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Congestion Pricing: A Primer on Institutional Issues

March 2013


United States Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration

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Contact Information: Wayne Berman at

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This document is disseminated under the sponsorship of the U.S. Department of Transportation in the interest of information exchange. The U.S. Government assumes no liability for the use of the information contained in this document. This report does not constitute a standard, specification, or regulation. The U.S. Government does not endorse products of manufacturers. Trademarks or manufacturers’ names appear in this report only because they are considered essential to the objective of the document.

Quality Assurance Statement

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) provides high-quality information to serve Government, industry, and the public in a manner that promotes public understanding. Standards and policies are used to ensure and maximize the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of its information. FHWA periodically reviews quality issues and adjusts its programs and processes for continuous quality improvement.

Table of Contents

Technical Report Documentation Page

The Primer Series and the Purpose of This Volume

Congestion Pricing Strategies
Types of Institutional Issues
Organization of the Primer




Planning Process

Public Involvement

Managing Costs and Revenues


Lessons Learned

References and Resources


The Primer Series and the Purpose of This Volume

States and local jurisdictions are increasingly discussing congestion pricing as a strategy for improving transportation system performance. In fact, many transportation experts believe that congestion pricing offers promising opportunities to cost-effectively reduce traffic congestion, improve the reliability of highway system performance, and improve the quality of life for residents, many of whom are experiencing intolerable traffic congestion in regions across the country.

Because congestion pricing is still a relatively new concept in the United States, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is embarking on an outreach effort to introduce the various aspects of congestion pricing to decision-makers and transportation professionals. One element of FHWA's congestion pricing outreach program is this Congestion Pricing Primer series. The aim of the primer series is not to promote congestion pricing or to provide an exhaustive discussion of the various technical and institutional issues one might encounter when implementing a particular project; rather the intent is to provide an overview of the key elements of congestion pricing, to illustrate the multidisciplinary aspects and skill sets required to analyze and implement congestion pricing, and to provide an entry point for practitioners and others interested in engaging in the congestion-pricing dialogue.

The concept of tolling and congestion pricing is based on charging for access and use of our roadway network. It places responsibility for travel choices squarely in the hands of the individual traveler, where it can best be decided and managed. The car is often the most convenient means of transportation; however, with a little encouragement, people may find it attractive to change their travel habits, whether through consolidation of trips, car-sharing, by using public transportation, or by simply traveling at less-congested times. The use of proven and practical demand-management pricing that we freely use and apply to every other utility is needed for transportation.

The application of tolling and road pricing to solve local transportation and sustainability problems provides the opportunity to solve transportation problems without federal or state funding. It could mean that further gas tax, sales tax, or motor vehicle registration fee increases are not necessary now, or in the future. The idea of congestion pricing is a conceptual first step, not a complete plan of action. It has to be coordinated with other policy measures and environmental measures for sustainability.

Institutional issues provide challenges to implementing congestion pricing strategies. This primer explores the types of institutional issues that are commonly encountered with priced roadway lanes and parking pricing programs. These include the up-front challenges of establishing leadership, meeting legislative requirements, and setting an organizational structure. Once these challenges are overcome, there are numerous institutional issues related to the planning process, public involvement and implementation procedures. These topics are examined with the insights gained from case study applications around the United States and Europe.


Congestion Pricing Strategies

There are five main types of congestion pricing strategies aimed at shifting travel demand away from peak period travel and/or to alternative travel modes:

  • Priced lanes: Variable or dynamically priced tolls on separated lanes within a highway, such as express-toll lanes or high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes.
  • Tolls on entire roadways: Tolls on roads or bridges, including tolls on existing toll-free facilities during rush hours
  • Zone-based (area or cordon) charges: Either variable or fixed charges to drive within or into a congested area within a city.
  • Area-wide charges: Per-mile charges on all roads within an area that may vary by level of congestion.
  • Parking Pricing: Use of parking pricing to modify travel behavior in terms of schedule, mode, and/or location. Can also include a range of parking cash-out policies in which cash is offered to employees in lieu of subsidized parking

Most congestion pricing strategies have some common objectives, such as managing peak period traffic demand and encouraging use of alternative modes. However, there are some notable differences in the strategies that have bearing on the institutional issues. Some of these differences are highlighted below.

