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.
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.
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.
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.
For transportation professionals focusing on improving automobile commute times, the idea of enabling a driver to reserve space on a roadway at specific times may seem too good to be true—and it may be. Such a scheme may be too complicated to implement—at least right now.
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.
Combining congestion pricing on major highways or lanes with incentives for off-peak commuting on non-tolled facilities can lead to improved performance on all facilities.
Since London’s congestion pricing plan went into place, traffic patterns have changed significantly. New maps show bicycle and bus/coach use is up and private car and large truck traffic is down. Further analysis of economic trend data demonstrates no significant impacts on the London economy.
This report critically evaluates the methods used to evaluate traffic congestion costs and the benefits of various congestion reduction strategies. Download the full report.
Transportation pricing reforms can increase safety in addition to other effects due to decreased driving. Download the report.