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Effective Approaches for Advancing Congestion Pricing in a Metropolitan Region

4. Effective Practices for Integrating Congestion Pricing Into Metropolitan Transportation Plans

This section highlights effective practices and lessons learned for advancing planning for and implementing congestion pricing in a regional context.

Gaining Acceptance from Decisionmakers and the Public

Successful congestion pricing programs hinge upon gaining acceptance from elected officials and the public. Achieving acceptability requires effective communication with elected officials, travelers, residents, businesses and other stakeholders likely to influence decisionmakers. It also requires understanding and taking public acceptability concerns into account in the design of programs.

Some lessons learned from regional experiences with congestion pricing and tips from practitioners include the following:

Listen to public concerns and goals in the design of congestion pricing proposals. Communication should not be viewed simply as a matter of conveying pricing concepts to "sell" the concept or counter misconceptions; rather it should be considered one part of a broader engagement process between planners, public officials, decisionmakers, affected parties, and stakeholders active in the development of proposals that package pricing with multimodal investment and land-use policies. For instance, income equity impacts depend on how pricing programs are structured (e.g., how revenues are distributed and how non-toll driving options or other alternatives are enhanced). Thus, an open, responsive, and committed process should begin to incorporate these considerations in early planning and to persist through adoption and on to implementation and operation. It may be necessary to adjust program features and plans to address public reservations; e.g., in Minneapolis, proposed toll rates and time periods were altered in response to widespread public concern.

Communicate the role of congestion pricing in addressing critical problems. Public acceptance can be improved by directly tying the objectives of the congestion pricing program to addressing a severe regional problem such as a funding crisis, severe congestion problems, or sustainability concerns, as a potential long-term solution. Communications should be explicit about the benefits (e.g., improvements in transit, time, mobility, and travel choices) and the value proposition for different stakeholder groups. If possible, for managed lane networks, provide guarantees for travel times or speeds so that travelers perceive the benefit they are paying for and understand that the lanes offer an additional travel choice.

Understanding Public Acceptability

In the Washington, DC region, to manage high levels of congestion, a number of congestion pricing projects are currently under development, including HOT lanes in Virginia, a project that has been in operation for a little more than 6 months. In addition, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) is conducting a public acceptability study for three future pricing scenarios:

  1. A variably priced Mileage Based User Fee (MBUF);
  2. A variable toll on existing capacity; and
  3. A cordon charge.

The MPO is focusing on strategy bundles that combine pricing with other measures not only to reduce congestion and increase reliability but also to raise revenues and improve quality of life.

Source: Presentation by John Swanson, MWCOG, at FHWA Congestion Pricing Workshop, Washington, DC, September 15, 2011.

Include congestion pricing in a bundle of strategies aimed at meeting regional goals. Acceptability of congestion pricing can be enhanced by bundling it with other strategies, such as increased transit service. Some areas have found it beneficial to invest the net revenues from the congestion pricing program in transit and make the case that the transit operations on the facility can be improved along with improving congestion. If some revenues are dedicated to transit, some equity concerns can also be mitigated.

Address equity and fairness concerns directly. Given the very real concerns about the equity impacts of congestion pricing, explore these issues using data to help inform the discussions. In addition, directly address these concerns through program design; for example:

  • Showing data on how sales taxes and gas taxes can be more regressive than congestion pricing.
  • Providing multimodal alternatives through improved transit service or incentives to carpool/telecommute. For instance, in the Dallas region, transit buses run free on managed lanes and the MPO reimburses vanpools that use the managed lanes.
  • Offering tolling discounts. For instance, In the San Francisco Bay Area, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) offers toll discounts to low-income travelers. In response to concerns about equity in Minneapolis/St. Paul, toll rates were lowered and half of the revenues were directed toward transit enhancements.

Demonstrating Value to the Traveling Public

In the Twin Cities region, planners demonstrated that over the next 20 years, the region could build 2-3 large, costly projects and bring a small amount of localized benefit or could build many smaller, geographically dispersed projects with lower cost/higher benefit. This message resonated, especially when the public could see the potential benefits in their neighborhoods. Consequently, the region has 300 miles of bus-only shoulders as part of an overall strategy for managing and operating infrastructure.

The primary focus of congestion pricing in the Twin Cities is congestion and demand management, and pricing has been presented as an additional option for travelers. To maximize benefits while reducing costs, the region uses a Flexible Highway Strategy to maximize the use of existing space without purchasing additional Right of Way (ROW). This approach has garnered support from land use, transit, and livability advocates.

Source: "New Highway Approach: Twin Cities Metropolitan Area," Presentation by Carl Ohrn, Metropolitan Council, at FHWA Congestion Pricing Workshop, September 13, 2011.

