April 28, 2015

When High Prices in Toll Lanes Don’t Keep Traffic Moving, Cities Look for New Ways to Combat Congestion

Building high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes—in which carpoolers ride free and single riders pay a toll, increasing with congestion, to use the lane—is a popular strategy for states and cities looking to pay for new roads and reduce congestion. But, according to a recent Governing article, HOT lanes don’t always keep traffic moving as quickly as states and cities may hope—even when toll prices are very high.

Georgia and Los Angeles County use HOT lanes, but traffic still moves slowly in peak times. In Los Angeles, traffic gets so heavy at peak hours (when tolls reach $15) that officials have to close HOT lanes to single riders for 15 minute periods to ensure room for carpoolers and buses. Even though the toll gets as high as $10, Georgia’s road and toll way authority’s executive director says that most people don’t complain because traffic on the toll lanes moves faster.

Although the high prices certainly help pay for the new lanes, they don’t seem to have fully accomplished the goal of getting fewer people to commute alone. In Northern Atlanta, the number of cars using the toll lanes per day has more than tripled since they opened in 2011, perhaps indicating that the new capacity has encouraged more people—not fewer— to drive alone to work.
To further reduce congestion, these regions are pursuing other strategies, such as:
  1. Toll Credits—Los Angeles County offers $5 in toll credits to riders who use buses along the same route 32 times during rush hour; 
  2. Targeting Heavy Users—Georgia reaches out to people who drive at peak times (and pay peak tolls) four to five times a week to encourage them to drive at less congested times or work from home; and
  3. Making Carpooling and Using Transit EasierGeorgia Commute Options, a Georgia Department of Transportation initiative, provides a ride matching service to help commuters find car and vanpools and offers cash and prizes to people who commute to work in ways other than driving alone.