Recently in Toll roads Category

David King and I compose a sequel to our recent post on public transit, arguing: The case for (and against) public subsidy for roads @

"In recent weeks we have thought about public subsidy for transit and university subsidy for parking.

But what about roads? Are roads worthy of public subsidy?"

MnDOT has posted the evaluation of the recent Mileage Based User Fee test: Connected Vehicles for Safety, Mobility, and User Fees: Evaluation of the Minnesota Road Fee Test:

"In 2007 Minnesota legislature approved a $5,000,000 project in order to demonstrate technologies which will allow for the future replacement of the gas tax with a fuel-neutral mileage charge. The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) organized a study to examine the implementation and operation of a mileage based user fee program (MBUF), which might allow for the supplementation or replacement of traditional gas taxes. The primary objectives of the study were to: assess the feasibility of using consumer devices for implementing Connected Vehicle and MBUF applications. These applications included localized in-vehicle signing for improving safety, especially for rural areas, and the demonstration of the proposed Connected Vehicle approach for providing location-specific traveler information and collecting vehicle probe data. The study consisted of 500 voluntary participants, equipped with an in-vehicle system comprised of entirely commercially available components, primarily a smartphone using an application capable of tracking participant vehicle trips. Successfully meeting its primary objectives, the system was capable of assigning variable mileage fees determined by user location or time of day, as well as presenting in-vehicle safety notifications which had measureable effect on the participants driving habits. MnDOT contracted Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) to perform research for the project and an evaluation of its findings. This document is the final report from SAIC, providing a summary of the study, its findings and an evaluation of the project as a whole."

The rates tested were:

1. Outside Minnesota miles - $0.00 per mile;

2. Inside Minnesota miles – $0.01 per mile;

3. Twin Cities (“Metro Zone”) – Peak miles – $0.03 per mile; and

4. “Non-Technology” miles – $0.03 per mile.

It looks like there were some technology problems in the experiment (having worked with GPS and in-vehicle devices for research, I believe this is still emerging technology with imperfect reliability, insufficient for mainstream application):

As mentioned previously, trip data was only available for 57 percent of trips generated by the system. Of the 43 percent of trips where trip data was not available, 69 percent of the trip data loss was due to a vehicle detection failure. Trip data was only recorded if the system could both detect the device was in the correct vehicle and a valid GPS signal was found. Therefore, the remaining 31 percent of the trip data loss can likely be attributed to poor GPS signal during trips. Although the log messages associated with GPS availability cannot be extrapolated to measure the number of trips or miles impacted, the loss of trip data resulting from vehicle detection failures or lack of GPS signal during trips clearly identifies GPS availability as a significant system issue. The deployment team’s report provides additional insight into the accuracy of the system as it relates to GPS connectivity and accuracy. Intermittent GPS signal was reported as a contributing factor to lower device miles compared to odometer miles collected.

Just as a random statistic, which probably doesn't mean a lot, the report includes the word "success*" 27 times and "fail*" 33 times.

I believe MBUF or an equivalent will come eventually, but here and now the gas tax (or wholesale fuel tax, if we want to hide it), properly indexed to inflation and fuel economy, is where we need to be focusing for the revenue required to operate road systems in the US.

Eric Jaffe at The Atlantic Cities asked via Twitter last week: Should We Replace the Term 'Congestion Pricing'? :

"Two favorites in my mind come from transport scholar David Levinson, who suggests road fees for general road pricing (and peak road fees for road pricing aimed at heavy congestion), and urban planner Laurence Lui, who recommends road fares. What's nice about road fare is that it parallels mass transit, has an intuitive purpose, and offers flexibility. You can alter it to suit a specific situation — peak road fare, midtown road fare, etc. — without obscuring the basic meaning."

The term "fare" definitely has a public transit connotation, its definition is: "The price of conveyance or passage in a bus, train, airplane, or other vehicle."

The etymology is more general though:

fare (n.) Old English fær "journey, road, passage, expedition," strong neuter of faran "to journey" (see fare (v.)); merged with faru "journey, expedition, companions, baggage," strong fem. of faran. Original sense is obsolete, except in compounds (wayfarer, sea-faring, etc.) Meaning "food provided" is c.1200; that of "conveyance" appears in Scottish early 15c. and led to sense of "payment for passage" (1510s).

On the other-hand fee comes from

fee (n.) late 13c., from Old French fieu, fief "fief, possession, holding, domain; feudal duties, payment," from Medieval Latin feodum "land or other property whose use is granted in return for service," widely said to be from Frankish *fehu-od "payment-estate," or a similar Germanic compound, in which the first element is cognate with Old English feoh "money, movable property, cattle" (also German Vieh "cattle," Gothic faihu "money, fortune"), from PIE *peku- "cattle" (cf. Sanskrit pasu, Lithuanian pekus "cattle;" Latin pecu "cattle," pecunia "money, property"); second element similar to Old English ead "wealth."

OED rejects this, and suggests a simple adaptation of Germanic fehu, leaving the Medieval Latin -d- unexplained. Sense of "payment for services" first recorded late 14c. Fee-simple is "absolute ownership," as opposed to fee-tail "entailed ownership," inheritance limited to some particular class of heirs (second element from Old French taillir "to cut, to limit").

I could go either way, but I think "fee" is better established and more likely to be adopted.

Enterprising roadsp1

Recently published:

Most roads in the United States are owned and managed directly by government, with funding for construction and maintenance derived primarily from taxes on gas. For many decades, this system worked well enough, despite widespread problems with congestion and road quality. Recently, however, rising maintenance costs and falling fuel tax receipts have begun to call into question the sustainability of this model.

At their current levels, gas taxes will not provide the revenue needed to maintain America’s roads satisfactorily, let alone to rejuvenate and extend the network where necessary. Yet, direct political management hinders the development of new revenue streams, leads to operational inefficiencies and hampers innovation. Put simply, the organizations that built the U.S. highway networks are no longer suited to running them.

A better approach is urgently needed. Ideally, the organizations that manage roads should be able to finance road construction and maintenance through the sale of bonds, without requiring direct consent from higher political authorities. And they should be able to cover the costs of those bonds by charging for road use. More generally, they need to be capable, energetic, ingenious and ready to act. And for all those reasons, they need greater autonomy.

This paper argues that roads should be managed by independent enterprises, with a clear mission of providing service to customers. One way to achieve this, while maintaining overarching political control—and thereby prevent abuses of monopoly power—is to convert existing government operated road management organizations (such as the state Departments of Transportation) into regulated public utilities.

Within such a framework, a wide variety of ownership structures are possible, ranging from municipal- or state-ownership to mutual- and investor-ownership. Each structure has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, but all are superior to the existing system in one crucial respect: they clearly orient the road enterprise away from day-to-day politics and toward providing value to their users.

The regulated public utility model is already well-established in other important sectors in the U.S., including water, energy and telecommunications. Indeed, around 10% of wastewater utilities, 20% of water utilities, most pipelines, electric utilities, natural gas utilities, and virtually all telecom and cable utilities are investor-owned.

