Do mileage-based congestion fees hit low-income drivers harder?

While there is mounting evidence that demand-based pricing—or congestion tolling—can more efficiently manage highway use, serious concerns continue to arise regarding the system’s disproportionate impacts on low-income drivers. However, a recent study by researchers at Purdue University has found that a less onerous tax alternative may exist—one that combines congestion tolling with mileage-based user fees or a VMT tax.

Vancouver commission recommends decongestion fees

A new report released by the Vancouver, BC, Mobility Pricing Independent Commission does not provide a single solution for congestion and delay in Metro Vancouver, but it has undoubtedly generated the type of discussion the authors wanted. The report carefully lays out an argument for why the Vancouver region should institute a “decongestion charge,” essentially a fee to drive into and through the central city. It provides two options and calls for further study and work to fine-tune what type of pricing is appropriate and how fees will be implemented.

Dynamic tolling benefits highway users in congested areas

Congestion pricing is gaining a foothold in the management of highway vehicular travel, and with good reason. Congestion pricing, sometimes called demand-based pricing or dynamic tolling, is in the early stages of adoption by state DOTs as a congestion-management practice. But evidence from Virginia, Washington, and Utah’s dynamically-tolled lanes show that DOTs need to be careful how they set their toll rates to manage traffic flow.

Is congestion pricing equitable? Data suggests "yes" in the Portland metro region

Critics of congestion pricing sometimes raise equity as a concern. They question whether charging a higher fee during congested times of day places a disproportionate burden on lower-income individuals who may have no choice but to travel during those times. Economist Joe Cortright recently tested this claim using data from the Portland metropolitan region and found the opposite: according to Cortright, the data suggests that peak hour road pricing would primarily impact individuals with the highest incomes.

Do transportation agencies value time more than travelers do?

Tolled traffic lanes on otherwise unpriced facilities offer a unique opportunity to understand how much people are willing to pay for a faster commute and to truth test the assumptions used by transportation agencies to judge the benefits and costs of potential projects. One of these projects, the high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes on Washington’s SR 167, demonstrates the difficulty of accurately predicting how travelers will value reductions in travel time.