To address concerns about geographic equity, strategies may include:

  • Adopting a regional approach to pricing and returning revenues to jurisdictions or corridors where revenues are collected.
  • Using revenues to benefit those who pay, such as through supporting highway maintenance, implementation of road improvements, or improving public transportation in the corridor.
Attempt short-term pilot and demonstration projects. Planning, getting support, and implementing congestion pricing can take a long time and proceeds incrementally. However, incremental implementation can help to prepare constituents for subsequent phases of pricing.

Introducing congestion pricing to the public as a pilot program can be a success factor for acceptability, as in Los Angeles, where L.A. Metro will complete a pilot run of the Express Lanes and report results to the State legislature after one year of implementation.

Mitigating Equity Impacts

L.A. Metro analyzed mode shares by income segment with the help of experts at University of California at Los Angeles and the Environmental Defense Fund and found that the bulk of low-income travelers were already on transit. Funding transit with toll revenues is therefore a way to mitigate equity impacts. On both the I-10 and I-110 projects:

  • Tolls are funding BRT station improvements and transit signal priority in downtown L.A. after buses get off express lanes.
  • Toll credits will be provided to frequent transit riders.
  • L.A. Metro provided a one-time $25 toll credit to purchase a required transponder to avoid the burden on low income people.

Source: "Metro Express Lanes," Presentation by Stephanie Wiggins, Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority, at FHWA Congestion Pricing Workshop, September 15, 2011.

Allowing users to try out a new system during a pilot project can help them become more familiar and comfortable with a congestion pricing system and reduce opposition to future expansion. Data from short-term or pilot projects can also be important for combating misperceptions and generating support for broader implementation. As an example, on managed lane projects in the Dallas region, the Texas DOT provides "Project Tracker" updates on their website on a quarterly basis and one-page information sheets on system performance that decisionmakers and stakeholders can use to understand project results. In areas with existing toll facilities, public perception of the performance of these facilities also significantly influences acceptance for the future, so managing and operating these systems effectively is important for future expansion.

In the Seattle region, all alternatives that were analyzed for the regional plan would use some form of pricing. The regional plan calls for a phased approach, beginning with HOT lanes. The MPO aims to demonstrate success, build revenues and public acceptability, and then toll the full highway network based on dynamic pricing.

Using Data to Build Support

In San Francisco, through the Mobility, Access, and Pricing Study, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) was able to collect valuable data and conduct analyses that helped to change public opinion significantly in favor of the congestion pricing proposals. For instance, for the cordon pricing plan, analysis showed that many low-income people would not be impacted, and discounts were planned for those who would be. Data also helped to reduce concerns about geographic equity raised by elected officials and showed that how people valued their own time did not match with planners' perceptions that the value of time correlated with income levels.

Pie chart shows that 42 percent of those surveyed (n=250) pre-presentation supported the congetion pricing proposals versus 58 percent that were opposed. Pie chart shows that 67 percent of those surveyed (n=250) post-presentation supported the congetion pricing proposals versus 33 percent that were opposed.

Present data on potential impacts from modeling studies and performance evaluations of existing priced facilities. Using data is important to address equity concerns and refute misperceptions of impacts. Public opinion can change with information, as seen in San Francisco, where data helped to shape public opinion (see text box example). Polls in San Diego, Los Angeles and Minneapolis/St. Paul showed support for pricing proposals either was higher among low income respondents or unrelated to income, and this "real world" information can help to address public concerns about income equity.6 Results from implemented projects demonstrating actual benefits also can also be effective in providing information to the public.

Demonstrating Value Across a Region

Create an expenditure plan that shows benefits for suburbs, central cities, roads, and transit agencies. This is needed to ensure that all partners are brought to the table and see value in the plan. This approach was followed in San Francisco, where a congestion pricing program was estimated to generate $60 to $80 million per year. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) identified a range of immediate improvements for reinvestment of funds, including BRT in key corridors, signal priority and peak period bus-only lanes, bike lanes in San Francisco, and regional improvements including Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station way-finding, access improvements, Caltrans station access improvements, and U.S. Rte 101 corridor management. In addition, on-going benefits, including more frequent rapid/ express transit services, street paving/pothole repair, traffic calming, and streetscape improvements were identified.

Source: "Bay Area Regional Express Lanes Network: Understanding the Opportunities and Challenges of Pricing Strategies," Presentation by David Vautin, Metropolitan Transportation Commission, FHWA Congestion Pricing Workshop, September 13, 2011.

Involve decisionmakers from all groups. Finding allies or advocates among decisionmakers can help to build support for congestion pricing programs. Take advantage of the Federal grant programs and partnership agreements available for planning and implementing pricing as this has significantly helped achieve decisionmaker buy-in in several regions. Even in areas that did not receive funding, the act of preparing to apply for the grant helped stakeholders to come together and reduced opposition from decisionmakers. Bring the opposition into the process and make it a bipartisan or non-partisan effort. Develop political champions who can speak on behalf of the initiative to the media and help get other peers on board. Experience from Los Angeles shows that it is important not to be led only by decisionmakers in planning the program, but also to be led by communities, and communities are more interested in transit investments.

