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Congestion pricing improves the quality of travel without requiring states or cities to raise taxes or undertake large, expensive capital projects. Public Domain
Traffic congestion has become a defining element of many U.S. cities. According to the 2018 annual report of most congested U.S. cities by transportation data firm INRIX Research, motorists lost 718 hours per person sitting in traffic, for a total cost of $33.7 billion, in just the combined top five metropolitan areas alone. The costs of congestion include increased fuel and vehicle operating expenses, lost productivity at work, less time engaging in leisure activities and growing freight costs passed on through higher consumer prices.The growing economic costs of congestion, coupled with mounting public frustration, have created new opportunities for critical discussion and solutions to the problem. At the forefront of new conversations are innovative congestion pricing strategies and increased participation across transportation modes. The time is right for discussions that holistically evaluate how innovative partnerships and multiple transportation modes can create coordinated mobility solutions that focus on more than individual corridors or passenger vehicles.Related: Report encourages cities to consider congestion chargingRegardless of the form it takes, congestion pricing presents the opportunity for broader regional approaches that use pricing to improve transportation equity, enhance urban mobility options and supplement other travel demand management solutions. Combined, these methodologies provide more choice and better service, with a focus on reliability and equity for all system users.Congestion pricing improves the quality of travel without requiring states or cities to raise taxes or undertake large, expensive capital projects.Congestion pricing improves the quality of travel without requiring states or cities to raise taxes or undertake large, expensive capital projects. By partnering with public transit agencies, a regional approach to mobility can be achieved with enhanced travel options. Congestion pricing strategies aim, in part, to reduce congestion by encouraging motorists to change their travel habits, either by driving at a different time of day or, with the availability of suitable transit or active transportation options, not to drive at all.The Federal Highway Administration points out that, as congestion pricing reduces delays, it also minimizes stress, increases the predictability of trip times, shortens incident response times for emergency personnel, allows more efficient land use, and is a greener and healthier approach to transportation.RELATED: Congestion cost Americans nearly $88 billion in 2019U.S. transportation agencies that employ congestion pricing typically dedicate the revenues they generate to operating and maintaining the priced corridors themselves. In some cases, congestion pricing generates sufficient revenue also to provide for debt service payments, transit improvements or supporting capital projects. Even when congestion pricing does not provide direct funding for transit services, it can benefit transit users by providing bus access to uncongested lanes. As a gridlock- mitigation strategy, congestion pricing enables a broad, collaborative mobility approach that offers advantages to everyone in a city’s core network.Technology considerations
Technology is foundational to the success of congestion pricing. A general best practice is to begin with technology that is already proven for revenue collection and with which customers already are familiar.As models change and technology advances, however, decision makers must evaluate systems and choose options that will both achieve their goals and serve users, now and into the future. Three primary factors that should guide the technology analysis include:
When customers are not using transponders, use of cameras to photograph license plates represents the state of the industry today. This technology has been deployed where early congestion pricing projects have been implemented.Future technologies include acquiring motorists’ information through a user’s smart phone-based GPS app, interfacing with a vehicle’s satellite radio and — as “connected” cars roll off the assembly line — direct reporting from vehicles to the agency’s roadside equipment when they drive into a congestion-priced area.
Transponders and license plate cameras can identify individual vehicles. Sensors can be placed in pavement to identify numbers of axles or installed above the roadway to detect vehicle sizes. Other solutions still being proven in the field include camera- and scanning-based technologies that identify vehicle size and numbers of axles. Sensor-equipped transponders continue to strive toward further accuracies to identify the number of occupants. And connected vehicles may one day replace many sensors by being able to accurately and securely report their types, sizes, numbers of axles and numbers of occupants.
Today, the state of the practice within the industry for enforcement is the use of cameras that photograph license plates, allowing agencies to work with departments of motor vehicles to identify registered owners of vehicles who don’t have — or purposely avoided using — transponders or any other voluntary product. While connected vehicles will one day report vehicle and responsible party information, reducing or eliminating the need to obtain this data from a DMV office and locate the owner, agencies must consider traditional options until the connected vehicle population is large enough.Besides the need for technology that helps agencies pursue payment, decision makers need to offer options that make it as easy as possible for people to pay. This may include standard monthly invoicing that allows “pay as you go” using connected credit cards, digital wallets and apps for online payments. Unbanked or underserved customers may require non-traditional alternatives, such as paying cash at a local grocery store or other retail outlets.The costs of congestion include increased fuel and vehicle operating expenses, lost productivity at work, less time engaging in leisure activities and growing freight costs passed on through higher consumer prices.Policy considerations
For decision makers, congestion pricing proposals require careful planning to minimize political barriers and ensure broad support. Policy considerations include:
Congestion pricing implementation For stakeholders, the idea of congestion pricing may pit the desire for less gridlock, faster travel times and more choices against drivers’ hesitancy to pay more to drive their cars. Recognizing that projects are more quickly accepted when they have minimal adoption requirements and everyone benefits, transportation leaders should consider implementing congestion pricing strategies with proven transportation technology like toll transponders. Decision-makers also must consider scalability and flexibility, especially as it relates to integration with future capabilities of evolving technologies.Transportation leaders should consider implementing congestion pricing strategies with proven transportation technology like toll transponders.Traffic is a constant headache in major U.S. cities. Congestion pricing as a strategy to address it will increasingly gain traction. Studies that evaluate its potential are the starting point for transportation leaders who want to consider the promise of congestion pricing in their regions. Studies should include:
Congestion pricing is a viable and proven solution to the traffic problems plaguing America’s largest cities. It can accommodate a coordinated approach to solving transportation mobility needs across modes so the solution benefits all users. It is a strategy that improves quality of life and the economic efficiency of transportation networks. John Barton, PE, is professional services chair and DOT market sector leader and sr. VP for HNTB. (firstname.lastname@example.org)Kimberly Slaughter is national transit/rail practice consultant and sr. VP for HNTB. (email@example.com)
© 2019 HNTB Companies. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission is prohibited.Keywordscongestion charging congestion pricing mobility public transit traffic congestion
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