Internationally, the regulated public utility model is already operating successfully in transportation. The New Zealand Transport Agency, for example, has an independent board of directors who appoint the CEO, and works in accordance with a performance agreement negotiated with the New Zealand Ministry of Transport. Management is separated from governance, and service delivery is separated from policy. New Zealand’s approach has delivered large efficiency gains without compromising service levels.

Australia’s state road enterprises, meanwhile, demonstrate the benefits commercialization could bring to state Departments of Transportation in the U.S. By contrast with their American equivalents, Australian road enterprises—like New South Wales’s Roads and Traffic Authority or Victoria’s VicRoads—are innovative and highly business-like.

The United States should follow Australia and New Zealand’s lead, and transform its state Departments of Transportation (or the highways divisions thereof) into separate, publicly regulated, self-financing corporate entities. Full-cost accounting—as already performed by Arizona’s Department of Transportation—constitutes a necessary first step in this direction. In making the transition, policymakers should strive to impose regulation only where absolutely necessary, to minimize the anti-competitive effects of any such regulation, and to leave social objectives to the government, thereby freeing road enterprises to focus on economic ones. Accordingly, road enterprises should be permitted to pursue cost-effective contracting and public private-partnerships as they see fit.

The new road enterprises should also be given latitude to make greater use of user fees—as opposed to general revenue—for funding their activities. Such charges are not just more efficient and equitable than traditional funding sources; if properly designed and implemented, they are also better suited to reducing congestion through effective pricing. Vehicle-miles-traveled charges, weight-distance charges and electronic tolling are all options that road enterprises should be free to pursue.

There is no single formula for success. Road enterprises will learn by doing, and by trialing alternate strategies. The U.S. has 50 separate laboratories of democracy in which road enterprises and state authorities can experiment to find out what works and what doesn’t. There will be successes and failures along the way: successes will be replicated; failures will be eradicated. It is only by establishing a learning process like this that innovative progress in surface transportation can be made.



Via BS, Betabeat: You Were Warned: Uber Says E-Hailing Fares Will Skyrocket Amid New Year’s Eve Demand :

"NYE pricing is not for the faint of heart. The average surge multiple will likely be 2x normal prices, but during extreme spikes it could cost you $100 MINIMUM before time and mileage charges! So be careful with those Uber ride requests. Uber rides will be reliable on New Year’s Eve, but they’ll also be pretty pricey."

The more of this and *not* having road prices vary by time of day will seem strange. We should just use the words "surge pricing" rather than "road pricing".


Recently published

Carrion, Carlos and David Levinson (in press) Valuation of travel time reliability from a GPS-based experimental design Transportation Research part C [doi]:

"In the Minneapolis–St. Paul region (Twin Cities), the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) converted the Interstate 394 High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes to High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes (or MnPASS Express Lanes). These lanes allow single occupancy vehicles (SOVs) to access the HOV lanes by paying a fee. This fee is adjusted according to a dynamic pricing system that varies with the current demand. This paper estimates the value placed by the travelers on the HOT lanes because of improvements in travel time reliability. This value depends on how the travelers regard a route with predictable travel times (or small travel time variability) in comparison to another with unpredictable travel times (or high travel time variability). For this purpose, commuters are recruited and equipped with Global Positioning System (GPS) devices and instructed to commute for two weeks on each of three plausible alternatives between their home in the western suburbs of Minneapolis eastbound to work in downtown or the University of Minnesota: I-394 HOT lanes, I-394 General Purpose lanes (untolled), and signalized arterials close to the I-394 corridor. They are then given the opportunity to travel on their preferred route after experiencing each alternative. This revealed preference data is then analyzed using discrete choice models of route. Three measures of reliability are explored and incorporated in the estimation of the models: standard deviation (a classical measure in the research literature); shortened right range (typically found in departure time choice models); and interquartile range (75th–25th percentile). Each of these measures represents distinct ways about how travelers deal with different sections of reliability. In all the models, it was found that reliability was valued highly (and statistically significantly), but differently according to how it was defined. The estimated value of reliability in each of the models indicates that commuters are willing to pay a fee for a reliable route depending on how they value their reliability savings."

How to solve traffic jams

Jonas Eliasson gives a TEDx talk on Congestion pricing:

A former student sends me to Peter Samuel @ TOLLROADSnews, who has a very nice rant (as with many things I post, I don't necessarily agree with it): Road funding reformed - dedicate fuel taxes to deficit reduction:

"It's high time highways supported themselves. Gasoline and diesel tax revenues are needed much more urgently for reducing dangerously bloated government deficits. The federal government should stop spending money on highways or transit. Those needs should be managed by the states. States too should use their fuel taxes for deficit reduction - devolving most responsibility for highways to metropolitan areas and counties, and encouraging user fee (toll) financing as an optimal and sustainable funding method.

As part of the end of federal-state grants and state grants, they'd of course lift restrictions on how roads are funded and managed. And they'd end the protracted federal permitting and planning and federal 'records of decision.'

Let counties and metro areas be fully responsible for their roads and transit. State devolution can proceed state by state at their own pace as dictated by their own legislatures.

Federal abandonment of highway and transit spending is most urgent. A deal has to be reached to control the federal deficit without increasing damaging new taxes. The new Congressional Budget Office report on choices for deficit reduction notes that continuing federal deficits:

- raise interest costs as a proportion of the budget and reduce the spending power of any given level of revenues

- reduce national saving and increase dependence on foreign lending

- limit national options

- increase the likelihood of a fiscal crisis in which investors lose faith in the US Government and require increasing risk premiums to lend to it

Present deficits they say are "ultimately unsustainable." "

And it goes on beyond that ...

Similarly with Interstate highways. As a descriptor of the actual function of these roads it's such an absurd term that only governments could embrace it. Interstate highways carry predominantly intra-metropolitan traffic. Or intra-state traffic in the sense of traffic moving within the state. Except in the tiniest states like Rhode Island and Delaware the vast majority of traffic using so-called Interstate highways is intra-state.

In short interstate traffic on misnamed Interstate highways is trivial.

There is no justification or rationale for the federal government to take financial responsibility for these highways.

Maybe there was at some point in the past - there was a certain charm to the idea of a national government stitching diverse states together. Or emulating the Nazis national 'autobahn' network was held to support national defense. That provided a justification for federal funding of interstates.

However all this is history now. Nostalgia and inertia is all that keeps the federal government financing highways.

In a rational scheme of governance local and metropolitan government would work out a framework for charging for roads. It's unlikely the locals would do much tax financing because obviously taxes fall only on local people and businesses and don't charge visitors and passers-through.

So there would be lots of tolling.

Now that gantries over a road can collect tolls at highway speed it's feasible to toll surface arterials as well as expressways. Major road improvements could be financed in part by assessments made of increased property values where those property owners agree to opt in to an improvement scheme. Strictly local streets could be funded by property taxes.

Separate segments of highways should be self-contained business operations, charging what the traffic will bear in competition with others, and making improvements where the risk takers make the judgment that users will subsequently pay for those improvements in tolls.