  1. Priced lanes – Most applications of priced lanes are in the form of HOT lanes on freeways.1 These facilities are typically under the control of a State department of transportation (DOT) or a toll authority, resulting in relatively clear lines of authority in terms of planning, design, and operation. In addition to the toll-paying drivers, users of the HOT lanes typically include transit agencies, carpool/vanpools, and emergency vehicles. These users may have different objectives than those of the implementing agency. The advent of Public Private Partnerships (P3) has also introduced the private sector into the mix. To date, HOT lanes have been implemented in selected freeway corridors. Expansion into HOT lane systems begins to expand the institutional complexities.
  2. Zone-based pricing – The only examples of zone-based pricing are outside of North America. Typical applications are cordon-pricing around a city center. While one agency may have overall responsibility for the project, there are typically many other agencies involved, since the project affects a large number of roadway facilities and services. The private sector (e.g. businesses, residences) become active participants especially at the boundaries of the zone.
  3. Parking pricing – The parking pricing strategies examined in this primer focus on government agencies adjusting on- and off- street parking prices to influence the timing and location of parking within a city. As such, the institutional issues tend to be focused within the city, including its interactions with private-sector parking operators and affected businesses.

Types of Institutional Issues

Implementing congestion pricing projects requires a combination of good planning, proven technical capabilities, and reliable day-to-day operations. Equally important is the ability to work through the myriad of institutional issues that can arise at any point in the process. Congestion pricing projects are different from many other transportation projects: they represent a new way of managing travel demand; they require daily, hourly, or even constant monitoring; and they deal explicitly with money. All of these factors produce an inordinate amount of attention by decision-makers, the media, and the public.

A tolled bridge over a seattle waterway. Photo source: Washington State DOT.
Photo source: Washington State DOT

This primer will explore the range of institutional issues that have arisen on congestion pricing projects throughout the United States and Europe. These issues were examined through a variety of sources: interviews with practitioners, an FHWA-sponsored webinar, and a peer exchange.2 Through this research, the institutional issues primarily fit into the following types:

  • Leadership – Project champions, roles and responsibilities
  • Legislative – Enabling legislation, political structure
  • Organization – Internal and external structures, interagency agreements
  • Planning Process – Setting objectives, agency coordination, setting policies, developing the plan
  • Public Involvement – Outreach strategies, gaining public support, marketing
  • Managing Costs and Revenues – Cost sharing, allocation of revenues
  • Implementation – Construction and roll-out, day-to-day operations

While many of these issues are broadly applicable to the wide range of congestion pricing strategies, some are more unique to a particular strategy. This primer focuses on issues as they relate to three strategies: variably priced lanes, zone-based charges, and parking pricing (except parking cash-out) strategies. These three are not intended to be all inclusive, but represent a broad array of congestion project types and institutional issues. The first variably priced fully tolled facility (i.e. SR 520 bridge in Seattle) is also examined in the context of the other pricing strategies.

Organization of the Primer

This primer is organized by the seven institutional issue types, with a section dedicated to each issue. Each section provides insights into how dealing with the respective issue directly within the project development process can lead to a more successful congestion pricing project. Each section also provides several strategy-specific examples illustrating how the issue has been handled in existing congestion pricing projects. The examples are color-coded by strategy as follows:

Priced lanes examples will be in dark green, zone-based pricing examples will be in yellow, and parking pricing examples will be in light green

The primer concludes with a section on Lessons Learned, summarizing the key points identified for each institutional issue.


A common theme among congestion pricing projects is the need for strong leadership to move the project from planning through design and into implementation. Because of the new and often controversial nature of congestion pricing in a community, the typical constituencies that support transportation projects may not be mobilized to move such projects ahead.

