Following the lead of other big American cities with congestion, Washington D.C. has set up a program to pay commuters $2 a day to carpool. The hope is that by giving people a short-term incentive, the cities can alter their long-term behavior.
Atlanta, Seattle, Birmingham and Los Angeles have tried similar programs. Atlanta’s program—led by the Clean Air Campaign—began in 2002 and has had 19,000 participants, most of whom have continued carpooling after their payments ended. Atlanta’s system works by allowing people to log their commutes online, receiving $100 after a three-month trial period. Drivers tend to realize the savings they’re making on gas and maintenance and stick with the carpools.
Still, some economists think this is an expensive way to incentivize drivers when tolls tend to work better than cash payments in changing driver behavior. Because tolls are politically unpopular, cash payments are easier to sell.
D.C.’s program aims to take just 750 cars off the road at first, a small difference when considering Beltway traffic. Nevertheless, city officials want to see if the program can alter driver behavior permanently.