Do immigrants cause traffic?

A common argument against migrants, domestic and foreign, in Los Angeles is that they increase congestion on the city’s already strained roads. In Malibu , one of Los Angeles’ most beautiful beach communities, residents are trying to pass legislation that would attempt to discourage further population growth in a misguided attempt to reduce congestion in the area. There is some truth to the argument as the most congested cities in the United States are also those with the largest percentage of foreign-born residents. If one were to run a quick regression on a city’s congestion level vs. foreign-born population I’m sure they’d fine a degree of correlation.

Los Angeles traffic jam

Traffic jam in Los Angeles. Source.

Given the likely existence of this correlation, should immigration be restricted to reduce traffic congestion?


Not at all. Migrants are attracted to economically well off cities. Well off cities grow large in size and in turn the largest cities tend to have the worst traffic congestion. For that matter congestion on roads isn’t caused by large populations but by inadequate pricing of roads. Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other highly congested cities wouldn’t suffer from their current congestion problems if they charged drivers a distance based use fee. The exact fee would vary between cities, but it would likely be no more than a few cents a mile with a surcharge during peak driving hours.

The adoption of distance based user fees would not only serve to reduce congestion, but also provide a stable funding source for maintaining current infrastructure and new developments. The United States’ is currently struggling to properly fund its transportation costs. Earlier this year the Highway Trust Fund had to receive funds from the general revenues in order to stay afloat. Roads have traditionally been funded through at-the-pump gasoline taxes, but increasing automobile fuel efficiency and political gridlock have made these taxes increasingly obsolete. Even if the current gasoline tax system could be reformed it would fail to promote a significant reduction in congestion as drivers would have little reason to worry about the marginal cost of travel besides the price of gasoline.

If the concern is that migrants are increasing congestion one shouldn’t seek to restrict future migration, deport current migrants, or even restrict development. There is an infinitely simpler and effective keyhole solution – adopt distance based user fees. Related arguments, such as the concern that an increase in a city’s population makes finding parking more difficult, are likewise best dealt with the adoption of better pricing mechanisms .

Michelangelo Landgrave is an economics graduate student at California State University, Long Beach.

4 thoughts on “Do immigrants cause traffic?”

  1. Immigration drives America’s overpopulation crisis. To continue to import the projected 100,000,000 (million) more immigrants within 30 years must equal to the movie: Dumb and Dumber. Population gain causes traffic gridlock. Had Congress NOT passed the 1965 Immigration Reform Act, we would NOT have added 100 million immigrants by 2007 and we would not add another 100 million immigrants by 2045. It’s absurd and ludicrous to write that immigrants don’t cause gridlocked traffic, because, in fact, their numbers do exactly that: create traffic gridlock. It’s time for a reduction of all immigration into first world countries to the bare minimum: 100,000 annually for the USA. Much less for UK, Canada, Europe and Australia. We must live within our carrying capacity. Frosty Wooldridge, 6 Continent World Bicycle Traveler

  2. Immigrants aren’t the ones who are always having kids and babies at an early age, you can go to the store and you are going to see girls 15-18 year old pregnant and they are all citizens… that’s what will increase the number of the population in the US. By 2045 the US will have 10 times more population than what we have now, and they are all going to be citizens, immigrants can be deported and everything, but the situation with traffic will never, ever change!

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