Leadership is manifested in two primary ways:

  • Finding a Project Champion
  • Developing strategic alliances

Leadership in the form of a Project Champion can help make the congestion pricing scheme effective. For roadway pricing projects, support is needed at both the political level and at the State DOT level. The project champion may often be a political leader; in some cases, leadership from major business groups can influence the project. A champion will typically be focused on the specific geographic application of congestion pricing (e.g. a HOT lane) and have a vested interest in its success. The project team can design the congestion pricing project to meet the project objectives, but the champion can keep the process moving ahead.

As discussed below, champions are also needed at the legislative level to ensure that sufficient enabling authority is provided to make the congestion pricing project a reality.

In addition to the project champion, forming strategic alliances can allow consistent messaging of project objectives and benefits. The project team or leader can develop relationships with all of the key political and implementing organizations so that there are few or no surprises. These organizations might include local and State DOTs, tolling authorities, transit agencies, and other operating authorities. Federal partners are also important on projects involving Federal-aid highways and/or Federal funding. Ideally, all agencies should seek to have the same priority with goals aligned among the organizations.


The legislative process forms the basis for proceeding with a congestion pricing project. Laws in many States (and cities) are silent on how to accommodate pricing within the transportation system. Agencies can plan all they want, but enabling legislation is usually required to move ahead with any congestion pricing project. This legislation defines the political structure within which the congestion pricing project can evolve.

"There WILL be a legislative issue. Everyone encounters it some way or the other" (Minnesota Experience)

The operative word for gaining legislative support is "trust." Typically the sponsoring agency, for example a State department of transportation, needs to find support with key legislators, who must be able to trust that the project will be a success. This can be a "chicken-and-egg" situation. There are no guarantees of success, so the agency should choose its projects with an eye towards minimizing risk and maximizing the likelihood of success.

Good enabling legislation should provide clear authority among agencies and, if applicable, private parties. It should answer the question "who has control?" over decisions that need to be made throughout the project's evolution. Depending on the level of trust with the legislature, there may be more or less control given to the implementing agencies. Enabling authority doesn’t necessarily mean that legislatures are willing to relinquish control.

The enabling authority should also help to define the purpose of applying pricing. For example, there is an inherent difference in toll structure if the objective is to maximize revenue rather than to manage traffic flow. Gaining some clear intent from the legislature can assist in designing a congestion pricing project that will meet political expectations.

There is substantial variation in political structures among regions in North America. The differences are more disparate when comparing North America to Europe, where most of the zone-based congestion pricing projects have been implemented.

In general, there are few international reference points from which the United States can obtain relevant lessons learned. However, as shown in the text box above, the successes of zone-based programs in London and Stockholm offer some perspectives.

Most regions have looked to define agency and political roles to avoid infighting. The biggest political concern seems to be "Who is going to be able to control the key decisions?" Some of this concern stems from the trust issue described previously. Agencies that have made realistic promises about congestion pricing impacts have helped to develop additional trust with political bodies.


The implementation of congestion pricing projects often requires a different organizational structure than typically found in State DOTs and municipal governments. The introduction of a pricing mechanism means that revenues must be collected and distributed. Organizational issues include the degree of agency cooperation, structure and staffing, and the development of interagency agreements.

As previously stated, defining clear agency responsibilities facilitates a clean organizational structure. For priced managed lanes, agencies new to tolling must set up a tolling organization either within the State DOT or in the form of a separate toll agency. When private companies are involved, establishing clear responsibilities is essential to ensure that the public and private staff can work together as a team. For zone-based pricing, various State, regional, and/or municipal governments can be involved. Conversely, parking pricing is typically controlled by a municipal government, so the organization is more defined.

Organizations that can speak with one voice fare better in policy discussions with decisionmakers and the public. The complexities of congestion pricing projects can be smoothed out by having a clear message that is echoed by all of the parties involved. This can be achieved by educating the project team on the objectives of the project. If this is done early in the project planning phase, it will help to create a cohesive external project message and also keep the project team focused on the most important project needs.

