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Report on the Value Pricing Pilot Program Through April 2012

Accelerating Congestion Pricing Implementation: The Urban Partnership Agreements and the Congestion Reduction Demonstration Program

In May 2006, the DOT announced the National Strategy to Reduce Congestion on America's Transportation Network, also known as the "Congestion Initiative." The intent of the initiative was to demonstrate a variety of innovative but proven strategies that could provide relief to traffic gridlock if more widely practiced. The UPA/CRD programs resulting from the Congestion Initiative were designed to encourage more aggressive, broad-scale pricing approaches. In each program, multiple sites around the U.S. were awarded funding for implementation of congestion reduction strategies. In total for these two competitive programs, over three-quarters of a billion dollars in grants were awarded to six cities: Miami, Minneapolis/St. Paul, San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. (Although New York City was initially awarded a UPA grant, the city was unable to meet the terms of their agreement and therefore exited the program.)

SOME UPA/CRD HIGHLIGHTS

  • The Seattle project implemented performancebased pricing on all lanes of a highway facility (SR-520), a ground-breaking first in the country.
  • San Francisco implemented an innovative variably priced parking program that has become the focal point of public parking agencies throughout the U.S.
  • Atlanta's I-85 Express Lanes project has converted an existing HOV 2+ facility that was heavily congested in the peaks to HOT 3+, providing a reliable trip for drivers and extensive new transit service in the corridor.

The UPA and CRD programs focus on using four complementary and synergistic strategies to relieve urban congestion: tolling, transit, telecommuting, and technology. For example, the Minnesota I-35 West project combined congestion pricing and active travel demand management to implement priced dynamic shoulders(14). As a result, the UPA/CRD programs represent successful collaboration between offices of several DOT agencies, including the FHWA Office of Operations, Federal Transit Administration (FTA), and The Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office (ITS JPO). These are multimodal programs for which FHWA and FTA have taken the lead. The RITA is responsible for the national evaluation that is assessing the impacts of the UPA/CRD projects in a comprehensive and systematic manner across all sites.

Summary of UPA/CRD Strategies by Site

Variable Parking Pricing in San Francisco

This project was officially deployed in April 2011. Unlike its UPA/CRD peers, the San Francisco SFpark project focuses on managing on- and off-street parking in the city. It comprises two key components: providing better, real-time parking information (such as through applications on smart phones, as shown in Figure 6) and implementing demand-responsive pricing. In the project's eight pilot areas, parking sensors and meters with a credit card payment option were installed for 7,000 spaces. Meter pricing varies by time of day (3 hour increments) and by block. To date (April 2012), rates have been changed five times for on-street meters; they can go up or down by 25 cents an hour, down by 50 cents an hour if a block is particularly empty, or remain unchanged. Rates have gone up in approximately one third of locations, down in one third, and have remained the same in one third. An initial revenue evaluation of SFpark showed that more parking revenue is coming from meter payments rather than ticket payments in the pilot areas. This may suggest that the new credit card option has made payment easier, so customers are more likely to pay and avoid a parking citation. In addition, although increased revenue is not the primary goal of the project, the new meters are generating approximately 11 percent more net revenue than meters that were not upgraded.

"San Francisco is proud to be the first city in the world to bring together demand-responsive pricing and real-time information about where parking is available to help reduce circling, double parking, and congestion."

— Ed Reiskin
Director of Transportation, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA)

Figure 6 displays the SFpark Mobile Application on a smart phone (Source: Jay Primus, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency)
Figure 6. SFpark Mobile Application (Source: Jay Primus, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency)

In 2011, San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Coalition (MTC) began to require their employees to pay for parking in order to send a message of "equal standards" to the public. In April 2011, they launched a formal and extensive marketing campaign centered on an identifiable SFpark brand to convey the message that availability of parking, and not turnover rate at parking spaces, is the primary goal of the project. The extensive effort put into this campaign may have contributed to the fact that over the course of five rate changes, San Francisco MTC has received zero complaints. In 2012, a pay-by-phone service will be implemented, intensive monitoring and evaluation of the project will take place, and a proposal will be developed for expanding SFpark citywide.

An April, 18, 2012, editorial in the San Francisco Examiner gives clear approval of Sfpark, stating, "This demand-based pricing appears to be working. For instance, the agency recently announced that the average price at city-owned parking garages has dropped 95 cents since the SFpark rate changes began. For example, drivers can currently park all day at the Marina parking garage on Lombard Street for $2 an hour or less, according to the transit agency. The hourly rate for other city-owned garages is higher, but this is a pricing model that makes sense — charging more for things that are in demand, and less for those that are not."

