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The numbered days of the solo commute

Proposed congestion taxes could make driving alone a luxury of the past.

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When James Russell Lowell posed his now-famous question, "What is so rare as a day in June?," he was extolling the joys of nature. He cele­brated cowslips and buttercups, small birds and green leaves, clear skies and whispering breezes.

What the poet couldn't have imagined, in his 19th-century world where people traveled by foot, horse, and train, was the pleasure those of us in the 21st century would find in the rare days of June – and July and August – for reasons that have nothing to do with nature and everything to do with traffic.

This is the season when commuters rejoice. As vacationing workers flee the city, roads grow less crowded. No school buses are halting traffic with flashing red lights, and no parents are ferrying children to school in SUVs. That means fewer horn-honkers, fewer tailgaters, less gridlock.

Ah, bliss.

Well, maybe not quite bliss. Commuting is still commuting, after all. But it is a time to savor greater freedom.

Yet any solo commuter who keeps abreast of the news must sense that the days of this luxury could be numbered, at least for some drivers in cities where talk of "road pricing" is in the air.

In 2003, when London first imposed a congestion tax of £8 a day ($16) on cars entering the central city, many Americans might have smugly assumed that the idea would never cross the Atlantic. Wrong assumption. Now it has. New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed a congestion tax of $8 on cars and $21 on trucks going into Midtown Manhattan. Last month a Chicago alderman floated a similar idea.

Many commuters are not amused. They point out that the rich will be unaffected, while average drivers will be forced to find other ways to get to work.

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