Road Congestion, TSA Congestion. What’s the Difference?

TSA Officers

I am flying to SFO this morning really early out of Dulles and as usual even at 6:00 AM there are long lines at the TSA checkpoint. Dulles has at least 15 security lanes but I have never seen them all open. When I asked a TSA staffer why, he said they didn’t have the budget to staff them all. And its likely to get worse as the TSA budget is cut this fiscal year.

The problem is so similar to our roads. We have massive traffic congestion because congress won’t raise the gas tax to build more roads-lanes. And it doesn’t seem that congress will increase highway funding or TSA funding anytime soon. So the answer should be clear; let users who want faster service pay more. On a lot of trips, I’d be happy to pay a small fee when I buy my plane ticket if that could allow me to wait in a shorter line. Others might not want to pay a toll but for the times they are late, they might be happy to pay a few bucks at check-in so they make their flight on time. Similarly, I’d be happy to pay a toll to drive on roads without congestion on the days I am running late. Some will say the new TSA-pre program will help but it will not be enough. It doesn’t add screeners, it only speeds things up a little bit for some people. The TSA toll program may not work at airports like Reagan National where all the screening gates are almost always manned. But at airports like Dulles and others, it will enable the TSA to fully utilize all screening gates and better provide their services.

Of course, some will complain that this gives the one percent travelers even more advantage. But in fact, it helps everyone. By diverting toll TSA  passengers from the regular lines and allowing new TSA screeners to be hired to man the unused screeners, the lines for the other screeners will get shorter, so it’s a win-win.

So let’s institute toll TSA lines.

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About the author

Dr. Robert D. Atkinson is one of the country’s foremost thinkers on innovation economics. With has an extensive background in technology policy, he has conducted ground-breaking research projects on technology and innovation, is a valued adviser to state and national policy makers, and a popular speaker on innovation policy nationally and internationally. He is the author of "Innovation Economics: The Race for Global Advantage" (Yale, forthcoming) and "The Past and Future of America’s Economy: Long Waves of Innovation That Power Cycles of Growth" (Edward Elgar, 2005). Before coming to ITIF, Atkinson was Vice President of the Progressive Policy Institute and Director of PPI’s Technology & New Economy Project. Ars Technica listed Atkinson as one of 2009’s Tech Policy People to Watch. He has testified before a number of committees in Congress and has appeared in various media outlets including CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, NPR, and NBC Nightly News. He received his Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1989.
  • Fisher1949

    In the past year only 1.8 million passengers have used PreCheck, some of them several times. By comparison there are over 700 million passengers per year.

    The chances of you being able to use this is 2 in 100,000, and then only if you are a Delta, United, American or US Airways frequent flier. If you fly Southwest, forget it.

    If they increase this to 100 times its current size, that would still be less than 200 in 100,000 or 1 in every 500 passengers. That is not going to speed up the lines for anyone other than the very few elites.

    Why would the average traveler be happy to hear about a biased program that favors those with money and treats them as being more equal than others?

    This is a corrupt program that rewards those spending lots of money with one of these four airlines with reduced security abuse and excludes millions of law abiding and trustworthy citizens simply because they don’t spend enough with the TSA selected carriers.

    This is unfair and an insult to the basic tenets of equality. Would people be happy if TSA offered this only to millionaires, whites, men or college graduates? If not then they should oppose this along with the exemptions for other ‘special” groups. As the Ft Hood tragedy demonstrated, terrorists can even be high ranking Army psychiatrists.

    If these security measures aren’t applied to everyone equally, then they simply won’t work and should be stopped.

    There should be a class action suit brought against the airlines and TSA for this assault on the average traveler.

  • Rob atkinson

    Fisher1949, thanks for your comment. I wasnt implying that PreCheck was a solution, in fact i was saying, as you point out that it wont be.

    as to why would be average traveler be happy to hear about a program that favors those with money (actually defined as everyone who flies), its because those people willing to pay more would not be crowding the lines those people not willing to pay more are in. They would be paying for new lines, thereby a win-win situation.