A successful congestion pricing organization establishes an internal structure that involves the right people. This includes defining an internal group set apart from normal departments that is focused on the congestion pricing project. Since pricing projects are often multidisciplinary, agencies with internal departmental "silos" can face challenges associated with having the right staff involved at the right times. For example, accounting and finance staff are usually in different departments, and may not have normal lines of communication with transportation staff. Assigning the right staff from various departments to the congestion pricing team will help to break down the organizational silos. To facilitate cross-department coordination, some congestion pricing projects have developed specific line authorities among departments using internal agreements.

It is one thing to set up an organizational structure that looks good on paper. It is another to get the right people involved. Congestion pricing projects benefit from having staff who are committed to the project and who understand how the pricing of transportation facilities changes the dynamics of a transportation system. Part of this challenge is to form a team of professionals who recognize the need to become more "customer-focused" due to the introduction of toll transactions and additional questions generated by the public. Meeting this requirement may involve hiring or reassigning staff with customer skills into the congestion pricing team.

Many congestion pricing projects also involve close coordination between the implementing agency (e.g. State DOT) and transit providers. Buses may operate on the priced facility with special rules, which must be established up-front. In some cases, transit agencies might also be recipients of pricing revenues that will affect the delivery of bus services.

The private sector has become involved in congestion pricing projects through P3 agreements. Injecting private sector interests and personnel into a traditional public agency structure can lead to organizational challenges, as illustrated on the Virginia 495 Express Lanes project example (see text box on next page). One challenge with P3 projects is that public agencies do not negotiate like private sector firms. Internal public agency structures and legislative provisos can limit the latitude of staff to make agreements that fully maximize the public benefits of a congestion pricing project. It is important to understand these limits when developing the P3 agreements and setting up the public/private organizations that will design and implement the project.

One technique used to define the organization clearly is the agency agreement, which can either be intra- or inter-agency. This agreement can distinguish between the major funding and implementing organizations, and those partners who may have small but unique roles. In the case of priced managed lanes, several agreements may be needed throughout a corridor to deal with changing jurisdictional boundaries, or in the case of the Miami I-95 HOT lanes, changing transit providers.

Planning Process

In many ways, the planning process involved in implementing a congestion pricing project is similar to other major transportation projects: set the objectives early, include all affected groups, and assume the need for continual evaluation. Because of the newness of the congestion pricing concept, decisionmakers and the public appreciate having a clear set of objectives that the project is trying to achieve.

The various agencies and private partners may have competing objectives that should be resolved early in the planning process. For example, a State DOT may want a priced managed lane to generate sufficient revenue to cover operating costs along with some of the capital costs. The resulting performance standards could prioritize toll revenue over freeway operations. This objective may conflict with a transit agency's goal to ensure free-flowing travel (for buses) in the managed lane. Especially during the early HOV to HOT conversion projects, transit agencies operating on the HOV lanes tended to view the conversion to HOT lanes with different objectives than those of the implementing agency. Similarly, private funding partners typically want to make sure that they obtain a reasonable profit, an objective that may conflict with an implementing agency's goal to allow free travel for HOVs and transit, or to make sure that the lane(s) operate at a certain level of service. Successful priced roadway projects have involved all organizations throughout the process, including setting the project objectives/policies. Setting clear objectives is also important for zone-based and parking pricing programs, as illustrated in the text boxes on the following pages.

Once the objectives have been set, the challenge is to create a professional team based on essential disciplines to implement the planning process. For example, in Atlanta, the team was organized around the following functions: policy, finance, outreach, environmental, design, tolls, enforcement, and transit. Members working in each of these functions had specific roles within the planning process, but under the auspices of an overall team.

Several agencies cited the need for a systems approach to congestion pricing planning, even if the immediate plan is at corridor or subarea level. For example, some planning and design decisions (such as HOV eligibility definitions, toll rates, design treatments, and technology choice) might make sense for a single priced roadway corridor, but they may not make sense from a system perspective. In Northern Virginia, managed lanes evolved in different corridors with different HOV occupancy rules. As a result, the toll transponders include a 3-way switch to adapt to the different rules on I-495, I-395, and I-66. Some additional examples are provided below. Consistency and simplicity are good advice for planners to consider when planning for a congestion pricing program.

