Tagcongestion pricing

HOT lanes and equity

The following is extracted from a paper I wrote about I-15 Express Lanes (first phase in 1998) and Managed Lanes (second phase, still under construction). Read the paper, Implementing value pricing on a highway in Southern California.

Equity

Political support is necessary for any value pricing application. Mayor Jan Goldsmith’s story of political maneuverings gave that indication. Implementing value pricing is politically difficult to implement because of the high opposition from the public. This is because of the costs borne by the user. In the case of I-15 Express lanes, all users have the opportunity to use the express lanes if they ride the bus, a motorcycle, ride with a friend or coworker, or drive an exempt low-emission vehicle. There are several tollways around the United States and the world which don’t have a free alternative.

Weinstein and Sciara (2006) suggest that we should avoid defining whether or not the HOT lane concept is equitable, but instead how to address perceived equity issues. The pair have written two reports for planners who will potentially work on value pricing projects. Both reports are cited in this section.

It has been found in the I-15 Express lanes application that users who never use the express lanes, and only use the main lanes (free lanes) occasionally benefit from the lane shift of users to the Express lanes. (Supernak, et al. 1998)

Another concern is that low-income drivers, who cannot afford to pay for the express lanes, will disproportionately benefit high-income drivers (Weinstein and Sciara 2006, 179). This debate between rich and poor drivers has emerged under the title of “Lexus lanes”, but the arguments calling HOT lanes a fast lane for the wealthy are unfounded:

a. Users from all income groups use the express lanes on I-15 and find it fair. The final report’s (Supernak 1999) attitudinal survey found that within all income groups, a majority of respondents approved of the FasTrak tolling of solo drivers in the I-15 HOV lanes.

b. As a mitigation measure to this perception, the Express lanes operation is paid for entirely by toll revenue, which also pays for increased express bus service. Oddly, though, Calfee and Winston (1996) found that the way toll revenues are used does not affect commuters’ willingness to pay (WTP), suggesting that these two mitigation measures do not affect public perception.

Works Cited

Calfee, John, and Clifford Winston. “The value of automobile travel time: implications for congestion policy.” Journal of Public Economics 69 (1998): 83-102.

Supernak, Janusz, Jacqueline M Golob, Kim Kawada, and Thomas F Golob. “San Diego’s I-15 Congestion Pricing Project: Preliminary Findings.” Institute of Traffic Studies, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, 1998.

Weinstein, Asha, and Gian-Claudia Sciara. “Unraveling Equity in HOT Lane Planning: A View from Practice.” Journal of Planning Education and Research 26 (2006): 174-184.

Road pricing is more fair than other funding schemes

I’ve written several papers on congestion and road pricing*. The most common type seen in the United States is HOT (high occupancy tolling) lanes. This is where drivers can pay to use uncongested lanes; drivers who carpool may use the lane for free or at a discount. Transit buses can always use the lane for free.

From the University of California Transportation Center comes new research on paying for roads with congestion versus paying for roads with sales taxes and their respective burden on poor residents.

Will research show that more people will benefit from paying sales tax to support a transit system than from paying (all kinds of) taxes to support a highway?

Their finding is that funding transportation with sales tax is less fair than funding with congestion pricing. In the latest issue of Access, Lisa Schweitzer and Brian Taylor write:

This analysis has focused on one side of the ledger: the question of who pays. But transportation systems have both costs and benefits. Indeed, the access benefits of travel are transportation’s raison d’être. So while regressivity can be viewed as a cost of road pricing (and of most other ways of paying for roads), pricing confers transportation benefits that other transportation finance mechanisms do not. Tolls and taxes can both pay to build a road. But congestion pricing can also reduce traffic delays, fuel consumption, and vehicle emissions, often to a surprising degree. Sales tax finance for transportation, by comparison, does none of these things.

I think the appropriate direction of this research should next discuss and examine the fairness of using sales taxes to provide operational and capital funding for transit. In Chicagoland, the Regional Transportation Authority is partially supported by a local sales tax. While sales tax financing for road building may not reduce traffic delays, fuel consumption, or vehicle emissions, supporting a reliable, robust and expansive transit network can do all of those things by reducing the number of single occupant vehicles on the road.

*Here’s one I’ve written: Implementing value pricing on a highway in Southern California, which I excerpted in HOT lanes and equity.

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