Conduct early and ongoing outreach and communication. Study the issue in focus groups and workshops, engage the public through forums, and provide good information to explain the concept to people using messages that resonate with them. Remind people that prices are more than money; prices are information that help people make decisions. People are currently making decisions based on the misinformation that it is free to drive and park in congested conditions, whereas they are already paying for congestion in other ways. Tailor messages carefully to the interests of stakeholder groups, but avoid being contradictory.

In the Seattle and Minneapolis/St. Paul regions, attempts to build acceptance focused heavily on elected officials. The strategy was to build high-level support so that the officials could in turn advocate congestion pricing programs to their constituents. This was been called the "grasstops" approach in the Twin Cities. After failed attempts at gaining approval for congestion pricing, a marketing consultant was hired and a value pricing task force was established. This strategy targeted community and political leaders, who could then build more grassroots support.

Include local community leaders in project task forces. Community support is important to move a pricing project forward. In Dallas, the argument was made to communities that if a toll road was built in that community, the revenues will be spent for local improvements. In Los Angeles, net toll revenue has to be invested back into the corridor in which it was generated, and this policy has helped obtain support from local governments. In the Minneapolis/St. Paul region, too, the State legislature requires revenues to remain in the corridor. These are ways in which community support can be built. In addition, having community leaders participate in project planning alongside elected officials, transportation practitioners, and technical experts or academics by establishing task forces or committees has proven to be a useful strategy in Los Angeles and the Minneapolis/St. Paul region. Such task forces must be set up before commencing any analysis, and the process should be kept transparent to all stakeholders.

In the Minneapolis/St. Paul region, the Minnesota DOT set up a Community Task Force at the start of project planning with staff from the MPO, members from the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota, and representatives from six city councils, citizens, State legislators, AAA, trucking association, and transit-oriented groups.

Engage trusted experts. Bringing in outside experts to present the benefits of congestion pricing, such as from among the university community or from regions where pricing programs have been successfully implemented, is a useful strategy to increase public and decisionmaker acceptance. In Minneapolis-St Paul, elected officials were brought in to talk with other elected officials and in public forums.

Engage the private and non-government sectors. Bringing businesses on board to support a congestion pricing project at the early stages and educating them about planning processes can be important. In many regions, congestion has real costs for businesses in terms of time and productivity. For example, this is a key problem in Southern California; Chicago; Washington, DC; and New York. Using economic development and competitiveness as key regional goals, the private sector can be engaged not just through public-private partnerships on pricing projects but also as planning partners along with universities and other stakeholders.

In the Puget Sound region, a congruence of stakeholder interests occurred around varied regional goals, all of which could be met by the large-scale regional pricing strategy adopted in the current plan.

  • Environmental interests supported congestion reduction and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Businesses supported congestion reduction and increased reliability;
  • Highway lobby supported addition of new capacity and new revenue sources because traditional sources are proving inadequate;
  • Transportation engineers and planners supported the goal of congestion reduction; and
  • Economists supported the goal of preserving and enhancing economic vitality because incorrect price signals create economic inefficiencies and loss.

In New York City, the NGO and environmental advocacy sectors, along with businesses, worked with the city in a valuable public-private coalition that came about as a result of the pricing proposal. In fact, it was a business group (Partnership for New York City) that highlighted the regional costs of congestion, providing a key impetus for the congestion pricing proposal. In Dallas, the MPO has engaged private businesses and the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, which speak directly to their constituents in support of the managed lanes projects. Similarly, recognizing the debilitating impacts of congestion in the Southern California region, key business leaders have offered to carry the MPO's message to elected officials that pricing strategies need to be an important part of the transportation toolbox. In London, a key factor that led to the success of the congestion charging scheme was encouraging businesses to provide employees with incentives to use transit or carpools. All borough employees and bank employees in London were given incentives to encourage them to use alternative modes. It is important to include business representatives on MPO planning and policy boards to help respond to business interests and gain support.

Effective strategies to achieve acceptability outlined by practitioners at workshops:

  • San Francisco: The webpage on "What we heard, what we did"; also, showing local control over expenditures of revenues is key . i.e. demonstrate that funding is not going into a black hole for transit. Show responsiveness to public/political concerns and ability to handle revenues responsibly.
  • Los Angeles: A peer-reviewed assessment of equity analysis; it was important to people that the MPO set the tolls and used the funds as opposed to the revenues going to the State, which is almost bankrupt. The State legislature prohibited using private funding.
  • Dallas: The MPO technical committee setting a toll ceiling provided some level of comfort to the public and decisionmakers that there is someone watching and ensuring performance; also, credibility and distrust of government is an issue . both Federal and State governments are distrusted. Most of these facilities span many local jurisdictions, so it helped to show that the MPO will serve as a broad overseer.
  • Assurance that money will stay in the region.