No VMT charges please

What we do NOT need is some centrally collected vehicle miles traveled charge.

Milleage based fees would perpetuate the dysfunctionality of centralized fuel taxes in which funds are allocated by politicians according a mix of ideology and favor trading. Central government management of roads and political management of funds is a disaster - improper pricing and lack of incentives to provide service produces chronic congestion, totally unnecessary congestion, high cost, neglect of high return projects and wasteful investment in unnecessary ones.

Proper pricing would manage traffic for freer flow and provide strong incentives to invest where there is a need for extra capacity and where that extra capacity can be provided profitably. But that requires highways to be privatized into many separate businesses. Or at least run as county or city owned businesses. The important thing is that their revenues derive from customers they serve.

They could get economies of scale by banding together to contract for joint services. But we need highways to be a diversity of different business units each managing its investments and operating expenditures based on what users will pay and where profits (the excess of consumer value over cost) lead them.

Load Balancing


HBW 30min speeds kmh

Road pricing has been unsuccessful because it is framed wrong. I say it is unsuccessful because it is not widely adopted, despite being a policy proposal on the table for decades, despite its widespread support among transport economists. Unfortunately, it is perceived (by drivers) as punitive.

Pricing has two complementary objectives, raising funds and allocating resources. We already raise funds for roads, with gas taxes. Gas taxes are in the present (non-EV) world almost perfect as a fund raising mechanism, as they don't have much in the way of administrative costs, but they are poor at allocating resources. See Marty Wachs' paper on this.

We of course might want more funds, but I believe we cannot raise revenue and switch methods at the same time. If we want to switch methods (to better allocate roadspace) we need to be revenue neutral. If want to raise revenue, we should raise rates under whatever system is adopted. These two debates should not be conflated.

The primary objective of any new road pricing strategy should be to better balance loads, i.e. manage the use of a scarce resource, roadspace, during the peak hours. Basically we want to move some drivers from the peak to the shoulders of the peak or the off-peak to reduce congestion.

Because it is costlier to provide extra capacity to support travel in the peak, and because of congestion externalities, travelers in the peak should pay more than travelers in the off-peak to satisfy both equity and efficiency arguments. Currently most federal and state road funding is from a gas tax that is proportional to fuel consumed, more or less proportional to miles traveled, but almost entirely independent of when that travel takes place (more fuel may be consumed per mile in the peak than the off-peak because of additional braking events in stop-and-go traffic, but this is too small to affect people's behavior).

Temporal variations

The critical aspect of urban travel is its peak by time of day. We have morning and evening rush hours, corresponding to when most people go to and from work. However, there is a lot of non-work travel in these periods as well, people going shopping, to the gym, or eating out, which may have more sensitivity to price than work travel. We can see peaking in the attached figures. Demand for work travel peaks in the morning and evening (non-work trips are flatter, but not flat). Speeds drop in the morning and afternoon peaks. If we balanced the load more evenly, average speeds would rise in the peak and drop in the off-peak. But the net should be an overall gain, since there is excess off-peak capacity.

Figures from Parthasarathi, Pavithra, Anupam Srivastava, Nikolas Geroliminis, and David Levinson (2011) The Importance of Being Early. Transportation 38(2) pp. 227-247

Spatial variations

Just as we want to balance trips across time of day, we might want to balance trips across the network. While during the peak, some links are congested, others have spare capacity. Perhaps we can move travelers around?

Work in our labs with computer models of the Twin Cities road networks is that moving from a user equilibrium solution, where each driver selfishly chooses his or her own route, to a system optimal solution where each driver chooses a route that is best for society, reduces total Vehicle Hours Traveled by less than 5 percent. This suggests there is not much to gain for all of the complexity involved in getting travelers to switch routes, but keep their time of day.

A strategy that respects privacy.

A concern that arises with most road pricing proposals is government tracking. While I am personally of the belief we don't really have privacy anymore, I can understand the desire to at least make it more difficult to track you. Installing devices in vehicles as a government mandate is not reassuring to anyone, tin-foil hat wearing or not. To be adopted, policy has to respect that.

Suppose we increase the gas tax to the desired peak hour rate. [This is the politically difficult part.] We then offer a discount for off-peak travel. This discount requires voluntarily installing in your vehicle a device which tracks when your car is in operation, and the odometer reading. (Not where, just when). For each hour of travel during the peak, you have already paid the peak rate. For each hour of travel in the off-peak, you get an off-peak discount.

So for instance, let's assume you consume 500 gallons of fuel per year (@20 MPG, this would be 10000 miles). Let's assume half of your time is in the peak and half is in the off peak, as measured by the clock. Assume previously, the gas tax was 35 cents a gallon, all the time. You would have paid $175 a year.

Now the "peak" gas tax is 50 cents a gallon, so you paid $250. The off-peak gas tax is 20 cents a gallon. If you install the device, you would get an annual off-peak travel rebate of $250-$175 = $75 (500 gallons * 50% of time * $0.50/gallon peak + 500 gallons * 50% of time * $0.20/gallon off-peak = $175). If you wanted to keep your privacy, you would not install the device. Privacy is not costless.

The device of course makes the system somewhat more complicated than existing, but is hopefully inexpensive in large numbers (my insurance company issues one to me, it can't be that expensive), and the rates make the system slightly more complicated. Altogether, that is unavoidable if you want to add a time dimension to the prices charged to travelers.

As the saying goes YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary), so while this example was revenue neutral in a world of static demand, it might lose money if everyone installed the device and people respond to incentives and change behavior. Based on experience with changes in gas prices, we expect those changes are relatively small (the elasticity of demand with respect to gas price changes is pretty low). Further, not everyone will install the device. But changes don't have to be large to have an effect, and we don't want them to be too large (otherwise the peak is uncongested and the off-peak is congested). We could come up with schedules that would be appropriate, and might have different rates at different times (e.g. peak of the peak, shoulder, mid-day, and off-peak).

Another objection is out-of-state travel. Here, we are simply computing when you travel and assuming all fuel is purchased in the home state. If every state has such a system, this probably has very small boundary effects. If one small state adopts this, and its neighbors don't some residents might travel out of state to purchase fuel (leading them to not adopt this). Again, I suspect the losses will be small, though they may be measurable. There could either be a federal mandate for such a system (which I would not like), or agreement among the various states to coordinate the pricing mechanism. If the rates differences (peak vs. off-peak) are small, they will not distort behavior much, and that might be the best way to implement, and then the differences can be increased over time (peak prices increasing, off-peak decreasing, until the desired load balance was achieved).

Linklist: July 4, 2012

Linklist: June 18, 2012

NY Times: Experimental Campaigns Pay Drivers to Avoid Rush-Hour Traffic

[This idea has been around for a while in various forms. The problem is, it can be gamed (I won't drive in peak hour, pay me ... even though I wouldn't have anyway), and who pays for the carrot.]

Places: Design Observer gives us some recent book reviews: Reviews: ReThinking a Lot, Reinventing the Automobile

Two views on Transit in Apple Maps: Greater Greater Washington: Apple dropping Google Transit is actually good for transit and Cocoanetics Public Transit in iOS 6

Big cities have lots of congestion. Big cities have lots of accessibility. Therefore congestion causes accessibility. . Therefore accessibility causes congestion.