Full Facility Tolling on SR 520 in Seattle

This UPA/CRD project is unique in that it comprises full road tolling, which began December 29, 2011, on the existing four-lane SR 520 Bridge crossing Lake Washington. The facility is tolled by time of day, and toll revenue will fund the replacement of the SR 520 Floating Bridge. The project also includes electronic travel time signs on I-405, SR 520, and SR 522 directing drivers to the best route across Lake Washington, a "Smarter Highways" program on SR 520 and I-90 that providing drivers with variable speed limits and real-time driver information, and more than 130 daily bus trips across the SR 520 Bridge.

Although the facility opened for tolling only recently, there was a 35-40 percent overall decrease in traffic volume on SR 520 across 2 weeks of data and a 5-10 percent increase in volume on I-90 and SR 522(15), suggesting that, as the project intends, drivers are shifting their travel patterns onto alternate routes due to the toll. Similarly, during peak hours, traffic volume tends to increase approximately 15 minutes prior to increases in toll price, then drops off, again indicating that drivers are making travel decisions based on the tolls.

Although data has not been collected on changes in transit ridership, King County and Puget Sound Transit have estimated that ridership has increased 12-15 percent. Given that there was already an initial spike in ridership when the new bus service started in fall of 2010, this estimate suggests that another significant increase in transit use has occurred with the onset of tolling. More formal monitoring and evaluation of the SR 520 tolling, as well as its influence on future tolling in the region, will occur in 2012.

Express Lanes on I-85 in Atlanta

For this UPA/CRD project, an existing 16-mile stretch HOV2+ lanes on I-85, one in each direction, was converted to HOV3+ express lanes. The lanes operate 24/7, and carpools with three or more riders, buses, emergency vehicles, motorcycles, and vehicles with alternative-fuel vehicles license plates can use the lane for free, while single occupant drivers and two person carpools pay a dynamically priced toll, which began on September 30, 2011. Since opening, the number of trips per day on the express lanes has increased from 3,200 to 12,000, and the number of registered "Peach Pass" transponders for using the express lanes has increased from 75,000 to 127,000.

"Priced managed lane methodology has been adopted by Georgia DOT Board leadership as the primary mechanism to address congestion on the metro Atlanta interstate system. The UPA/CRD grant has provided a broad partnership in the metropolitan area to foster positive congestion management options."

— Darryl D. VanMeter, P.E.,
GDOT State Innovative Program Delivery Engineer

Like the other UPA/CRD express lanes projects, the Atlanta project has a transit component, bringing online 36 new Xpress commuter coach buses and 2,200 new spaces in park-and-ride lots along I-85, as well as 45 new commuter coach buses and 5,000 spaces in parkand-ride lots in the remainder of the region. Transit ridership increased 7 percent only a month after tolling began. Because the I-85 express facility opened relatively recently, ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the project will occur throughout 2012. Because of this monitoring effort, initial public acceptance problems with the project were overcome through adjustments to the pricing levels and the public notification process related to when the various pricing levels will occur.

Express Lanes on I-35W in Minneapolis/ St. Paul, MN

Building on the success of the MnPASS lanes already implemented on I-394 (previously funded under the VPPP), MnDOT pursued a UPA/CRD project to add MnPASS facilities to I-35W as well. The existing HOV lanes on I-35W from Burnsville Parkway to I-494 were extended, converted to express lanes, and opened to travelers with MnPASS transponders in September 2009. A 2-mile MnPASS extension south beyond the I-35E split opened in November 2010.

"Minnesota has benefited greatly from the VPPP. The program provided important resources to conduct project planning and outreach that was critical to winning public acceptance. Successful implementation of the first project directly led to successful implementation of value pricing in our UPA project."

— Ken Buckeye,
Minnesota DOT

The dynamically priced HOT lanes are in operation from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. in the northbound direction and from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the southbound direction. Carpools with two or more people, vanpools, buses, and motorcycles continue to use the lanes for free. The MnDOT has the distinction of being the first agency in the country to operate a priced dynamic shoulder lane (PDSL). The PDSL opened to travelers on September 28, 2009, and operates northbound on I-35W from 46th Street to downtown Minneapolis from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. The lane is open to the same user groups as the HOT lanes. The PDSL reverts to a shoulder at other times.

About 3,000 customers per day use the I-35W MnPASS facilities, shown in Figure 7, generating approximately $100,000 per month in revenue. Enforcement has been a success story of the I-35W project: while the violation rate on the existing HOV lane was 40 percent, it has dropped to under 8 percent. The primary selling point for MnPASS is reliability. During the morning peak period, a trip on the general purposed lanes on I-35W northbound can easily take 6-8 minutes longer than a trip in the MnPASS lanes; however, because the variability of travel time in the general purpose lanes is so much greater, the trip time could differ by 20-25 minutes.