Linking Congestion Pricing to Regional Goals and Objectives

Linking the objectives of congestion pricing with the achievement of regional goals is important to the success of pricing efforts.

Ensure that congestion pricing supports key regional goals. In both Chicago and Seattle, the recently adopted regional plans for the year 2040 include congestion pricing measures as a primary means of managing travel demand and raising revenues for transportation investment. In the Dallas region, NCTCOG similarly showed the huge shortfall in funding to build needed infrastructure; moreover, air quality is an additional important motivation. In the New York metro area, the need to maintain transit in a state of good repair is important, and in Atlanta and the Southern California region, maintaining economic competitiveness is an important objective that has helped to motivate consideration of congestion pricing. It is important to obtain regional consensus on these goals and program objectives. The regional benefits of congestion pricing programs can be enhanced by planning complementary measures. For example, in order to reduce congestion, the Urban Partnership Agreements emphasize "the 4Ts" – tolling, transit, technology, and telecommuting. While pricing may be viewed as a burden on travelers if enacted in information, and the ability to telecommute or otherwise reduce trips by carpooling and other means, pricing can play an important role in supporting travel choices, improving reliability, and reducing emissions.

Develop regional operations objectives and appropriate performance measures applicable to pricing strategies. In addition to analyzing projects in the plan, conducting ongoing monitoring and evaluation is important. The goals of a congestion pricing project should be established early in the project and be used to define the metrics of the evaluation program. For example, incorporating performance measures related to reliability, traffic congestion, availability of multimodal choices, revenue generation, and equity can help to raise consideration of pricing strategies as an approach to consider. It can also help in prioritizing congestion pricing projects as part of project investment decisionmaking.

Establishing Regional Partnerships

Partnerships are critical in planning for congestion pricing, given the wide range of agencies and organizations that may play a role in implementation.

Congestion Pricing as a Comprehensive Approach to Regional Goals

In the Southern California region, the SCAG is using congestion pricing strategies as part of a comprehensive approach to meeting regional goals.

Slide depicting pricing as part of a comprehensive approach.
Source: Image courtesy of Annie Nam, Southern California Association of Governments

Effective practices for advancing interagency collaboration include the following:

Identify agency roles clearly. It is important to define and understand clearly the roles and requirements of the various agencies that will need to be involved in any pricing arrangement early in the process. Disagreements are occasionally seen at the higher policy levels, but are more common at the level of planning specific details. When public agencies are not conflicted about their roles and responsibilities and have a strong partnership, they are able to move forward and garner support from other entities such as businesses. Such a partnership has been established in the Dallas-Fort Worth region between the MPO (North Central Texas Council of Governments), transit operators, and the private sector, which fully supports the managed lane projects in the region.

Planning to receive Federal grants for congestion pricing projects facilitated regional collaboration in Los Angeles and Denver, unifying the local governments around common goals and setting the stage for future collaboration. Even though initial proposals were unsuccessful in both regions, the process of applying for the grants created partnerships that were fruitful in obtaining funding under subsequent grants.

Draw on the unique strengths and experiences of each agency. Although silos between and within agencies may be hard to eliminate, their various objectives, goals, and strengths can be creatively addressed to achieve collaboration. For instance, MPOs have the capacity and technical staff for planning; transit agencies for providing transit; toll authorities for tolling, and highway patrol for enforcement. If these entities can be brought together in planning a multimodal pricing project, drawing on their strengths and experience in each area, success can be achieved. This has been the experience in the Dallas region, which has the added benefit that the heads of the different agencies have been around for many years, leading to consistency of purpose. In Seattle, connections between agency staff (not necessarily the highest levels) facilitated collaboration, particularly in planning and analysis.

Often, the MPO is only responsible for long range planning and is not responsible for transit, parking, or toll collection. In these cases, an important role for the MPO is to lead the charge by getting the discussion started, bringing stakeholders to the table, and ensuring that they all have some of their interests met. In the Los Angeles region, L.A. Metro is the regional transportation agency responsible for transit operations and toll collection. This made coordination simpler locally, but the agency had to work with the regionwide MPO that has been working on its own plans of a managed lane network that crosses county boundaries. L.A. Metro also has Memoranda of Understanding on key aspects with the State DOT.

Congestion-Related Performance Measures Used in the 2030 Metropolitan Transportation Plan for the Dallas-Fort Worth Region

The North Central Texas Council of Governments used congestion-related performance measures such as travel time, reliability, and the annual cost of congestion to evaluate plan scenarios with and without priced facilities, compared with the baseline No Build scenario.