Once the initial planning is done and the project is close to implementation, the question remains "will the project be successful?" Developing a thorough before/after planning study to actually measure the results of the congestion pricing project can help to answer many of the lingering questions raised by the public and decisionmakers. Some of these results can include the extent to which the project achieved the institutional goals set early in the planning process. Reporting lessons learned will transfer knowledge and allow others to apply these lessons to new project applications.

Project evaluation doesn't need to wait until after the project is implemented. In Los Angeles, the I-10/110 project team conducted an internal lessons-learned workshop right after the preliminary engineering phase to address some serious policy and design issues. This self-evaluation helped the project team to refocus on the key project objectives and enabled them to proceed into the next phase in a positive manner.

One of the most important planning issues relates to traveler equity; specifically, income equity.3 The benefits of congestion pricing may not be distributed equally among all users, giving rise to the popular "Lexus Lane" perception. While research has shown that all income groups can receive benefits from congestion pricing projects and generally support the concept, the income equity issue is one that surfaces on almost every project. The planning process can help by identifying the impacts and benefits to each user group and design the project to maximize the benefits. For example, using a congestion pricing program to provide improved transit service can be a key to public acceptance and addresses many of the equity issues that arise. Other related strategies that can address the income equity issue include protections for low-income travelers, such as toll credits, exemptions, or other forms of monetary compensation.

Defining the pricing geographic area is an important congestion pricing planning issue. This is a particularly sensitive issue for zone-based pricing programs, where setting the pricing area boundaries defines who pays and who doesn’t (a person pays when they cross the boundary). In general, larger boundaries are preferred, since they affect a fewer number of local trips that stay within the boundary. Examples from London and New York are described in the text box on the next page.

The influence area is also important for roadway pricing projects, where planners should consider the diversion effects of the priced roadway on parallel freeway and arterial facilities. In Seattle, tolls were implemented in 2011 on the SR 520 bridge across Lake Washington. The toll resulted in a diversion of traffic to a parallel bridge (I-90) four miles away. In anticipation of these effects, the State is considering adding tolls to I-90 to balance the traffic demands and smooth the traffic congestion effects.

For parking pricing applications, creating a large enough parking pricing zone to avoid parking competition issues is a planning consideration. In the SF Park program, the zone includes most of downtown San Francisco, which comprises a large parking market.

Public Involvement

An inclusive public involvement plan can build support for congestion pricing projects. Public involvement requires a careful blending of informing and listening. There is a need for outreach to both decisionmakers and travelers, both of whom are dealing with a new transportation approach. Up-front education is important to articulate the objectives and benefits of the project in a way that is meaningful to the audience. The public outreach plan should try to reach out to all affected travelers, some of whom may only be occasional users of the congestion pricing scheme.

Since money is involved, the public will need to understand what they are receiving in exchange for paying a toll or paying more for a parking space. Similarly, decisionmakers need the same information to be able to explain the project to their constituents. Many congestion pricing projects also need to reach out to businesses that would either be affected by the pricing scheme (e.g., access to parking) or whose employees would need to pay for traveling to and from work.

Successful congestion pricing projects keep moving ahead. Given the newness of many congestion pricing strategies, most projects have found that it is important to persevere with the project message, even if there is not initial support. Setbacks can occur along the way, but keeping the momentum means that the project acceptance doesn't need to go back to zero if there is a failure. Minneapolis initially tried various ways to implement the MNPASS program, some with more success than others. Even with some early failures, MNDOT found that public understanding and support grew to a new plateau from which new initiatives could be launched. Once a project has crossed the basic threshold of success, there is an ongoing need to maintain and enhance the project messaging to keep the momentum building to avoid moving back to square one.

For decisionmakers who are unfamiliar with a particular congestion pricing strategy, agencies have used a variety of interactive tools—workshops, expert panels, peer exchanges, study tours—as a way to engage decisionmakers in the process. Knowing that a strategy has been successfully implemented elsewhere provides some assurance to a decisionmaker that it could also be achieved within their community or region.

