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Guidebook for State, Regional, and Local Governments on Addressing Potential Equity Impacts of Road Pricing

7. The Role of Communications in Congestion Pricing Initiatives

Public perception and understanding of equity considerations are critical components for many road pricing initiatives. Much of the literature and our discussions with stakeholders relate to the importance of communications with respect to potential equity impacts on any of these projects. Communications should happen early and often in the project planning process and throughout the process. The literature stresses the importance of perception, acknowledging that road pricing is often perceived as unfair (e.g., the use of the "Lexus Lanes" moniker), and that there are differences in popular and expert perspectives.31

Communications may take on several forms including press releases, public meetings, glossy brochures, web sites, and speaking points for customer service representatives and agency staff. Agencies will likely need to use a variety of these methods to reach a large number of potential roadway users and potentially negatively impacted people. With appropriate communications, some of the questions and concerns surrounding the road pricing project may be addressed. With positive communications, users and local groups may be convinced of the roadway's benefits and less concerned with possible dis-benefits.

Section 7.0, presents a summary of what to communicate (Table 7-1) and also a summary of communications methods (Table 7-2). It also revisits the two illustrative scenarios from Section 2.0 and provides examples of what they should communicate about their projects and examples of how they should communicate it. For each particular project, agencies should review the charts below.

Agencies should carefully consider each of the proposed items in Table 7-1 and whether these apply to their projects and should be incorporated into their communications messages and strategies. Agencies should then review Table 7-2 and determine which of the communications methods can be adopted into their own project communications plans.

Table 7-1: Selecting Equity-Related Messages to Communicate
Description Example
Determining where and how revenues are used and how revenues will benefit roadway users -
Demonstrating benefits through experimental programs and pilot strategiesa Stockholm cordon pricing systemb
Market research of catchment areas around road pricing projects to characterize users/assess equity. Additional equity evaluation results pre- and post-project implementation -
Information about tolling. For example, provide information to social agencies about tolls and options for avoiding tolls Puget Sound,c San Francisco, SR 520 (Washington State)
Discuss and address "Lexus Lane" Concerns Minneapolisd
Additional travel choice for drivers and educating users on the new transit options that will be available along the corridor Los Angeles MTAe
Special groups' (ex. Truckers') concerns over negative effects of proposed pricing changes New Yorkf
aCommittee on the Equity of Transportation Finance Mechanisms, Equity of Evolving Transportation Finance Mechanisms, Transportation Research Board Special Report 303 (August 2011). http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/sr/sr303.pdf. Accessed Sept. 1, 2011.
b Taylor, B.D. How Fair Is Road Pricing? Evaluating Equity in Transportation Pricing and Finance. UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, September 2010. http://www.bipartisanpolicy.org/sites/default/files/BPC%20Pricing%20EquityFIN.pdf. Accessed Jan. 20, 2012.
c Eight-Month Performance Summary of SR 167 High Occupancy Toll (HOT) Lanes Pilot Project (Washington State Department of Transportation, January 2008).
d Munnich, Lee W., Jr., and Kenneth R. Buckeye, I-394 MnPASS High-Occupancy Toll Lanes, Planning and Operational Issues and Outcomes, (Lessons Learned in Year 1). Transportation Research Record No. 1996: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, 2007.
e Los Angeles Region Express Lanes Project: AB 1467 Application (Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority in partnership with the California Department of Transportation, March 2008).
f Report to the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission & Recommended Implementation Plan (New York City Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission, January 2008). The new pricing scheme lifted peak hour prices dramatically but offered a substantial overnight discount on weekdays. While overnight truck traffic rose 2 percent, most truckers and trucking groups felt they had been unfairly targeted and that the special overnight discount was not helpful.