I don't think the last sentence is necessarily correct either. It might be more accurate to say that congestion is an indicator of economic activity (and poor resource management). However increasing the number of people per unit space (density) without increasing the transportation capacity to move them, or changing their travel behavior, will increase congestion. Similarly, increasing the number of people per unit space (density) without changing their travel costs will increase accessibility, and may increase accessibility even if you increase their travel costs.

As a reminder, accessibility is a measure of the ease of reaching valued destinations, which we often operationalize as the number of things (jobs, shops, schools, etc.) you can reach in a given time (10, 20, 30 minutes) by a particular mode (car, bus, walk, bike) at a particular time of day (7 am, noon, 5 pm, midnight). This operationalized measure is called cumulative opportunities, and is easily explained, even to politicians. Big cities have more things, and higher density, and thus usually have more accessibility, especially at longer time distances. The opposite of accessibility is isolation (or access to nothing, how much of nothing I can reach in 10, 20 or 30 minutes). We know people care about accessibility, since the cost of land in the most accessible places is much higher than the least accessible places.

Congestion occurs when a facility is overcrowded. So if a bridge can carry 3600 people an hour (its capacity), but 4000 people want to use it (its demand), we say it is congested. At the end of the hour, there will be 400 people left waiting to use the bridge (who will presumably be first in line to use it during the next hour). Congestion occurs potentially on all modes, since every mode has a capacity, and on any facility, which again have some capacity. Many modes however are operating very far from capacity, have excess, unused, or spare capacity, and thus don't see congestion with additional users. Congestion matters to users because of the delay that results, the travel time above and beyond what the user would have experienced in its absence.

So can we increase accessibility, which people value, without increasing congestion, which people dislike?

There are several possible strategies:

  1. Increase capacity
    1. Expand capacity on the congested mode or facility.
    2. Expand capacity on an alternative mode or facility.
    3. Build new facility.
    4. Better manage existing capacity

  2. Reduce per capita demand

    1. Price
    2. Ration
    3. Exhortation

There are many different ways these can be implemented.

To start, we could simply increase capacity without trying to address demand. Unfortunately, there are rising costs (and diminishing returns) to capacity investments. All the high benefit, low cost projects have already been done (the economist's proverbial $10 bill is not lying on the street is it?). So we are left with really expensive projects to get more capacity, which often involve tunneling or elevated structures (since all the good rights-of-way are already used). Perhaps there will be technological breakthroughs which reduce the costs of tunneling, or other construction. It hasn't happened yet.

We might better manage capacity. This is certainly an option. If we can get the driver out of the loop, so cars can drive themselves, we could narrow lanes (and thus get more of them per unit of pavement) and cars could follow more closely. Both of these things will increase throughput. There are simpler technologies (ramp metering, rapid incident clearance, and so on) that have already been widely deployed in many cities.

Pricing comes in numerous flavors. It might be very precise to time and location, or might be in selected areas, or on selected facilities, or at selected times of day, or everywhere. HOT Lanes that charge by time of day on selected facilities may guarantee that a particular facility is uncongested (by limiting demand on that facility). This is as much pricing for reliability as pricing to reduce congestion. The political advantage of HOT lanes is their voluntary nature, and the untold alternative. We could certainly extend this to truck-only toll lanes (TOTs) and perhaps to some other domains. The London Congestion Charge affects most traffic entering Central London, regardless of time of day or miles traveled. In Germany heavy goods vehicles pay to travel on the autobahn. Some people have even come up with the silly concept of paying people not to drive. By pricing more in the peak (and less in the off-peak) flexible travelers will switch travel times from when capacity is fully utilized to when there is spare. Of course, induced demand operates in all cases, but that can be considered when setting prices.

Rationing seems fair, and is used in many megacities throughout the world, either rationing number of vehicles, or the days they can be driven. During World War II, the US rationed rubber tires and fuel. Rationing however often devolves into a black market (and thus pricing), as people pay for rations. For instance there is a large market in license plates in cities that have day of week license plate rationing.

We often mock exhortation (well at least in my social circles), but on occasion exhortation has been used fairly effectively, often coupled with monetary incentives: smoking has gone down, and recycling up in the US in part due to exhortation. (My 5 year old daughter tells me how recycling is better than throwing in the trash, so clearly the education campaigns start young). How much of the change is due to changing mores and social preferences, and how much to cigarette taxes or trash collection discounts for recycling is hard to say. On the other hand, modern campaigns to encourage transit use and carpooling have been notable failures.

In short, to paraphrase John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Congestion is over! If you want it. We can have accessibility without (or with less) congestion. I don't think we want it badly enough. The choice is really congestion OR pricing, and the political cost of pricing has to date outweighed the political cost of congestion. We don't value the time savings of accessibility enough for politicians to do the things necessary to save time. On the other hand, voluntary tolls (HOT lanes, TOT lanes, and so on) are more politically acceptable, giving people travel time reliability for an uncertain price, which is better than nothing, but certainly not the best possible.

A large part of the problem is thus its political nature. We would not in the US tolerate periodic blackouts from an electric utility because they could not manage supply and demand. In fact this was the what in large part led to the downfall of Governor Gray Davis of California and the rise of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Why do we tolerate the transportation equivalent of queueing? Because roads are owned and operated by governments. If they were separate (and regulated) organizations, not directly responsible to the state legislature, we might have different outcomes. The notions of "free" and "already paid for" and "double-taxation" that are used to politically defeat tolling proposals would be replaced with a "fee for service" concept common in public utilities. My mental model of governance is that "institutions loosely coupled", each with specific missions, management, and revenue, would outperform a giant monolithic government that tries to do everything for everyone.

Getting from our current world to a slightly better one can be achieved calmly and rationally via white papers and deliberation, or through a real or politically generated "crisis" (the preferred mode of governance in the US). I have the feeling that so many people have played the "crisis" card that there is "crisis-fatigue", and as a rationalist would certainly rather we went at this systematically. However, politics does not seem to want to make transitions without some stress. Perhaps the rise of electrification and the collapse of gas tax revenue will be the crisis required to move to a new and different organizational regime in surface transportation. But this is a slowly building crisis that could take the rest of my career, and I am impatient.

RebeccaRiots Rebecca Riots artists depiction Illustrated London News 1843 via wikipedia

The 2012 proposal by David Cameron to “privatize” UK roads, by contracting out management of the roads in exchange for a stipend of taxes (but notably not tolling existing roads, only new construction) (Watt, 2012) is interesting, and promises a short-term revenue fix (and possibly better managed roads) in exchange for less funds downstream. In Great Britain, after World War II public corporations managed most utilities (electricity, gas, water, and rail) while others remained within the public sector (post and telecommunications, roads). The Thatcher administration successfully privatized British Telecom in 1984 and other public utilities in subsequent years, including bus transit and some rail transit, but not roads. The government retained the power to regulate these natural monopoly industries.