Figure 7. shows an image of the Express Lanes on I-35 W (Source: Minnesota DOT)
Figure 7. Express Lanes on I-35 W (Source: Minnesota DOT)

In addition, the urban partners initiated several transit-related improvements, including the addition of 27 new express buses on the Marq2 bus route, which features side-by-side bus-only lanes for faster trips through downtown, and traveler information technologies such as electronic messaging for bus arrival and park-and-ride space availability. A lane guidance system for shoulder-running buses was deployed on Cedar Avenue. The system includes lateral-guidance assistance, collision avoidance, and automatic vehicle location system technologies. There has been an 18 percent increase in ridership on the Marq2, and bus operating speeds have increased, resulting in 5-10 minutes in time savings. In addition, a total of 1,484 new parking spaces were added at four park-and-ride facilities, which are currently at 45 percent capacity and growing.

A unique aspect of this UPA/CRD project is eWorkPlace, a teleworking program that encourages employers to offer their employees the option of working remotely. Over 4,000 employees and 48 employees have signed up, saving 5,000 peak trips on I-35 and I-394 each week and an average of 55 minutes of time per teleworker, per week. Due to the success and popularity of eWorkPlace, the brand and services will be continued through Transportation Management Organization partnerships.

Express Lanes on I-95 in Miami

This Miami UPA/CRD project, also known as the "95 Express," uses a phased approach to convert a single HOV lane in each direction into dual express lanes on 21 miles of I-95 from Fort Lauderdale to downtown Miami. The project developed out of the "Proposed I-95 Managed Lanes Comprehensive Traffic and Revenue Study," a feasibility and investment-grade traffic and revenue study funded through the VPPP and conducted for Florida DOT (FDOT) from 2005-2006. Based on this study, FDOT worked with transit partners to develop a plan to reduce congestion and provide more travel options in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, which in turn evolved into the I-95 Express Lanes project. The project is being implemented under two construction contracts in three phases. Under Phase 1A, the northbound direction of the southern segment of the HOT lane project (from downtown Miami to Golden Glades) opened to traffic in early December 2008. Under Phase 1B, the southbound direction of the same segment was opened to traffic in early January 2010. Under Phase 2, the northern segment from Golden Glades to I-595 will be constructed. It is scheduled to open to traffic in 2012. The toll can range from $0.25 during off-peak times when the facility is not subjected to high demand to $7.10 in cases of severe congestion, but in FY 2011 the average peak period toll was $1.70 in the southbound express lanes and $2.25 in the northbound express lanes. The 95 Express project combines tolling, transit, technology, and telecommuting components together to effectively reduce congestion and improve the reliability of travel on I-95, particularly during the weekday rush-hour periods.

Figure 8hows an image of the 95 Express Bus (Source: Florida DOT)
Figure 8. 95 Express Bus (Source: Florida DOT)

Early reports indicate that, since its opening, the 95 Express facility has had a dramatic, positive effect on travel in South Florida. During the morning peak period, average speed in the southbound express lanes has increased to 62 mph from 20 mph before the project opened, and during the evening peak, average speed in the northbound express lanes has increased to 56 mph from 18 mph before the project opened. In addition, the average peak period speed in the general purpose lanes has more than tripled southbound and more than doubled northbound. The reliability of the facility has increased as well; the speed is above 45 mph 100 percent of the time in the southbound express lanes and 92 percent of the time in the northbound express lanes. As of February 2012, the I-95 Express lanes were generating $1.3 million per month, which is 115 percent of the projected amount.(16)

The scope of the 95 Express project extends beyond the conversion of HOV to express lanes. It also includes improved ITS monitoring and incident management capabilities, ramp metering, and bottleneck elimination. There is a significant transit component to the project as well: 23 new express buses have been added, and three new BRT routes were added in January 2010. Since February 2008, the average number of peak period transit riders has increased from 1,800 to 4,600, and is continuing to grow. Lastly, the project team has conducted outreach for express lane users to register for 3+ carpools, and over 2,200 carpools have registered as of February 2012. The project also won the Intelligent Transportation Society of America Award for Best Innovative Practices in Marketing and Outreach in 2011.

Express Lanes on I-10 and I-110 in Los Angeles

This project will convert 25 miles of existing HOV lanes to express lanes on two heavy traffic corridors in Los Angeles. Construction began in July 2011, and the express lanes are scheduled to open on I-110 in fall 2012 and on I-10 in 2013. Express lane users will have a switchable FasTrak transponder to set their vehicle occupancy before starting their trip, and tolls will range from 25 cents per mile to $1.40 per mile based on traffic demand.

Transit service on the I-10 and I-110 corridors will be expanded as well. In June 2011, the enhanced Silver Line Bus Rapid Transit service on I-110 was launched, and ridership increased 39 percent by February 2012. In addition, a transit and carpool/vanpool loyalty program was implemented in December 2011 that offers rewards to frequent transit riders on the express lanes and to registered carpools/vanpools.