Collage of heat maps depicting the projected levels of congestion in the Dallas-Ft. Worth Region under three scenarios: the worst case sceanrio, with no build and no adoption of priced facilities, the middle-case (annual congestion cost: $10.9 billion), with projects in jeopardy from lack of revenue from priced facilities (annual congestion cost: $7.8 billion), and the best case scenario in which all planned investments in congestion pricing are adopted (annual cost of congestion: $4.5 billion).

Source: Images courtesy of Dan Lamers, NCTCOG. Data from the 2030 Metropolitan Transportation Plan.

In the New York metro area, although New York City, not the MPO, proposed cordon pricing, the MPO played an important role. NYMTC was in the process of a conformity determination and integrated congestion pricing into its Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP), making two runs of the model, with and without pricing. The MPO ensured that everything was in line with Federal processes and, as a regional body, facilitated a series of valuable and intense policy discussions.

Example of Regional Coordination in Los Angeles

Even though L.A. Metro has authority to implement tolls, responsibility for transit operations, and has been working with the State DOT, the agency has been coordinating across a wide range of agencies to move forward with its pilot HOT L.A.nes. Coordination with Caltrans (California DOT) was required because Caltrans is responsible for the Environmental Impact Review. L.A. Metro also had a Memorandum of Understanding with Caltrans on operations and maintenance of the HOT lanes and funding agreements with the supporting cities. Because of the presence of several state tolling facilities, user agreements were signed with all tolling agencies because of the State's requirements that all facilities be interoperable. It was also important to consider where the revenues would be spent. The revenues from HOT lanes in the L.A. region are to be used for transit improvements in the corridors where they were generated. Extensive outreach with all agencies was required to bring about this coordination of authority.

In Minneapolis/St. Paul, collaboration between the MPO, the State DOT, the legislature, and the university helped move the HOT lane projects forward. Minnesota DOT was a leader in innovative highway management technologies and practices, the legislature provided much-needed regional policy support, experts from the University of Minnesota provided thought leadership and technical expertise, and the MPO conducted the analysis and regional planning efforts for managing congestion with a focus on transit improvements and fiscal discipline. Although the region had prior experience with congestion pricing projects, developing relationships between the agencies took time and required a cultural change.

Regional Roles and Responsibilities in Dallas

In the Dallas-Fort Worth region, the MPO (North Central Texas Council of Governments) must coordinate daily with the separate Dallas and Forth Worth districts, the Texas Turnpike Authority (the regional tolling authority), Texas DOT, and about two hundred local governments. The MPO facilitates collaboration between the agencies, ensuring that "everyone gets a piece of the managed lanes pie." The breakdown of responsibilities in Dallas is as follows:

  • Toll collection and analysis – regional toll road authority, Texas Turnpike Authority;
  • Enforcement – transit agency; and
  • Distribution of revenues (if in excess) – MPO.

A collaborative agreement was worked out so that all agencies have a role in the project; this was the key to achieving inter-agency collaboration in the region.

High level political leadership. Ongoing support from a high-level elected official can be important for achieving regional collaboration among agencies. In the Minneapolis/St. Paul region, after the Governor approved the project, interagency collaboration at the regional level and collaboration with the State patrol has improved dramatically because these agencies often follow the Governor's lead.

Analyzing Congestion Pricing as Part of the Planning Process

Despite the many analytic challenges associated with addressing congestion pricing in the regional planning process, there are emerging examples of MPOs that have begun to conduct detailed analyses, integrate pricing into their metropolitan transportation plans, and can offer lessons for other regions, such as the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC, Seattle), the Metropolitan Council in Minneapolis/St. Paul, the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), and North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG, Dallas). The following are some effective strategies used by these regions.

Southern California Coordination Between Counties

In Southern California, different counties have already embarked on plans for managed lanes. SCAG, as the regional MPO, ensures coordination among the different plans and agencies. Analysis showed that the region has more inter-county trips than intra-county trips, making it essential to look at congestion pricing regionally.

Slide showing a map of the L.A., San Bernardino, Riverside, Ventura, and Orange Counties wiht arrows depicting the in/out flow of vehicles. The width of the arrow represents the relative density of the flow.

Source: Image courtesy of Annie Nam, Southern California Association of Governments.

Update travel models to conduct detailed alternatives analysis and project selection. PSRC (Seattle) updated its travel demand model to analyze a range of pricing alternatives and conducted detailed benefit/cost analyses to determine the best alternative. PSRC conducted a pilot project with Federal funding support to study travel behavior changes under congestion pricing (The Traffic Choices Study) using GPS-based tolling meters in the vehicles of about 275 volunteer households. The project provided valuable data on observed changes in driving patterns in response to experimental tolls charged on major freeways and arterials in the Seattle metropolitan area. These data were fed into PSRC's travel demand model to facilitate better analysis of congestion pricing strategies, following which the model went through an extensive peer review process.