In many countries, freeways are operated by private sector firms under a franchise or concession agreement with the government, which usually retains underlying ownership of the road (Daniels and Trebilcock, 1996; Poole, 1997; Poole Jr and Fixler Jr, 1987). As of 2004, more than 37 percent of motorway length in the EU25 plus Norway and Switzerland was under concession, and 75 percent of that was privately operated (Albalate et al., 2009).

There is even limited experience in the US with contracting operation of existing roads, which has not been without controversy, the most notable examples are the long-term leases of the Indiana Turnpike and Chicago Skyway (Samuel and Poole, 2005). New toll roads built and operated by private firms are much more widespread, and include the Dulles Greenway and Pocahantas Parkway in Virginia, the Adams Avenue Turnpike in Utah. This experience applies well to toll roads, and variants such as High Occupancy/Toll (HOT) lanes (Poole et al., 1999) and Truck-only Tollways (Samuel et al., 2002). California’s SR-91 median toll lines were privately built on public right-of-way, and later bought out by a public toll agency. Presently, the MnPass HOT lanes in Minnesota manage toll collection under a concession to private organizations. A large share of the few new limited-access roads built in the US have adopted the toll model, and more could follow suit (Fields et al., 2009; Poole and Samuel, 2006; Poole and Sugimoto, 1995; Staley and Moore, 2009).

Yet, most roads, and even most freeways, in the US are not toll roads. Strategies such as mileage-based user fees or vehicle mileage taxes, which replace and improve upon existing motor fuel taxes have been vetted, and may ultimately be implemented. But allocating funds to particular roads, while technologically straight-forward, may face resistance from privacy concerns.

There are technical solutions to privacy issues, but implementing these, in the face of the desire of security agencies to be able to track individuals, will be difficult. It may turn out with cameras, mobile phones, and other devices, we lose privacy about our whereabouts well before road pricing is implemented. The solution may be as Brin (1998) suggests a Transparent Society, where everyone can watch everyone, the state does not have a monopoly on monitoring. Based on historical experience (Levinson, 2002), implementing tolls on existing untolled roads is likely to be politically difficult and unpopular. A 2007 petition in the UK to then Prime Minister Tony Blair beseeched:

“The idea of tracking every vehicle at all times is sinister and wrong. Road pricing is already here with the high level of taxation on fuel. The more you travel the more tax you pay.

It will be an unfair tax on those who live apart from families and poorer people who will not be able to afford the high monthly costs.

Please Mr Blair forget about road pricing and concentrate on improving our roads to reduce congestion.”

– The petition, now closed, could previously be found at:

This petition to scrap “the planned vehicle tracking and road pricing policy” was signed by more than 1.8 million UK residents by 2007, more than any other petition in history. It clearly has informed Cameron’s proposed policy.

Further the problem of rates differing by route (such as marginal cost prices, the theoretical ideal from a micro-economics perspective), would undoubtedly increase system complexity and distrust, with likely only small gains from system efficiency. Our best estimate from computer models is that moving from a user equilibrium solution, where each driver selfishly chooses his or her own route, to a system optimal solution where each driver chooses a route that is best for society is less than 5 percent reduction in total Vehicle Hours Traveled in the Twin Cities. This suggests the “price of anarchy” (the ratio of user equilibrium to system optimal travel times) is not large on real road networks, despite externalities such as congestion, and imperfect competition among roads. Much larger gains are to be had if travelers shifted to different times of day, but that need not be route-specific.

If the rates were set by private firms in an unregulated manner, monopoly links would have higher prices and be rightly perceived as exploiting their position. In a robust network, monopoly routes are scarce, often there are many viable paths between given origins and destinations, but local monopolies remain, especially on poorly designed, or geographically constrained networks. While there are innovative economic solutions it is likely that a disjoint system of too many road operators, in addition to being complex and unpopular, may be inefficient as economies of scale and network externalities are not fully realized.

Albalate et al. (2009) describe recent toll road privatizations as indicating a change in government intervention which sees “transitions from internal control on processes and inputs to external control on performance outputs.” Toll privatization results in an increase in price regulation. In Europe, privatization entails transfer of management and operation (through concessions) for a time period, while underlying asset ownership is retained by the government. It is widely observed in the public management literature that found that more agency autonomy is accompanied by an increase in external controls. Still focusing on the outputs (the performance measures) rather than on how those measures are achieved should, by decentralizing decision-making, produce a more efficient outcome.

Economic solutions to the monopoly problem include auctions for the privilege for operating routes which would allow the public to recover these monopoly profits, or reverse auctions where firms would bid to charge the lowest rate to operate the route. Future franchising such as Present-Value of Revenue (PVR) auctions may entice government agencies to reconsider the toll finance mechanism. The PVR auctions are similar to the so called Demsetz auctions (used in the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) approach) with the exception that private firms compete through bidding for the present value of toll revenue they want to obtain from the project. In this way, the consequences of these auction are: no renegotiations (franchise terms are lengthened or shortened to meet bid PVR); no special clauses such as competition (the governments may build additional competing infrastructure projects because of previous consequence); incorporated buyout option (private firms receive their PVR bid, and governments acquire the infrastructure without bargaining behavior); and others. However, disadvantages of PVR auctions include: no incentives to increase demand (if demand increases it shortens the franchise term), and thus projects that require higher service quality may not be appropriate for PVR auctions (Engel et al., 2006).

A model that has been insufficiently explored in the US is that of public utilities. Many utilities share with transportation systems the characteristic of having a networked structure. Most, if not all, of these utilities are operated on the basis of a payment-for-use system. Utility pricing varies regionally, some locales vary prices by time of day, and users often have the option of choosing different rate plans. These models are never strict marginal cost pricing, but they may improve upon average cost pricing. There are strong parallels between public utilities and transportation services, though some differences exist in the nature of the services consumed, the role of technology, and the structure of institutions and decision making (Hillsman, 1995).

Water faces similar difficulties to transportation in the ambiguity of appropriate property rights. Institutional reforms began in the 20th century to better allocate water resources and to improve the efficiency of water use. The perspective of water changed from being perceived as a free good to a scarce economic good took place around the world (Saleth and Dinar, 2004). Institutional reforms differ by political setting and social environment (Saleth and Dinar, 1999), who observed that decentralization (from central to state and municipal governments) took place in Mexico, Brazil, while corporatization and privatization occurred in Chile, Brazil, France, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, among others.

Hillsman (1995) suggests four categories in which utilities have developed to manage demand:

  • Altering infrastructure,

  • Packaging services,

  • Substituting technologies, and

  • Changing the price of service.

Transportation agencies have considered all of these, but implemented them weakly. In reverse order: Prices are largely invariant, technological (modal substitutions) are not viable for most passenger or freight users, bundling and packaging of services is not considered when looking at pricing, and infrastructure is hidebound to engineering standards, and difficult to modify. One could easily imagine more creativity on the part of road providers in all of these aspects. The constraints on the application of creativity are due to the engineering culture in a public agency, where risk-taking is discouraged if not punished, and certainly never rewarded.