Much like any strategy that involves payment of money, the initial perception of congestion pricing within a community may be negative. A natural political reaction can be to hold a public referendum to gauge the level of community support. As described below, the few regions (all in Europe) that have held public referendums on a congestion pricing scheme prior to implementation have given mixed reviews to that strategy. Typically the public doesn't understand enough about the congestion pricing objectives and potential benefits to weigh the tradeoffs versus the perceived individual costs.

The outreach strategies are ultimately aimed at creating a knowledgeable traveling public and gaining support. In addition to providing timely and ongoing information to the public, some projects have taken proactive steps to put mitigations in place before pricing starts. In San Diego, SANDAG committed to enhanced bus service in the I-15 corridor to start shortly prior to the beginning of the HOT lane project. Similarly, as part of the SR 520 toll bridge project in Seattle, WSDOT worked with the regional transit agency to initiate a substantial increase in express bus service within the SR 520 corridor for several months leading up to the start of bridge tolling. This created an expanded transit market and helped to reduce traffic diversion effects. In addition, WSDOT provided traffic mitigation funds to local agencies to assist in dealing with the expected traffic diversion.

Managing Costs and Revenues

Congestion pricing projects by their nature include revenues, either through tolls, fees, or parking charges. Proper accounting for these revenues, and how they will be spent, can play a major role in gaining public and agency support for the project. The interagency agreements previously discussed can be explicit regarding who will be paying, who receives the funds, and how the funds will be expended.

The other side of revenue is cost. Congestion pricing projects include a combination of capital costs and operating costs. Capital costs include the one-time costs for construction and equipment while operating costs cover ongoing staffing, administration, and maintenance expenses. Most congestion pricing project revenues are sufficient to cover most or all operating costs, but capital cost recovery is highly variable. This is especially true for HOV to HOT lane conversion projects, where the revenue stream is relatively low compared to the up-front capital cost to create the HOT lanes. As more multilane HOT facilities are being developed, there is potential to generate more toll revenue and the ability to offset more of the capital costs.

Funding is a major issue with public private partnership arrangements due to the intertwined nature of cost sharing vs. risk vs. revenues. Since many concessionaire contracts extend for 40 or more years, there is considerable risk involved for whichever party assumes the responsibility for covering project costs in the later years. If both parties share the same project objectives, there is a greater likelihood that costs and revenues will be equitably allocated.

Deciding how to allocate revenues often specifies who has control over the congestion pricing project. Situations that have arisen include the following:

  • Addressing potential revenue shortfalls during project ramp up. The Seattle SR 167 Express Lane and Atlanta I-85 projects identified the need to prorate revenue expectations to account for the likely slow build-up of priced lane demand. Both of these projects were the first HOT lanes implemented within their respective regions.
  • Decide how to handle cross-state toll payments. The Virginia I-495 Express Lanes are used by many travelers who reside in Maryland. One of the challenges the project has faced is how to obtain and allocate toll payments from Maryland drivers. Other priced lane projects also need to deal with out-of-state driver tolls and revenues.
  • Revenues are often legislatively mandated to be spent on tolled facility. Many states include legislative provisions that mandate that toll revenues be spent on the tolled facility or other specified roadways. As more priced roadways are implemented within a region, these mandates may limit some flexibility in spending the revenues that are generated.

Revenues in most congestion pricing projects have been used largely to offset the ongoing Operations and Maintenance costs. Where there are excess revenues, there is a desire to both keep the revenues close to home as well as distribute funds to benefit a large enough constituency. As previously discussed, spending some funds on improved transit creates agency and public support. This has been the case on the I-15 managed lanes in San Diego and in the London cordon pricing scheme. A portion of parking revenues in San Francisco are also spent on downtown transit enhancements.


Once the congestion pricing project has been planned and designed, it is time to start the project. Implementation addresses a number of topics, including construction and roll-out, day-to-day operations, contracting, and use of technology.

