposal.
There are a lot of reasons, however, to say that congestion pricing is not a good thing. Vehicles would need to be equipped with tracking devices (chalk up another one for Big Brother!) or “Smart Cards” . It certainly will be a huge negative for already overwhelmed lower wage earners. If roads become toll free after peak hours would that in itself simply extend rush hours or create even worse congestion as motorists wait for the toll free hour to begin? Does “road rage” increase as people feel even more personally abused as they have paid for something?
Still, in another 10 years congestion pricing will probably be more the norm than not in large cities. There really is not much in the way of alternatives to reducing traffic gridlock – it is widely understood that if you could do it by building wider freeways, for example, it still wouldn’t work as more people would decide to drive. Car pooling lanes and public transportation, while cheap and effective, have not curbed the demands of the exponential growth of new motorists in recent decades. And the number of fossil fuel burning vehicles on the road needs to be significantly diminished.
As I have said before, if you want to get downtown faster and with less stress, take the train.