With some modification, it seems possible to transfer the utility model of governance to road transportation. This model separates the organization delivering the service from the client, is subject to rate regulation, and implements a more direct, user-pays system of financing. This model could depoliticize management of the existing transportation system. Whether rate regulation is in fact economically necessary is the subject of debate; for instance Stigler and Friedland (1962) argue there is no difference in prices in the electrical sector due to regulation, because electricity is competitive with other energy sources in the long run. One expects from experience with other utilities, toll roads, and road concessions in other countries that it would be politically necessary to have some public guarantee of an upper bound on the rates a road utility could charge, as provided by a regulatory agency. The risk is that an upper bound on revenue would be too tight, resulting in financial losses (and one of the causes of municipal takeover), as occurred in the then private mass transit sector throughout in the US in the early to mid 20th century.

Such a system would transform but not replace public highway or transportation authorities as the party responsible for providing and maintaining roads. One example of a transportation system that has transitioned to more of a utility-based model is the road authority in New Zealand (Starkie, 1988). This system was designed to be self-financing, with what was originally called the National Roads Board allocating charges among users on the basis of costs incurred. Three types of costs were identified: load-related costs, capacity-related costs, and driver-related costs (covering signing and other costs not related directly to road use).

There are other elements of costs not included, such as access costs (the cost of accessing the network from land and the cost of a connected network, which can be separated from capacity costs (related to the width of the roadway), and load costs (related to the thickness of the roadway), and environmental costs (both how the system deteriorates due to weathering independent of use, and how the environment is degraded due to use).

Vehicles are split into two classes on the basis of weight, with vehicles less than 3.5 tonnes paying a charge in the form of a fuel tax. In the US, Oregon has a weight-mile tax for heavy trucks. Heavier vehicles pay a distance license fee, which is essentially a form of weight-distance tax. Such a system is relatively straightforward and requires minimal new technology, leading to low collection costs compared with most proposed road pricing systems. (Newbery and Santos, 1999) have also estimated the costs and relevant charges for a similar, though hypothetical, system of user charges for the UK.

These types of road user charging schemes contrast with user charges based on a mileage tax concept utilizing GPS systems (Forkenbrock, 2008). There are a variety of potential technologies for assessing mileage taxes, most use GPS (or an equivalent such as cellphone triangulation) to identify location, since one of the advantages of these types of systems is the ability to charge different rates for different locations (city vs. country, freeway vs. local street, congested vs. uncongested road). GPS receivers do not normally transmit information. GPS-equipped vehicles can log the vehicle location internal to the vehicle. Some additional communication technology, which might report a reduced form of information (e.g. total amount owed) would be used to complete the transaction. For instance, a pilot study in Oregon (Zhang et al., 2009) had a chip in the vehicle log distance traveled by zone (an aggregated version of location) and time of day, without storing the precise location. The chip only reported to the external source the total charge owed, calculated by an onboard algorithm. So no detailed tracking information was shared. Simpler technologies such as a mileage based user fee would simply record the odometer reading, but this would not allow differentiation by time of day or location.

While the road user charging concept remains an attractive prospect, its application may still be many years away due to a combination of privacy concerns, implementation and transaction cost issues (Levinson and Odlyzko, 2008), and technological development issues. Some of these concerns might be obviated under a different governance structure, where it was neither the legislative nor executive branch of government making these decisions. Public utilities have a “mean level of trust” of 42%, (Jenkins-Smith and Herron, 2004), which is much higher than the trust in the federal government, which hovers in the 20% range (Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 2010). Dynamic pricing, as suggested for toll roads, significantly reduces consumer’s trust in an organization (Garbarino and Lee, 2003), as prices are no longer predictable and feelings of price gouging take place. Other US surveys suggest that the public feels dedicating the gas tax to transportation (hypothecation in the British jargon) would be a good idea. Of course this already occurs in most states and at the federal level, the public just does not realize it, and the political debate does not help. Hypothecation does not occur in localities, where roads are in fact funded out of general revenue, typically property taxes.

The discussions of road pricing for financing and congestion management in the US are still largely under the guise of existing institutions doing the pricing. To date, this has essentially been a non-starter. Perhaps with institutional reforms, reconfiguring state and local DOTs as public utilities rather than departments of state and local government, the logic the public applies to roads will change, from one of a public service paid by the pot of general revenue to a fee-for-service proposition paid for by direct user charges.


Albalate, D., Bel, G., and Fageda, X. (2009). Privatization and regulatory reform of toll motorways in Europe. Governance, 22(2):295–318.

Brin, D. (1998). The transparent society: will technology force us to choose between privacy and freedom? Basic Books.

Daniels, R. and Trebilcock, M. (1996). Private provision of public infrastructure: An organizational analysis of the next privatization frontier. University of Toronto Law Journal, 46(3):375–426.

Engel, E., Fischer, R., and Galetovic, A. (2006). Privatizing highways in the united states. Review of Industrial Organization, 29(1):27–53.

Fields, G., Hartgen, D., Moore, A., and Poole, R. (2009). Relieving congestion by adding road capacity and tolling. International Journal of Sustainable Transportation, 3(5):360–372.

Forkenbrock, D. (2008). Policy Options for Varying Mileage-Based Road User Charges. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, 2079(-1):29–36.

Garbarino, E. and Lee, O. (2003). Dynamic pricing in internet retail: effects on consumer trust. Psychology and Marketing, 20(6):495–513.

Hillsman, E. (1995). Transportation DSM: building on electric utility experience. Utilities Policy, 5(3-4):237–249.

Jenkins-Smith, H. and Herron, K. (2004). A Decade of Trends in Public Views on Security: U.S. National Security Surveys 1993-2003.

Levinson, D. (2002). Financing transportation networks. Edward Elgar.

Levinson, D. and Odlyzko, A. (2008). Too expensive to meter: The influence of transaction costs in transportation and communication. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 366(1872):2033.

Newbery, D. and Santos, G. (1999). Road taxes, road user charges and earmarking. Fiscal Studies, 20(2):103–132.

Pew Research Center for the People and the Press (2010). Public Trust in Government: 1958-2010.

Poole, R. (1997). Privatization: A new transportation paradigm. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 553:94–105.

Poole, R., Orski, C., and Institute, R. P. P. (1999). HOT networks: A new plan for congestion relief and better transit. Reason Public Policy Institute.

Poole, R. and Samuel, P. (2006). The return of private toll roads. Public roads, 69(5):38.

Poole, R. and Sugimoto, Y. (1995). Congestion relief toll tunnels. Transportation, 22(4):327– 351.

Poole Jr, R. and Fixler Jr, P. (1987). Privatization of public-sector services in practice: Experience and potential. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 6(4):612–625.

Saleth, R. and Dinar, A. (2004). The institutional economics of water: a cross-country analysis
of institutions and performance. Edward Elgar Pub.

Samuel, P. and Poole, R. (2005). Should States Sell Their Toll Roads? Reason Public Policy Institute.