The Metropolitan Council (Minneapolis) also upgraded its four-step model to accommodate evaluation of HOT lanes. San Francisco County has an activity-based model just for the county, but needed to expand it to the nine-county region's employment shed to accurately analyze impacts. Market research was also conducted separately to understand user travel costs and make adjustments in the model. SCAG recognized limitations in its four-step modeling process and has invested heavily in model improvements and data collection.

San Francisco County Regional Transportation Authority (SFCTA)'s Analysis and Comparison of Scenarios

Slide comparing the effects different levels of pricing might have on trips and emissions within the proposed cordon area.

Source: San Francisco Mobility, Access, and Pricing Study, San Francisco County Transportation Authority, 2010.

Collect data to support good analysis. It is important to be able to answer quickly any questions related to key indicators and impacts in different locations using good data. For example, in San Francisco, when questions were raised about business impacts that could not be answered by the travel demand model, a retail survey was conducted to understand how shoppers shop and what the likely impacts would be. SCAG purchased INRIX speed data and outfitted trucks with GPS systems, spending about $ 2-3 million on data purchase for two key studies: the Regional Congestion Pricing Study and Goods Movement Study. In Chicago, by establishing a regional coalition, various regional agencies and operators were brought into the process, and they became a rich source of data and information, allowing for the creation of a regional data archive to bring together data that was already being collected and that already existed with system operators. This reduced the expenses associated with purchasing data.

For its Travel Choices Study, SCAG conducted a stated preference survey, receiving 3,500 responses from a six-county region, assessing eight hypothetical pricing scenarios including a regional network of HOT lanes (or "express lanes"), cordon and parking pricing, VMT fees, and full highway facility pricing (toll roads).

Understand revenue generation potential. Estimating the revenues that will be generated from congestion pricing strategies over the life of the regional plan is important and requires development of appropriate tools to forecast revenues and analysis. It also may require going back and forth from the project-level scale to the regional-level scale. For instance, recognizing that shortfalls in the gas tax will lead to limited funding in future years, NCTCOG (Dallas) has been estimating revenues from multiple HOT lane projects and tolled facilities since the 1990s to demonstrate fiscal constraint in its metropolitan transportation plan. The priced facilities have been adopted in NCTCOG's 2030 Metropolitan Transportation Plan and are expected to fund about 30 percent of the costs for roadway system improvements.

Conduct benefit-cost analysis. A benefit-cost analysis (BCA) provides a useful framework for analysis and can be very useful to communicate the effects of congestion pricing programs to the public and decisionmakers because it is easily understandable. PSRC relied heavily on BCA as part of the analysis performed to integrate pricing into the regional plan. PSRC has trained economists on their staff who used the travel model outputs as inputs into a BCA tool to compare alternatives against the baseline. The analysis was done for five pricing scenarios with respect to detailed evaluation criteria focusing on mobility and equity. The analysis also focused on zones where equity concerns would be greatest due to high proportions of poor and minority populations. Using this analysis, PSRC staff explained to decisionmakers that geographic equity was being approached in the wrong way; "how much money is being spent in my county?" is the wrong question to ask. Instead, one should look at which groups of users are receiving the benefits and ensure that the most vulnerable user groups are benefited, regardless of geography. For example, the benefits of travel time savings and improvements in reliability on facilities in King County (Seattle area) extend to users who only work in the area but do not live there. These benefits even create spillover benefits in counties that will not receive many improvements as part of the plan. Showing where the money is spent and where the benefits accrue helped in communications with decisionmakers in the Seattle region.

San Francisco's Cordon Pricing Analysis

SFCTA conducted a detailed set of analyses involving travel analysis, surveys, and modeling to inform consideration of cordon pricing. The study assessed peak/off-peak reliability and travel time ratios, which are important not just for single occupancy vehicles (SOV) but also for transit, and found that less than a 1 square mile area in the city of San Francisco concentrates trips and jobs. The study considered times of day when congestion occurs and determined that an all-day charge as in London was not necessary; therefore, tolling would occur during peak periods only. The analysis modeled dozens of discrete geographic and time scenarios. Income equity issues also were examined early in the study, and only four percent of low income drivers were determined to travel during peak periods. The study also corrected the perception that the majority of traffic is caused by out-of-city car drivers coming into the city; instead, more than half of the drivers are from the city of San Francisco, which surprised people. Surveys found that people value fare assistance for transit riders more than toll discounts for low income drivers. Finally, SFCTA created a "What We Heard, What We Did" section on website to show responsiveness through analysis, clearing misperceptions, and explanations of how scenario features were revised based on feedback.