There is a natural tendency to roll out a project as soon as practical. This desire should be tempered by the need to ensure that the project will be as successful as possible. There aren’t too many opportunities to try again, so it is important to "get it right" when the project opens up.

"Getting it right" can lead agencies to gravitate towards implementing straightforward, non-controversial projects as their first foray into congestion pricing. By making one project a success, then other opportunities may arise.

Several congestion pricing projects have been marketed as pilot projects, sometimes with a sunset clause tied to the results of a detailed evaluation of its effectiveness. The SR 167 HOT Lanes in Seattle was marketed as a pilot test, with relatively low expectations given regarding revenue generation. That particular corridor had relatively low HOV usage and moderate freeway congestion, so its selection as an HOV-to-HOT conversion project was relatively low risk. Its performance success and general lack of controversy has helped to build support for HOT lanes in other regional corridors. In Atlanta, the I-85 Express Lanes were billed as a "first phase," not a "demonstration project." This approach was successful in giving the impression that the express lanes were something new but part of a broader regional strategy.

There are many decisions to make prior to opening a congestion pricing program. For priced roadways, one of the most important decisions is to create a pre-opening policy for exempt vehicles (e.g. bus, HOV, emergency vehicles). These decisions will have been made months before, during the project design, but should be carefully communicated to operating personnel. Enforcement responsibilities also need to be clearly articulated to the enforcement agencies to which the public will be looking to ensure the integrity of the priced facility.

Ahead of opening, any new technology should be thoroughly tested. In today's fast-paced technological world, there is a strong tendency to use the newest field equipment and computer systems to provide project efficiencies. In reality, technology may outstrip practicality (and public acceptability), so the provider must balance technical innovation versus risk taking. Other areas for full testing are the user interfaces such as toll accounting procedures. Establishing convenient user payment options is one step that can help build community trust in the project.

Implementing parties should coordinate the timing and magnitude of any mitigation (e.g. actions to minimize impacts of diversion), new facilities (e.g. express lane ramps, park-and-ride lots) and complementary services (e.g. transit, ridesharing). Ideally, these actions should take place concurrent with or before opening the congestion pricing project, to minimize the potential for negative reaction from travelers.

Once the project is up and running, the project team should closely monitor the daily operations. Flexibility is key in terms of being able to modify traffic management strategies or other actions in response to changing daily conditions.

Lessons Learned

Congestion pricing injects new challenges into implementing transportation projects. These challenges are found both internally within an agency and externally in the public and among outside partners. By its definition, congestion pricing uses monetary pricing to help manage the transportation system. A byproduct of this pricing is revenue, which attracts a number of constituencies who have good ideas for how they could spend the money. Many of the congestion pricing challenges fall into a broad category of "institutional issues," which have been explored in this primer. The following institutional issues tend to cut across the different types of congestion pricing projects: variably priced lanes, zone-based pricing, and parking pricing:
  • Strong leadership – The newness of congestion pricing and typical skepticism by the public puts the onus on a project champion to guide the project though planning, design and implementation. Leaders can emerge from the political, civic, or private-sector.
  • Clear authority – Most congestion pricing projects need some form of enabling legislation that should clearly identify who is in charge and what outcomes are expected. Clear authority is also needed within the project team.
  • Many Partners – Pricing brings many new players to the transportation scene, including private sector investors. Traditional agencies and these new partners must be melded into a cohesive team. The organization should be structured to fit the needs of the project, not vice versa.
  • Know the objectives – Agreeing to specific project goals and objectives up front in the process keeps everyone focused and creates a consistent message for the public and decisionmakers.
  • Educating the Public – The public knows they will need to pay for something new, but what will they get in return? Educating the public on the purpose of the pricing scheme and what benefits they can receive is crucial to gaining support.
  • Know where the Money is Going – Keeping the revenues "close to home" usually provides the most benefits to the people who are paying.
  • Get it Right – Money is involved and the public is unsure, so work out the technology, accounting, and design issues before turning on the switch.
  • Flexibility – There will likely be some crises with every project, but staying flexible helps to avoid surprises and allows for a more effective response.

