Pay to Play


Illustration by Scott PollackIllustration by Scott Pollack

An increasingly popular way to raise government revenue while reducing traffic is through something called congestion or market-based pricing. The most common examples are tolls that are jacked up during rush hour or extra fees for allowing solo drivers to use the HOV lane. But why stop there? With a little bit of vision and an ethics-be-damned attitude, we can use perks and cold, hard cash to raise money for a lot more than another 520 bridge.

Here’s a look at the fast lanes of the future—if you’re wealthy enough.

Firehouse Express
The difference between a three-minute response from the fire department and a five-minute response can be the difference between saving the fine art on your walls and total disaster (not to mention Fido’s life). The City of Seattle is experimenting with the Firehouse Express: Citizens who pay the highest real estate taxes get a private line directly to the fire chief. No more annoying questions from 911—now it’s “Yes, Mr. Stusser, we’re already out front.”

Sick of trying to find on-street parking downtown during the lunch hour? Simply roll up to a wheelchair space, lock up your car and pay a $100 Handi-upcharge. Problem solved!

Panhandler-Free Lane
Mayor Mike McGinn vetoed a law against aggressive panhandling. So Pike Place and Pioneer Square neighborhood councils have begun offering the new Hassle-Free Walking Pass. Drop a few quarters into conveniently located Hassle-Free Meters and an armed escort will walk a hundred feet ahead of you, sweeping aside panhandlers and over-caffeinated hipsters. For guilt-laden liberals, pay a little extra and a copy of the Real Change newspaper will be delivered at the end of your stroll.

Regence Line Cutter
The medical field is dying to get into congestion pricing. Well, not literally. Regence has created a VIP plan that’s the opposite of catastrophic health care: For $20,000 a month, customers can join the Line Cutter plan, allowing them to go to the front of the line in any medical emergency. (Is it ethical? No! Is it a cash cow? You bet!) Need an organ transplant? The next kidney available is yours. Need a quick nip or tuck for a big opera date? You’ll have a new nose by noon.

First Class Security Pass
Airlines have been selling perks for decades, dividing cabins into classes and building swank concierge lounges for business travelers. Taking the club concept one step further, United Airlines has teamed with Sea-Tac to create a First Class Security Pass. The First Class Pass now takes customers straight past check-in and security. (If you can afford first class, you’re obviously not a terrorist!) Not to be outdone, thrifty Southwest Airlines is allowing customers to reserve extra space in overhead luggage bins, baggage compartments and wheel wells.

Cellular HOV Lanes
Intent on competing with Verizon, which now has the iPhone, AT&T has introduced the NeverDrop plan. For $449 per month, the plan eliminates those dreaded dropped calls. Actually, this plan has been available on the down-low for five years. The reason you’ve been having so much trouble with your AT&T phone in the first place is that when someone a lot richer than you needs to place a call and your inane chatter is tying up the line, you get dropped. Pay a little more; you’ll never be dropped again.

Animal Crackers Ticket
Woodland Park Zoo has developed an Animal Crackers Ticket that gets visitors not only to the front of the line, but closer to the action. VIPs can play ball with orangutans and swim with dolphins. Unfortunately, the Pet a Polar Bear Pass was recently discontinued after an unfortunate incident involving a toddler and a snow cone….

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