Source: San Francisco Mobility, Access, and Pricing Study, San Francisco County Transportation Authority, 2010.

Plan ahead and conduct a detailed equity analysis. Equity impacts must be analyzed and communicated for congestion pricing plans to be acceptable. To do this, it is important to analyze how congestion pricing will impact different segments of the population and different types of trips. Different jurisdictions and regional models must also be able to do income-stratified trip generation and distribution. The NCTCOG (Dallas) is conducting a detailed equity analysis and research on the economic impacts of pricing projects. It is evaluating systemwide trip lengths and tolls to ensure there are no negative impacts. NCTCOG is performing this evaluation because:

  • NEPA documents cannot be prepared without some equity analysis;
  • Acquiring right-of-way has equity implications as it can lead to displacements and job losses, so an analysis showing the extent of these potential negative impacts must be done;
  • Environmental review also requires documentation on what the expected toll rate might be for a certain demographic group; an answer based on analysis must be available in the event of a legal challenge; and
  • It is important to consider what analyses can be performed in the planning stages such that the process does not have to be revisited during environmental review.

Atlanta's Analysis of Economic Impacts from Congestion Pricing

An analysis of economic impacts from implementing congestion pricing in Atlanta using a benefits approach:

  • Showed maps of the employment shed in the region (distance in which employees could travel in a certain time period to access jobs) in 2030 with and without a managed lane network. The analysis showed that the increased access provided by the managed lanes in connecting employees to employers would lead to a tripling of worker accessibility (196 percent increase).
  • Showed that an 8 percent reduction in delay saves significant costs over 35 years.

Slide depicting two heat maps of the Atlanta projected employment shed access to downtown in 2030. Slide features heat map without managed lanes and with managed lanes. Slide indicates that by 2030, there could be up to a 196 percent increase in workers traveling within 45 minutes of downtown Atlanta.

Source: Image courtesy of Matt Fowler, Georgia Department of Transportation

Gaining and Sustaining Support from Users and Decisionmakers

Finally, it is important to gain support from users and decisionmakers to facilitate planning for and implementation of congestion pricing. Some key approaches for establishing the necessary policy foundation and authority for congestion pricing, as well as effective implementation, are noted below.

Benefit-Cost Analysis in the Seattle Region

PSRC relied on benefit-cost analysis as (BCA) part of the analysis performed to integrate pricing into the regional plan. Key features of the analysis are described below.

  • Trip purposes were integrated with individual out-of-pocket costs to determine values of time for different income groups in terms of time savings and reliability benefits.
  • Having incorporated user costs into the model, system optimization was assessed based on price on every time period and every link, assuming all users were traveling the way they wanted to. This analysis was used to set appropriate toll rates.
  • Minimizing diversion to arterials was the objective for freeway pricing.
  • Parking pricing involved a 20 percent surcharge in congested times and a 5 percent surcharge at other times. The toll rates resulting from this optimization process were checked for reasonableness.

Depending on the facility, the result was a toll of 30-50 cents per mile.

As one of its scenarios in the 2040 plan, the Puget Sound region's MPO analyzed the alternative of pricing all freeways and arterials (Alternative 5 below), which would prevent problems of traffic diversion from priced roads to other free roads. Although it is difficult to gain public acceptance for a comprehensive approach that involves pricing previously free lanes, the benefit-cost analysis showed that this option would be the most economically efficient, raise the most revenues, and result in the maximum reduction of congestion and emissions.

Graph shows five unnamed scenarios indicating benefits and costs for each. Scenario 5 shows the greatest total benefits relative to total costs.

Source: Matthew Kitchen, Puget Sound Regional Council

Seattle MPO Analysis of EJ Impacts

Analysis of Equity impacts on Environmental Justice Populations by PSRC:

Graph shows changes in total user benefits per personal trip from 2040 baseline. Per trip user benefits for trips originating in environmental justice flagged TAZs measured as change from 2040 baseline. Poverty populations benefit the most, followed by minority populations followed by the region. Graph depicts the geographic equity results for all person-trips originating in TAZs within stated boundaries measured as change from the 2040 baseline.

Source: Puget Sound Regional Council Transportation 2040 Final Environmental Impact Statement

Technical Evaluation Criteria used in PSRC Regional Plan Analysis

The Puget Sound Regional Council established a detailed framework of performance metrics to evaluate scenarios of the regional plan that included different types of congestion pricing strategies. The performance metrics were categorized as below.

Technical evaluation criteria include mobility, finance, growth management, economic prosperity, environmental stewardship, quality of life, and equity categories.