UPA/CRD Lessons Learned

The UPA and CRD programs have provided valuable lessons learned in the areas of communications and outreach, back office and technology integration, and equity.

Communications and Outreach

All of the UPA/CRD sites have learned the important role effective communication plays in successful project planning, construction, and implementation whether in the form of communication with the media, the public, politicians, or other transportation agencies.

In San Francisco, the SF park team engaged the communities where the pilot would take place before it was implemented so that they were familiar with and prepared for the project before it started. They also conducted an intensive outreach campaign with a very visible, recognizable SFpark brand and image.

Due to effective community outreach, SFpark has received zero complaints over the course of three rate changes.

The Los Angeles project team tempered negative responses regarding the project by offering carpool/vanpool and transit reward programs that incentivize drivers to use these modes of transportation. The FTA distinguished the project team's public outreach plan as a model for other agencies.

In Seattle, the project team partnered with the media from the early phases of the project to help the media write the story to the public, explaining that it would take several months for driver behaviors to adjust and that data would be collected and made publicly available. Because of these early actions, the media was more restrained when the project opened and did not jump to premature conclusions about whether or not the project was a success. +

The Atlanta project team discovered the value of a good relationship with the media after the project was implemented. They recognized that traffic reporters have an effect on the use of the I-85 express lanes. If a reporter tells drivers that the price of the lanes is worth the estimated travel time savings on a particular day, traffic in the lanes will increase. Thus, the project team found it valuable to establish a relationship of trust with local traffic reporters by explaining the logic behind the changing rates.

When faced with political resistance to the MnPASS concept, the Minneapolis/St. Paul UPA/CRD project team learned the importance of communicating not only with the general public, but with politicians. By presenting data and a coherent, persuasive argument to the elected official who wanted to end the MnPASS program, the project team was able to shift his opinion, and the team is now better prepared to interact with all levels of the public.

The last communicative relationship the UPA/CRD sites have come to value is the one they have with their peers. For example, the Atlanta and Los Angeles project teams have engaged in peer exchanges so that Los Angeles can learn from the successes and pitfalls experienced in Atlanta.

The Miami project team has been able to pass their ideas and experiences onto other transportation agencies within their own State, and the success of the UPA/CRD project there has prompted initial plans to determine if a similar express lanes concept could be expanded throughout southern Florida.

Back Office and Technology Integration

Several of the UPA/CRD projects involved significant technological and administrative undertakings for the implementing agencies. The Atlanta project team learned the true extent of hands-on, everyday oversight necessary to manage express lanes. They realized that having a tolling operations center in place to monitor toll rates and incidents is an extremely important component of an express lanes facility. Despite the complexity of the project and the effort required, the team discovered that the cost-benefits of converting lanes rather than building new roadways far outweighs any administrative challenges.

Similarly, the San Francisco project team discovered that SFpark is essentially a complex IT undertaking. As such, it has required restructuring San Francisco MTC business processes, but it has become a better organized and better equipped organization because of it.

Equity

The six UPA/CRD projects have encountered different public responses related to equity. For most, it has not come up as a significant issue. The Miami project team points to the fact that speeds on the I-95 facility have increased dramatically both in the express lanes and the general purpose lanes, proving that congestion pricing benefits all drivers on I-95, both those who choose to pay and those who do not. However, in Los Angeles, social equity was a major challenge. In response, the project team developed innovative outreach strategies, such as transponder discounts for low-income users and transit and carpool/vanpool loyalty programs, so that low-income users do not feel like they are at a disadvantage. In addition, by expanding travel options, the UPA/CRD projects provide system equity. Travelers can weigh the costs and benefits of multiple transportation modes and can choose the method that works best for them on a particular day, at a particular time.

In Miami, speeds on the I-95 facility have increased dramatically both in the express lanes and the general purpose lanes, proving that congestion pricing benefits all drivers, both those who choose to pay and those who do not.

14 Priced dynamic shoulders on I-35 west allow transit and carpools use the shoulder for free and MnPASS customers can use the shoulder for a fee. The left shoulder is open to traffic, with overhead sign gantries indicating its operational status. When the general purpose lanes become congested, the shoulder is opened and the speed limit on the general purpose lanes is reduced.

15 Urban Partnership Agreement/Congestion Reduction Demonstration Peer Exchange Session, TRB Annual Meeting 2012, January 26, 2012.

16 Presentation given by Rory Santana, FDOT, at the December 15, 2011 FHWA-sponsored Webinar on Update of the Urban Partnership and Congestion Reduction Demonstration Programs, https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/ipd/revenue/road_pricing/resources/webinars/congestion_pricing_2011.htm.

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