Monday, September 26, 2005

Hampton Roads Looks (Again) At Congestion Pricing

The Virginian-Pilot writes today about a plan by VDOT to study congestion pricing as a way to lessen congestion on Hampton Roads interstates. The idea is pretty straightforward - tolls rise with the traffic count until people feel enough pain to change their travel plans, thus cutting the vehicle count etc.

Hampton Roads looked at this a couple of years ago as an option for improving traffic flow through its Downtown Tunnel, but the paper says the public outcry killed the plan. Hampton Roads Planning District Commission deputy director Dwight Farmer talked about this concept at a conference in Richmond earlier this month - he said the research showed that congestion pricing could chase away enough drivers to flatten out the peak period on the Berkeley Bridge.

Of course, Farmer says, people don't like paying tolls and getting nothing for it. Except, of course, that they are getting something. It's a hard sell.


At 8:22 AM, Blogger Jim Bacon said...

It's reassuring to see that Hampton Roads transportation planners are looking at policy options beyond the simple increase of transportation capacity. Congestion pricing will be unpopular, but any toll or tax will be unpopular. The fact is, this study represents a significant conceptual advance over other recommendations that collect tolls primarily for the purpose of raising revenues and building more roads. If tolls must be imposed to raise revenue, it only makes sense to structure them so as to dampen or redistribute demand.

The timing for congestion pricing could not be more propitious. The fact is, changing work patterns provide people with more flexibility than ever over when they drive to work. The rise of the "mobile workforce" -- workers equipped with cell phones, blackberries and networked, wireless laptops -- along with management philosophies to accommodate mobile workers, makes it increasingly practical for people to work at home, either all day long (telecommuting) or simply for an hour or two so they can drive to work later in the day.

In the article, Dwight Farmer notes that some 10 percent of all trips made during rush hour are errands not connected to commuting, which suggests that they could be deferred to different times of day. Let us hope that the study also takes into account the increased flexibility that comes with the mobile workforce.

At 8:50 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

I assume that you have information sufficient to know whether to commit to the toll when you still have an opportunity to bail out.

Most likely the bail out option will also be jammed. Do we then put another demand pricing scheme on that road? Why not just put the monitors everywhwere, and charge according to congestion levels. That way the government will know where we are at all times (National Security, you know).

Also those roads that cost the most per person or resident, you know, those scattered dysfuntional roads, will have the lowest tolls which will encourage more people to move there, until the roads use level comes up to average levels across the region.

Demand management isn't going to change the demand, but shift it to other times and places. Even if you avoid the toll entirely, this will not be without cost. Also such a plan will require an entire new bureaucracy to run it, and the funds to do that will come out of road construction and maintenance.

You now have two new levels of cost added to operating your city. Does this sound like a way to make us more competitive with global enterprises?

At 12:00 PM, Blogger Steve Haner said...

My understanding is you either see a sign annoucing the price before you commit to the road or it s a fixed time of day.

I'm not as down on this as Ray sounds, but of course the very idea of tolls at any level will infuriate all the drivers who have been told (and are being told so again by campaign after campaign) that there is plenty of money if you just stop wasting it, steal it from some other region of Virginia, or spend apparently unlimited general fund dollars...It wasn't too long ago that the way to get elected in Hampton Roads was to get the tolls off the roads.

At 10:19 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Don't misunderstand me, I'm not down on the idea at all. But as with many other ideas, I think it is worthwhile to consider the unintended consequences.

One way to do that is to follow the idea to its extremes. We already have rental car agencies and insurance companies that are studying or actually using the idea of using GPS systems to monitor and bill for sevices. Why not extend that to road use, and why restrict road pricing to congestion pricing? Price all the roads.

And look at all the other advantages, homeland security and crime tracking being just two. With perfect knowledge of where every vehicle is at all times you could eventually answer the question of whether scattered development causes congestion. You might even be able to use the info in traffic accident investigations.

Then of course there would be some juicy political scandals uncovered, as well.

If we are going to raise taxes, we might as well do it in a big way and make sure we catch all those nasty road users in the net.


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