Lee County Variable Bridge Tolls - Lee County, FL
FAST FACTS ABOUT: Lee County Variable Bridge Tolls
Types of TDM: Value Pricing, Off-peak Travel Time Shift
Keywords: Value pricing, variable pricing, electronic tolling, flexible work arrangements, off-peak travel time shift, discounts, incentives
Area Demographics: Lee County, Florida (Cape Coral and Fort Myers); 400,000 residents
Program: 50 cent discounts on tolls for use of off-peak travel times on two principal bridges accompanied action to raise overall bridge tolls to $1 (from 75 cents)
Cost of Program: $9.7 million grant awarded by Federal Highway Administration for technology installation, demonstration, implementation, and evaluation; additional $7.0 million set aside as “emergency revenue reserve”
Implementer: Lee County Public Works
Results: 5% shift from peak to off-peak travel
Contact: Chris Swenson, CRSPE, Inc., firstname.lastname@example.org
Providing Choice in Tolling
Lee County, Florida, is a pioneer in using variable tolls as a way to manage congestion, provide traveler choice, and spread traffic away from the peak period. The principle behind this objective is that commuters will make rational choices if those decisions are based on balanced cost incentives. The Leeway project provides another measure of choice – price choice – to the mix of Transportation Demand Management (TDM) strategies.
Lee County is located in southwest Florida. Approximately half a million people live in the metropolitan area comprised of Ft. Myers and Cape Coral, with an additional 1.7 million tourists visiting per year. The Caloosahatchee River separates these two cities, and the County provides only three bridge crossings. Two of these crossings, the Cape Coral Bridge and the Midpoint Bridge, are the most relevant to commuter traffic, and were the focus of the Variable Pricing Program.
A toll of $1.00 was levied on both bridges in 1997. In order to convince the public to accept the higher $1.00 toll, over a previous $0.75 toll, Lee County Commissioners endorsed an innovative concept of varying the level of the toll based upon the time of day. In the “shoulders of the peak period” (6:30 – 7:00 am, 9:00 – 11:00 am, 2:00 – 4:00 pm, and 6:30 – 7:00 pm), patrons received a 50 percent discount on the toll if they utilize the bridge’s electronic toll collection (ETC) system. Due to a popular “frequent user” program, this discount varies in value from either $0.25 to $0.50 each trip.
The objectives of the variable pricing program were to provide travelers with:
• an incentive to shift from peak periods
• an opportunity to lower out-of-pocket costs
• a reason to use ETC (which provides for better traffic management at toll plazas)
There are a variety of challenges involved with the variable pricing program. The two principal concerns were:
• marketing the benefits of variable pricing in an area with relatively low levels of congestion, and,
• ensuring sufficient funds are generated to repay bonds and cover operating/maintenance costs
Lee County does not experience significant levels of congestion. In
fact, most of the main arterials and highways operate at free-flow even
in the peak hour. The challenge to Lee County officials was how to market
the new off-peak travel discounts, when shifting travel was not likely
to significantly short the likely travel time. Lee County responded
to this challenge by marketing the convenience of electronic tolling
and the cost savings provided by using off-peak periods. A variety of
media was used to market the service, with multiple points of presence
throughout the County. Media coverage of the concept also was high,
since there is appeal in the innovation of variable pricing. Within
a year, the project had over 40 articles in print media and 150 news
stories in televised media.
In addition to convincing travelers to use the program, Lee County also needed to convince employers to offer employees flexible scheduling and variable work hours. Without the ability to shift the commuter’s travel time, the off-peak discount program would not be successful. In order to accomplish this, the County conducted outreach to medium and large size businesses in Ft. Myers (the principal employment node).
The issue of ensuring sufficient funds was critical to implementing the program. In 1996, Lee County applied for, and received, a grant from the Federal Highway Administration’s Value Pricing Pilot Program. The $20 Million grant provided a $7 Million set-aside to compensate for lost tolls under the variable pricing program. The set-aside was necessary to alleviate concerns about the potential loss of revenue.
The variable pricing program has been successful in meeting the program’s objectives. Approximately 7 percent of all eligible participants indicate the variable pricing program causes them to alter their tripmaking behavior. According to a telephone survey of eligible drivers in late 1999, half of respondents indicated they always or sometimes considered the discounts prior to making a trip across the bridges. Finally, the variable pricing program is well known in Lee County, with over 90 percent of travelers familiar with the program. Altogether, these show that travelers are aware of and consider the option provided to them from the variable pricing program.
In three years of the implemented project, as reported by Mark Burris at the Center for Urban Transportation Research (“Lee County Variable Pricing Project: Evaluation Report”, January 2001), use of the bridges increased in the off-peak times and decreased during the peak periods. Traffic data near the bridges indicate that variable pricing had caused no measurable change in vehicle speeds, queue lengths at toll plazas, average vehicle occupancy, transit ridership, or accidents.
Over time, more and more travelers have utilized the electronic toll collection technologies, reducing the average cost per transaction. Lowered transaction costs on the bridges have partially offset the loss of revenue from the toll discount, as has the natural increase in daily traffic. It should be noted that the program continues to this day (September 2003), well after the expiration of the Federally funded toll revenue guarantee.
Evidence for this case study has been provided by numerous evaluation reports conducted by Mark Burris (Center for Urban Transportation Research) and Chris Swenson (CRSPE, Inc.).