Samuel, P., Poole, R., and Holguin-Veras, J. (2002). Toll truckways: A new path toward safer and more efficient freight transportation. Reason Public Policy Institute.

Staley, S. and Moore, A. (2009). Mobility First: A new vision for transportation in a globally competitive twenty-first century. Rowman & Littlefield Pub Inc.

Starkie, D. (1988). The New Zealand road charging system. Journal of Transport Economics and Policy, 22(2):239–245.

Stigler, G. and Friedland, C. (1962). What can regulators regulate-the case of electricity. Journal of Law and Econics, 5:1.

Watt, N. (2012). David Cameron unveils plan to sell off the roads: Sovereign wealth funds to be allowed to lease motorways in England, says prime minister. The Guardian Newspaper, Sunday 18 March 2012.

Zhang, L., McMullen, B., Valluri, D., and Nakahara, K. (2009). Vehicle mileage fee on income and spatial equity. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, 2115(-1):110–118.

David King sends me to Crooked Timber: The new enclosures as a threat to freedom cites a Guardian article: David Cameron unveils plan to sell off the roads: Sovereign wealth funds to be allowed to lease motorways in England, says prime minister

"If the road companies met the targets they would receive a proportion of the vehicle excise duty, which currently all goes to the Treasury. This would be seen as a particularly radical step because it would be a form of hypothecation – allowing a stream of revenue to be directed at a particular project. The Treasury normally resists this because it likes to keep control of prioritising spending across government."

"There will be no tolls on the existing road network. But if the road companies create new capacity – by adding lanes to existing roads or building new roads altogether – then they would be entitled to charge for their use."

"The bankers NM Rothschild suggested in a report in 2010 that privatising the road network could raise £100bn. Government sources said the scheme proposed by Cameron would raise far less because he plans to lease out trunk roads and motorways, rather than embarking on a full-scale sell-off, as NM Rothschild suggested.

The Cameron scheme would see a regulator for roads established along the lines of Ofwat, which oversees water and sewerage providers. Government sources were joking that they would have to think of a better name than Ofroad."

[This will be controversial.]

Linklist: March 19, 2012

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Steven Johnson Why The Bay Area Needs The Bay Lights [Transportation as art]

Created with over 25,000 energy efficient, white LED lights, it is 1½ miles wide and 500 feet high... The Bay Lights is a monumental tour de force seven times the scale of the Eiffel Tower’s 100th Anniversary lighting.

Pioneer Press Planning for [Sprawl in the] South Concord Corridor is in the works:

"A key part of the plan is building a frontage road for I-494 that connects the Hardman Avenue and Concord Street interchanges.

"This convenient frontage road access will open the area up to the market forces generated by the traffic on I-494 and will provide an improved environment for fostering retail, including restaurants," the study reads."

Via SR, Pretty cool use of US census data. From Hairycow

Atlantic Cities: Saving Detroit's Public Transit By Privatizing It [A foot in the door to privatization.]

Authenticated electricity: Sony power outlets will charge you for charging:

"Sony is building a new kind of power outlet that raises a not entirely pleasant prospect—in the future, plugging a phone into a public wall socket might require authentication and take a chunk out of your bank account. But the technology will have many important uses, Sony says, from managing payments for recharging electrical vehicles to avoiding blackouts by intelligently regulating the use of power."

MasterCard is pitching: Leave the Hassle at Home: Commuting can be Easier with ONE Card for ALL Stops:

"The vast majority of commuters we surveyed think so.  In fact, 72% of respondents in U.S., 85% in Singapore and 86% in South Korea told us they wish there was one card for use across all local mass transit systems. They also estimated that with one payment card they could save close to one hour (55 minutes!) per work week. Well, the capability already exists in MasterCard PayPass and for many, it’s already in your wallet."
[Yes, I agree, though the time savings is probably exaggerated.].

Baruch Feigenbaum @ Reason says: I-85 Managed Lanes are A Success. [They may or may not be, these data do not prove one way or another yet, since total flows dropped and speeds rose. More people faster would be conclusive (from a transportation perspective, environmentalists would disagree). Fewer people faster is ambiguous, and depends on Value of Time. In percentage terms, speeds rose (3.2% in the GP lanes, 4.6% in the managed lane) more than flows dropped (1.7%)].

Lewis Lehe has posted: An Animated Argument For Congestion Pricing at Streetsblog. Well worth watching.

Ahmed El-Geneidy and Ehab Diab @ McGill have a new paper out: Understanding the impacts of a combination of service improvement strategies on bus running time and passenger’s perception 10.1016/j.tra.2011.11.013 in Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice :

"This study uses stop-level data collected from the Société de transport de Montréal (STM)’s automatic vehicle location (AVL) and automatic passenger count (APC) systems, in Montréal, Canada. The combination of these strategies has lead to a 10.5% decline in running time along the limited stop service compared to the regular service. The regular route running time has increased by 1% on average compared to the initial time period. The study also shows that riders are generally satisfied with the service improvements. They tend to overestimate the savings associated with the implementation of this combination of strategies by 3.5–6.0 min and by 2.5–4.1 min for both the regular route and the limited stop service, respectively. "

Time savings produce a "time illusion" in transit just as in HOT lanes, where travelers over-estimate their time savings from paying the toll and traveling at free-flow speed compared to the parallel untold road. This time illusion is a good thing for service providers, as customers over-credit the benefits they receive. This might, however, imply people overestimate the time loss from a reduction in service. In general, people overestimate their actual travel time (Parthasarathi et al. working paper).

Ars Technica Reports: Data caps a "crude and unfair tool" for easing online congestion: "Internet providers argue that they need to impose monthly data caps on their users in order to slay the "bandwidth hogs" running wild and free through their networks, goring ordinary users with their tusks when all those users want to do is view some funny cat pictures online after a tough day at the office. The idea is that a monthly quota can reduce the amount of network congestion during peak hours throughout the month. Fact or fiction?"

This is like limiting car ownership to reduce congestion, or imposing a gas tax. Sure it works in the crudest sense, but it is an atomic bomb where a precision bullet (congestion pricing or peak period quotas) would do.

Highway Back

WaPo: Maryland cuts ribbon on new toll road between Shady Grove and Laurel :

WaPo: ICC puts strain on Maryland’s transportation funds

Baltimore Sun: ICC opening to bring regions closer :

"Next month's opening of the main section of the Intercounty Connector linking Interstate 95 with Interstate 270 in Montgomery County is expected to have significant effects on Baltimore's economy as it brings the state's richest job and commercial market a half-hour closer to its largest city.

The debut of the new section Nov. 22 will close the gap between the already opened western section of the ICC and I-95 in Prince George's County. Unlike the first section, which has been mostly used for local traffic, the opening of the new stretch is expected to bring immediate benefits to many Baltimore-area drivers for whom the trip to Rockville or Gaithersburg has long been a traffic nightmare."

I drove the first section this past summer on my periodic visits to Montgomery County. It is a very nice ride, perhaps one of the more pleasant roads to be on. Compared with most long-distance roads on Montgomery County, it does not (yet) suffer congestion (and with tolls, it may almost never). It may even be faster to places like Aspen Hill from Tysons than using surface streets, despite the added distance (and cost).

