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

8.0 Recommendations and Next Steps

In order to assist transportation agencies to better assess and mitigate equity impacts of road pricing projects on local communities, commuters, and system users, the FHWA developed this guidebook. This guidebook will help transportation agencies, decision-makers, and other interested parties, including the public, to better understand, address, and mitigate equity impacts of road pricing projects on local communities, commuters, and system users. The guidebook:

  • Offers comprehensive procedures and guidance to State, regional, and local agencies, as well as decisionmakers and concerned citizens to follow when considering road pricing projects to ensure that equity issues are appropriately and adequately communicated, evaluated, and addressed to the best extent possible.
  • Focuses primarily on time-of-day variable pricing applied to cordon and area-wide pricing, facility pricing (including high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, express toll lanes, and traditional toll roads), and parking pricing. Was built upon:
    • A comprehensive literature review of existing road/congestion pricing equity research and applications;
    • A series of interviews with government staff, academics, private sector representatives, and other subject matter experts knowledgeable about road pricing equity; and
    • A workshop held in Washington D.C. in October 2011 to review and finalize the guidebook. The workshop was attended by road/congestion pricing and equity experts including government officials, researchers and academics, as well as private sector representatives.
  • Includes two road pricing scenarios/case studies identified by FHWA. Two potential scenarios were introduced and used throughout the guidebook to illustrate potential applications of guidebook topics. These included:
    • Scenario 1: Agencies considering implementing roadway congestion pricing strategies for the first time.
    • Scenario 2: Agencies considering road pricing expansion along its network.

It is unlikely that any agency will be able to identify, evaluate, and remediate all potential equity issues resulting from new or ongoing road-pricing strategies and initiatives. There will likely be a degree of inequity in any project whether or not it involves road pricing. The point is to limit equity impacts or to work towards a new and more equitable system. Pricing projects may have positive impacts beyond users. The Miami 95 Express Lanes project reports improved travel times on the general purpose lanes adjacent to the HOT lanes suggesting that the project has improved travel for all in the corridor. By following this guidebook, agencies should be able to identify potential equity impacts, evaluate them, and identify remediation and communications methods that may address any identified equity impacts.

8.1 Recommendations

As a starting point, agencies may wish to keep the following guidelines in mind as they consider incorporating road pricing as an option into their planning processes:

  • An analyst trained in equity can review the equity implications of all pricing concepts before they are discussed publicly, so that all agency officials are conversant with the major equity concepts in play.
  • It may be helpful for agencies to first address the existing system and measure the equity of the existing system that the new policy or system will replace. No system is perfect in terms of equity. Incrementally, the new system should be more equitable than the existing system or policy it is replacing. Therefore, it is important to understand the pluses and minuses of the existing system to adequately address the pros and cons of the new system against the existing system in terms of horizontal and vertical equity.
  • Mitigation measures will involve a package of transportation improvements almost inevitably including public transportation improvements. These packages should be developed at least at a high level before the discussion becomes public.
  • Agencies may begin equity analysis by determining who is affected by the road pricing project. The agency may wish to provide targeted stakeholder outreach, specifically outreach to stakeholders who are likely to perceive greater equity harms. Agencies should avoid asking the question "What do you think of the new road pricing project?" in isolation, as users will simply perceive it as an additional fee that they will have to pay. Instead, agencies may ask users to envision two futures—one with the road pricing project, and one without it, so that the users can understand the benefits and costs of each approach.
  • Agencies can consider equity vs. efficiency tradeoffs present in the project. Broadly speaking the more completely equitable a project is, the less efficient (i.e., greater percentage of revenues needed to cover operating costs) it is.
  • Agencies should focus on the net equity outcome. Often in analyzing a project, stakeholders, pubic officials, media, and members of the public tend to focus primarily on equity concerns that arise due to the project, and fail to recognize the equity problems that the project solves. The agency can demonstrate that net equity outcome is the key measure of effectiveness for the project.

8.2 Next Steps

More Research and Analysis is Needed

The literature review for this guidebook identified gaps related to equity and road pricing. The RAND study listed topics on equity impacts of congestion pricing. This literature review revealed a significant research gap in these topics. These topics include environmental justice impacts, long-term land use impacts of congestion pricing, equity implications of building new roads with congestion pricing revenue, and how adding congestion pricing to existing transportation finance mechanisms would change the equity implications.32

The August 2011 Special Report from the Transportation Research Board (TRB) suggests that comprehensive before-and-after studies are needed, as well as a better understanding of travel behavior and its consequences. It also recommends a knowledge base for decision support and a TRB Handbook for equity analyses of transportation finance policies.33 It is hoped that the Guidebook developed in this project will come close to what TRB contemplates as an American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials-funded National Cooperative Highway Research Program project. FHWA may be able to use resources like and the learning portal under development by the Intelligent Transportation Systems Professional Capacity Building program as the decision-support knowledge base that the TRB Committee envisioned.

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32 Ecola L., and T. Light, Equity and Congestion Pricing A Review of the Evidence (RAND 2009). [ Return to note 32. ]

33 Committee on the Equity of Transportation Finance Mechanisms, Equity of Evolving Transportation Finance Mechanisms, Transportation Research Board Special Report 303 (August 2011). Accessed Sept. 1, 2011. [ Return to note 33. ]

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