These institutional issues point to a substantial shift in how traditional transportation agencies implement their projects. Suddenly, agencies now have many new "customers" who are using this new service. The move towards customer service requires a new organizational approach and a new type of leadership. As various types of congestion pricing projects continue to be deployed, organizations can build on the institutional ideas summarized in this primer to make their programs more successful.

References and Resources


  1. Federal Highway Administration. (2012, May). Contemporary Approaches to Parking Pricing: A Primer (FHWA Pub. No. FHWA-HOP-12-026). Washington, DC.
  2. Gudmundsson, Henrik et al. (2009, March). Framing the role of Decision Support in the case of Stockholm Congestion Charging Trial. Elsevier Transportation Research Vol 43A, Issue 3.
  3. Peters, Jonathan and Cameron Gordon. (2009, April). Results Not Guaranteed: A Tale of Road Pricing in New York and London. Journal of Urban Technology, 16:1,113-131.
  4. Schaller, Bruce. (2010, March) New York City's Congestion Pricing Experience and Implications for Road Pricing Acceptance in the United States. Elsevier Transportation Research Vol 17.
  5. Gordon, Cameron and Rich Flanagan. (2012, January). The Politics of Urban Congestion Pricing: Cautionary Tales from New York. Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting Compendium.


The following individuals were interviewed to discuss institutional issues related to specific congestion pricing programs.

Project Organization Persons Interviewed
Variably Priced Lanes
I-394, I-35W (Minneapolis, MN) Minnesota Department of Transportation Ken Buckeye
I-95 (Miami, FL) Florida Department of Transportation

Rory Santana

Jeff Weidner

I-495 Capital Beltway (Northern Virginia)

Virginia Department of Transportation

Transurban, Inc.

Malcolm Kerley

Ken Daley

I-15 (San Diego, CA) San Diego Association of Governments

David Schumacher

Sam Johnson

I-10, I-110 (Los Angeles, CA) Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Stephanie Wiggins
I-85 (Atlanta, GA) Georgia State Road and Tollway Authority Patrick Vu
Variable Tolls on Entire Roadways
SR 520 (Seattle, WA) Washington State Department of Transportation Jennifer Charlebois
Zone-based Charges
London and United Kingdom Leeds University Anthony May
London and New York City University of Canberra Cameron Gordon
New York City New York City Department of Transportation Tom Maguire
Stockholm and Gothenburg, Sweden WSP Group, Sweden

Dirk van Amelsfort

Karin Brundell-Freij

Parking Pricing
SF Park (San Francisco, CA) San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority Jay Primus

The FHWA Primer Contemporary Approaches to Parking Pricing (2012) provides additional insights into the complexities of implementing parking pricing programs, including examples from Seattle, New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, Ventura, CA and Aspen, CO.


The FHWA conducted a peer exchange in Washington, DC (May 2012) to discuss the range of institutional issues associated with a range of congestion pricing projects. The following professionals participated in the peer exchange.

Federal Highway Administration

  • Angela Jacobs
  • Wayne Berman
  • Alan Greenburg

Georgia State Road and Toll Authority

  • Patrick Vu

Florida DOT

  • Rory Santana

Los Angeles County MTA

  • Stephanie Wiggins

Bay Area MTC

  • Lisa Klein

New York City DOT

  • Bruce Schaller

San Francisco MTA

  • Jay Primus

Washington State DOT

  • Rob Fellows

Sound Transit (Seattle)

  • Jim Edwards

San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG)

  • Dave Schumacher

Minnesota DOT

  • Nick Thompson


  • Ken Daley

D'Artagnan Consulting

  • Jack Opiola


  • Myron Swisher

Fehr & Peers

  • Don Samdahl

1 The SR 520 bridge replacement project in Seattle is an example of a variable tolls being charged on an entire freeway facility. [ Return to note 1. ]

2 Refer to the references for a list of interviews and other background material. [ Return to note 2. ]

3 Refer to Federal Highway Administration, Income-Based Equity Impacts of Congestion Pricing, A Primer, December 2008. [ Return to note 3. ]

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