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Non-Toll Pricing—A Primer

Photo. Nighttime view of the West Side Highway and downtown Manhattan, including the Hudson River. Image shows a steady flow of traffic along the highway.

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 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, illustrate the multidisciplinary aspects and skill sets required to analyze and implement congestion pricing, and 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 the 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 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. Congestion pricing is not a complete plan of action. It has to be coordinated with other policy measures to maximize success.

Most forms of congestion pricing involve the levying of direct tolls on highway users in one form or another. This volume focuses on forms of congestion pricing that do not involve tolls but that are still aimed at creating more efficient pricing mechanisms for automobile use.

About This Primer Series

The Congestion Pricing Primer Series is part of FHWA’s outreach efforts to introduce the various aspects of congestion pricing to decision-makers and transportation professionals in the United States. The primers are intended to lay out the underlying rationale for congestion pricing and some of the technical issues associated with its implementation in a manner that is accessible to non-specialists in the field. Titles in this series include:

  • Congestion Pricing Overview.
  • Non-Toll Pricing.
  • Technologies That Enable Congestion Pricing.
  • Technologies That Complement Congestion Pricing.
  • Transit and Congestion Pricing.
  • Economics: Pricing, Demand, and Economic Efficiency.
  • Income-Based Equity Impacts of Congestion Pricing.