Targeting toll lanes to catch cheats

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Strib discusses Targeting toll lanes to catch cheats: "


Targeting toll lanes to catch cheats

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As many as nine of 100 cars using dedicated toll and carpool lanes are violating the rules, risking fines of more than $100, according to highway surveillance by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). In just four weeks this spring, 664 drivers were pulled over on suspicion of illegal driving in the restricted lanes on 35W and Interstate 394.  

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Despite the violations, MnDOT officials say the toll lanes are working as hoped: reducing congestion and smoothing out rush-hour flows.  

MnPASS doesn't come close to paying for itself because building the dedicated lanes and installing equipment to track vehicles cost tens of millions of dollars. In 2010, revenues from tolls and leases of the electronic gear brought in slightly more than the nearly $2 million cost of operating MnPASS.  

But MnDOT says the pay lanes were never intended to make a profit -- only manage traffic more efficiently so the state could reduce the need to spend even more money building highways.  

By that criteria, we need evidence that the HOT lanes have a higher vehicle throughput than general purpose lanes. I doubt this is the case (person throughput, sure with Buses; economic efficiency, sure its uses have a higher value of time; but not traffic). Whether any of that justifies the high capital costs is unclear. My colleague Jason Cao and others have done some estimates (see the powerpoint) which seems to show safety benefits (though this looks a really weak set of evidence since it does not account for secular trends in improving safety, has a very small sample of fatal crashes (which is good in that few people died, but bad for drawing conclusions) and is barely significant at the 10% confidence level).

In their analysis, excluding safety benefits, Benefits are less than Costs. The problem here is the use of the same value of time for MnPass and non-MnPass users. This is how agencies do Benefit Cost analyses, otherwise they would invest more to serve people with a high value of time (which is what a business would do), but since aside from MnPass High VoT people don't pay more, this is inequitable. Clearly MnPass users have a higher value of time, otherwise they would not pay. That same VoT assumption makes no sense in this case.

The agency says Minnesota will have only a fraction of the perhaps $40 billion needed for Twin Cities road projects over the next 20 years.  

"It's not a strategy for making revenues, it's a strategy for adjusting tolls to maintain performance," said Nick Thompson, director of policy and strategic initiatives at MnDOT.  

The state expects to add two miles of toll lanes next year to 35W in Burnsville and plans more MnPASS lanes on Interstate 35E and elsewhere in the Twin Cities. Drivers who want to travel in the restricted lanes without carpooling install electronic gear on their windshields to track tolls. Electronic highway signs post higher or lower tolls to discourage or encourage use of the restricted lanes depending on traffic flow.  

Tolls typically range from $1 to $4 during rush hours but can climb as high as $8, prompting some drivers to try to beat the system.  


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But when electronic tolls arrived in 2005 on Interstate 394, it introduced a trickier dimension for law enforcement. MnDOT pays the State Patrol $450,000 a year to use high-tech sleuthing to detect possible violators. Their equipment detects whether a car in a lane has a toll transponder, and whether the account holder has paid recently. As many as 9 percent of drivers are violating the rules on 35W, and as many as 5 percent are violating on 394, MnDOT says.  

Troopers cited 223 motorists for driving without the MnPASS account needed for those who aren't carpooling, and gave warnings to 49.  

And 21 drivers who held MnPASS accounts were cited for misusing them to avoid paying tolls.  

So if I do my math correctly, the $450,000/(223+49+21)cost per citation is $1535? That seems really high, and not cost effective. Maybe there is some missing information here.

1 Comment

Perhaps they're fudging the numbers a bit? Either that or someones not carried the 2 somewhere and heads will probably role for that.

David Levinson

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This page contains a single entry by David Levinson published on June 22, 2011 6:41 AM.

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