Source: Puget Sound Regional Council Transportation 2040 Final Environmental Impact Statement

Establish a policy framework for implementing pricing and involving the private sector. One key mechanism for advancing pricing is to create a policy framework that requires consideration of pricing as part of new projects – e.g., NCTCOG (Dallas) established a key, three-step policy emphasizing that any additional capacity necessary in the region will be tolled, if warranted, to raise funds for regional capacity needs. The policy stipulates that: (i) all new limited-access facilities have to be tested for tolling feasibility and built as toll roads, if warranted; (ii) when existing freeways are reconstructed, the feasibility of tolled express lanes should be tested and these should be built, if warranted; and (iii) free lanes or gas tax lanes will not be converted to toll lanes. Moreover, the MPO has had support from the State legislature since the 1990s, with a framework for regional revenue sharing and other policies created even before the first facility was constructed. Another useful mechanism is establishing guidelines for public-private partnerships; e.g., in Virginia, the State's Public-Private Transportation Act enables it to work with the private sector to bring forward transportation improvements.

Set price caps when private tolling authorities or the private sector are involved. While mistrust of toll authorities can be a barrier, public entities can establish agreements with the private operators to cap toll rates, as was done in Dallas, where this allowed the MPO to achieve public support for public-private partnerships (PPP). The MPO also included performance standards in these agreements (e.g., guaranteed speeds on the HOT lanes). But although a price ceiling garners public support, it is best to leave the policy flexible for accommodating any future adjustments because changing a legislatively established price cap may be challenging. In Orange County (Los Angeles), on the SR 91 Express lanes, the price cap can be increased after a public hearing and only under certain conditions, like increased congestion levels or other parameters.

In San Francisco County, to improve public confidence, local control of funding with an expenditure plan or "lock box" tied to it has helped. The public can vote on what the funding should be used for.

In Minneapolis/St. Paul, the MPO is managing congestion by "tweaking" the system, including several low cost/high benefit projects in the fiscally constrained regional plan. Five BRT projects are proposed by 2020, with 300 miles of bus-only shoulder lanes having a 35-mph speed limit to be used as priced lanes. Although the congestion pricing revenues are expected to provide some funding for transit, it is recognized that the revenues will not be large. By fully utilizing the existing right-of-way pavement capacity for the priced lanes, the MPO is able to keep project capital costs low and use a more significant portion of the revenues to cover costs.

Establish a revenue use policy. It is a good practice to set policy that establishes how the revenue will be used in advance of implementation of a congestion pricing system; i.e., whether the excess revenue will be used to fund capital costs for transit or operations and maintenance expenses for facilities. In Minneapolis/St. Paul, the capital costs of the project had to be paid back first; only then could excess revenue be used to pay back the operations and maintenance costs of the HOT lanes, and finally any remaining revenue would be spent on transit service. In Dallas, the excess revenue policy requires that all revenue go to operations and maintenance of the managed lanes; anything beyond that goes to the public agencies that invested in upfront capital costs, allowing transit agencies and Texas DOT to share revenues.

Familiarize the public with the technologies and integrate systems. Focusing on operational issues like helping users understand occupancy requirements and how to pay tolls has an important pay off. The experience for the public should be seamless, otherwise the many kinds of lanes and facilities (HOV lanes, HOT lanes, managed lanes, fully tolled facilities) can be confusing. This is an issue when transitioning between corridors with different vehicle occupancy requirements – e.g., from a HOV 2+ occupancy requirement for driving free of charge, to HOV 3+ and then back to HOV 2+ in the same trip. As far as possible, occupancy requirements and technologies must be unified across the system. One way to help the public become familiar with the system is to set up a mobile customer service and information center that allows people to operate a sample transponder, view system maps, become comfortable with the technology, and then decide if they would like to become HOT lane users.

Develop mechanisms to enforce occupancy requirements on HOT lanes. The L.A. HOT lane demonstration project on the I-110 corridor has a HOV 2+ requirement for driving free of charge that changes to HOV 3+ in peak hours. This makes enforcement challenging. A technological solution for this in L.A. is that travelers can specify the number of occupants on their in-vehicle transponder when they start a trip through a switch on the transponder that indicates whether the driver has one, two, or three additional persons in the car. This allows deduction of the appropriate charge as the vehicle moves between corridors with different occupancy requirements. All users in L.A. are required to have a transponder. In Dallas, travelers will be required to self-declare vehicle occupancy.

Carefully consider how to set toll rates. The public values toll reliability. People will be more likely to use priced facilities if they know what the rate will be before travel. Regions can provide a pre-payment option so that users are able to look up the rates online before starting their trip and lock in the rates by pre-paying. In some regions like Denver, to obtain support from transit operators and create an incentive to shift to transit, the peak of the peak toll rate is kept equal to or higher than the transit fare. Similarly, in Los Angeles, the toll rate has to be 1.5 times higher than the express bus fare on the express lanes.