While most of my articles are written from the comfort of my study, in the small town of Bryn Mawr, once in a while I brave myself and visit the front line of operational challenges ... all for you dear readers. I’ve been on a quest for mustard in France
"This weekend, the per-person cost of a ski lift ticket at Snowbird was around $200. So I think it’s safe to assume that an additional toll won’t change things for those who want to use their cars."
Isn't the relevant behavioral change not about Ski vs. Not Ski, but instead Drive Alone vs. Carpool or Bus or Other? On a big snow day, $200 is worth it. $250 is still worth it. If you told me it was $250 if I drove myself (and sat in traffic for 3 hours) and $225 if I rode a clean, comfortable, wifi-enabled bus where I could read a book and relax with my friends - I'd economize! Getting behavioral change at the margin like this could reduce travel times for the majority in a big way.
"...In this case we’re really tolling to help reduce congestion and then raise the revenue for transit, which further reduces congestion."
This is your quote from the MTA approach to congestion pricing in NYC and I think it applies!
But this didn't make sense to me:
"...the analysis doesn’t seem to account for an important aspect of the service system: the variability of travel time...and if the toll is congestion-based, it will make planning very hard."
Isn't travel time variability pretty easy to understand, though? Google Maps and common sense (time of day, snow forecast, etc.) can let me benchmark the cost of paying a toll, and certainly the Utah tolling authority could publish rates and historical data.
This reminds me a bit of street parking in NYC. We give away the most valuable urban land in the world, for free, for private vehicle storage. And then folks complain about the shortage of free street parking!
I really believe in the Coase theorem. If the system is clearly defined with no gimmicks, the people who consume scarce and expensive infrastructure (and inflict significant externalities on their neighbors) can and will pay accordingly, and our infrastructure will be much more productive and financially solvent.
I'm not going to lie, when I first read the title, I couldn't help but scoff. Surely Gondolas are gimmicks and only useful for uneven and elevated terrain. However, once I started reading and thinking, I really do believe in its viability, especially when addressing the problem of road congestion. As you mentioned above, whereas roads get more inefficient as conditions deteriorate and the number of people increases, Gondolas could maintain their throughput.
I feel that I, and many others in the US, have an auto-focused mentality, hence my original reaction. It is interesting to see how alternate forms of transportation have been implemented successfully around the world and how we may eventually apply those lessons to our cities here.