Table 7-2: What Equity-Related Messages to Communicate
Description Examples
Emphasize communications throughout the entire project from planning to implementation. Develop and use communications plans describing how project information and impacts will be disseminated
  • Numerous meetings and focus groups (Minneapolis)a
Foster community dialog and make communications two-sided. If changes can be made to a project based on citizen input then we want to disseminate information about a project and have live blogs and contact centers in order to inform the public and gather input
  • Examples include an advisory task force, HOT lane workshop for Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) board members, and a press conference and public meetings early in the project planning. They suggest the need to foster community dialogueb
  • Numerous policy advisory committees, community organizations, neighborhood groups, and business associations (San Francisco)c
  • Value Pricing Outreach Program including focus groups, discussions with community leaders, and board member education to promote the system. (Transportation Corridor Agencies, Southern California)d
Provide limited English proficiency (L.E.P.) plans and outreach in multiple languages as needed
  • Washington State/SR 520
Use a variety of public outreach and educational toolse
  • Use surveys/focus groups/open houses to help identify designs most acceptable to public, refine strategies, and discuss concerns
  • Advertise in newspapers, transit stations, online, and through neighborhood/ business groups
  • Social media strategies are emerging (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, YouTube)
  • Internet, citizen champions, and a mobility coordinator role. (Dallas)f
Deploy a phased approach (small-scale [pilot] implementation first) to assess and then react to how users respond
  • SFpark, Stockholm
Contact majority with little to moderate outreach; Contact a few with extensive outreach supporting long/incremental planning process -
Customer service centers
  • SR 520 (Washington State)
A commercial video prepared to promote use of the facility
  • SR 91 (Southern California),g LA Metro Express Lanesh
a Munnich, Lee W., Jr., and Kenneth R. Buckeye, I-394 MnPASS High-Occupancy Toll Lanes, Planning and Operational Issues and Outcomes, (Lessons Learned in Year 1). Transportation Research Record No. 1996: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, 2007.
b Weinstein, A., and G. C. Sciara, Assessing the Equity Implications of HOT Lanes: A Report Prepared for the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (San Jose State University and University of California Berkeley, November 2004). http://www.vta.org/projects/hot_lanes/hot_equity.pdf. Accessed Sept. 1, 2011.
c  San Francisco Mobility, Access and Pricing Study: Final Report (San Francisco County Transportation Authority, December 2010).
d  Sullivan E., Continuation Study to Evaluate the Impacts of the SR-91 Value-Priced Lanes: Final Report (Cal Poly State University-San Luis Obispo, December 2000). See also Committee on the Equity of Transportation Finance Mechanisms, Equity of Evolving Transportation Finance Mechanisms, Transportation Research Board Special Report 303 (August 2011). http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/sr/sr303.pdf. Accessed Sept. 1, 2011.
e  Private communication with MacGregor M., Texas Department of Transportation, CDA/Tollway Director, 2009.
f  Sullivan E., Continuation Study to Evaluate the Impacts of the SR-91 Value-Priced Lanes: Final Report (Cal Poly State University-San Luis Obispo, December 2000).
g  See:  http://www.metro.net/projects/expresslanes/ . Accessed January 27, 2012.  An updated video is to be made available in Spring 2012.

7.1 Congestion Pricing Communication Strategies – What and How, Illustrative Examples

For each of the road pricing scenarios described in Section 2.0, we provide examples of what to communicate and how to communicate it to stakeholders as well as interested and concerned parties.

Scenario 1: Agencies considering implementing roadway congestion pricing strategies for the first time

What to communicate:

  • Information about tolling
  • Determining where and how revenues are used and how revenues will benefit roadway users
  • Discuss and address potential equity concerns

How to communicate:

  • Emphasize communications throughout the entire project from planning to implementation
  • Foster community dialog and make communications two-sided. If changes can be made to a project based on citizen input then we want to disseminate information about a project and have live blogs and contact centers in order to inform the public and gather input

Description: For regions new to road pricing, much of what they need is information. Why is a pricing strategy being recommended? How much will they be tolled and when and how? If tolling will be facilitated with transponders, then how do they get a transponder? In addition to the logistics, the public should be told where and how revenues will be used and how the revenues will benefit roadway users. For regions where tolled lanes are referred to as "Lexus lanes," it is best to address that directly and explain that other road pricing projects are utilized by a mix of vehicles and drivers from all income classes. As with all road pricing projects, emphasizing communications to the public throughout the project including during initiation, planning, and implementation is vital. A variety of dissemination methods can be used including newspaper ads, press releases, websites, and community meetings. Ideally, community meetings and websites can be utilized to foster two-way communication. Project changes such as when the toll is charged or when the project opens may be initiated by community dialog.



Scenario 2: Agencies considering road pricing expansion along their network
What to communicate:
  • Market research of catchment areas around road pricing projects to characterize users/assess equity
  • An additional travel choice for drivers and educating users on the new transit options that will be available along the corridor

How to communicate:

  • Schedule information sessions to educate the public and address concerns
  • Inform the public about upcoming events and information related to the project through social media sites

Description: The expansion of the tolled roadway network near city Y may coincide with a more-complicated tolling structure. Instead of charging just one toll to use the HOT/Express lane (regardless of traffic levels), the toll may vary by time of day and by miles traveled. It may also be possible for certain groups of users to apply for transponders that facilitate a discount. A simpler system follows the Los Angeles Metro example and provides a credit at account sign up and monthly fee waiver to low-income households.



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31 Committee on the Equity of Transportation Finance Mechanisms, Equity of Evolving Transportation Finance Mechanisms, Transportation Research Board Special Report 303 (August 2011). http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/sr/sr303.pdf. Accessed Sept. 1, 2011. [ Return to note 31. ]

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