As a planning question, rather than a subjective ride question, my views are more mixed. I did not work on the road plans when I was at MNCPPC, though we did model it (and tested what would happen with and without, just for fun). Clearly induced demand and induced development applies. Build it and they will come, don't and they won't. That does not of itself mean it is a bad thing, but it will shape development patterns assuming the tolls are not so high as to capture all of the benefits.

Montgomery County has lots of land use controls, so the induced development will, at first be in compliance with existing plans. But as new accessibility creates new value, the pressures to change zoning to accommodate that potential value will intensify. My own sense is the key points are the interchanges at I-95 in PG County, US 29 (itself mostly converted to freeway) and Shady Grove. Maybe not this election, maybe not the next, but at some point. And once that window is opened, facts on the ground will be essentially irreversible.

The other pressures will be to extend eastwards and westwards. I think eastwards (as once proposed to US 301) is more likely, since it is within the state. The flows on to and off of the ICC will inevitably create pressures on upstream and downstream links. Whether those pressures get relieved depends on numerous factors (roads are obviously slow to build and long to unbuild).

The Montrose Parkway, once the Rockville Facility, is a stub that was originally to connect the ICC with I-270 south of Rockville. As the right-of-way for that was turned into Matthew Henson State Park in the early 1990s, it would be difficult to revive. On the other hand, Matthew Henson State Parkway has a nice ring.

It's HOT in Georgia

The Washington Times does not like HOT Lanes. EDITORIAL: Georgia's tolling nightmare

The Georgia example seems to be HOV conversion, not 'take-away', however the HOV rule changed from 2 passengers to 3 passengers, which is effectively reducing throughput in that lane (and increasing demand for the other lanes), so long as the toll-payers don't make up the for the lost carpoolers. Hence the controversy. HOT lanes do not magically create capacity

toll roads coming on?


Human Transit: toll roads coming on?: ""

Arizona's Interstate 15 segment is later described as being "in the state's northwest corner," but why not state the obvious? It's not connected to the rest of the state, Arizona has no towns on it, and it's frankly a bit hard for Arizona to get to. It's the segment between Mesquite, Nevada and St. George, Utah

A perfect example of Taxing Foreigners Living Abroad

Linklist: September 8, 2011

MnDaily: U to implement bike reward system [RFID Tracking comes to biking before cars, and it is voluntary, something to look at for Road Pricing]

Inner Auto Parts History Of Crash Safety : " … While the jumble of confusing ordinances continued to plague pioneer motorists, a new wrinkle was added: the "speed trap." In smaller towns, particularly, marshals and other law officials lay in wait for unsuspecting drivers, timing them by stop-watch or "by guess and by gosh." Some lawmen were authorized to shoot at tires or to stretch chains or wire across the road. Until the motorcycle became a police vehicle, the local sheriff's office was somewhat limited in their pursuit of fleeing cars, since they were either on foot or on bicycles. … " [I really like this history for some reason, but I don't know where it originates, i.e. there are no references. I suspect it is not from Inner Auto Parts originally]

KurzweilAI: Human gait could soon power portable electronics [Capturing kinetic energy rather than letting it dissipate into heat].

Thomas A. Rubin, James E. Moore and Shin Lee cite Peter Gordon on the irreversibility of infrastructure, and why "no" is never finalTen myths about US urban rail systems Transport Policy Volume 6, Issue 1, January 1999, Pages 57-73. "Local transportation authorities understand well the political mechanisms available to them, and they continue to apply their misinformation tools with full cognizance and considerable effect. Voter propositions may fail, but there is nothing to prevent local authorities from studying their message, refining the marketing context of their appeals, and proceeding again. In the end, “They can lose as often as they have to. They only need to win once.” (Gordon, 1994)." Gordon, P., 1994. Conversation with authors, Los Angeles, CA. 14 July..

The Tappan Zee Bridge

A Big Bridge In The Wrong Place and The Tappan Zee Bridge on why the Tappan Zee bridge is mis-located. It has to do with toll revenues.

Planet money writes:

So I wanted to answer a simple question: Why did they build the Tappan Zee where they did, rather than building it a few miles south?

I started digging through newspaper clippings from the 1940s and 1950s. It turns out, the bridge was part of a much larger project: The New York State Thruway, one of the first modern highway systems.

The clippings also reveal something suspicious. There was an alternate proposal for a bridge at a narrower spot nearby. The proposal was put forward by top engineers at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

But that proposal was killed by New York governor Thomas E. Dewey. The New York Thruway was his baby; in a 1954 speech he proclaimed that it would be "the world's greatest highway."

I called historians, and libraries and historical societies. No one seemed to know for sure why Governor Dewey did what he did. Then I found Jim Doig, a professor emeritus at Princeton.

Doig interviewed some of the key government officials involved in the project, and knew the answer.

The Port Authority — the body that proposed putting the bridge further south — had a monopoly over all bridges built in a 25-mile radius around the Statue of Liberty.

If the bridge had been built just a bit south of its current location — that is, if it had been built across a narrower stretch of the river — it would have been in the territory that belonged to the Port Authority.

Equity of Evolving Transportation Finance Mechanisms

TRB Special Report 303: Equity of Evolving Transportation Finance Mechanisms addresses the equity of alternatives to current transportation finance mechanisms, notably mechanisms based on tolling and road use metering (i.e., road pricing). The committee that developed the report concluded that broad generalizations about the fairness of high-occupancy toll lanes, cordon tolls, and other evolving mechanisms oversimplify the reality and are misleading. The fairness of a given type of finance mechanism depends on how it is structured, what transportation alternatives are offered to users, and which aspects of equity are deemed most important.

The committee identified the various dimensions of equity important for public policy debates about evolving finance mechanisms, proposed specific issues for policy makers to consider when evolving mechanisms are proposed, and identified areas where future research is needed for a better understanding of the equity implications of such mechanisms.

To move beyond superficial analysis, the report calls on policy makers to insist on well-designed studies of transportation finance that yield reliable information about the likely distribution of burdens and benefits, and that facilitate comparison of a given finance strategy with alternatives. In addition, public policy makers who wish to promote equity should engage their constituents and other stakeholders early and often when considering the use of new or unfamiliar transportation finance mechanisms.

The report calls on researchers to explore further how people modify their use of the transportation system in response to changes in prices and services and the consequences of these responses. It also recommends the development of a handbook for state and local governments describing procedures for conducting equity analyses of transportation finance policies.

To inform the development of its report, the committee commissioned four papers. Links to the papers are below:
• The Incidence of Public Finance Schemes
• The Empirical Research on the Social Equity of Gas Taxes, Emissions Fees, and Congestion Charges
• Remediating Inequity in Transportation Finance
• Equity, Pricing, and Surface Transportation Politics

I served on the committee that helped TRB draft the report and learned a lot from colleagues and those who presented to us. Online now is the pre-publication version of the report.

TFC also sends this along:

South Indian Inscriptions Volume_3 - Inscriptions of Virarajendra I @

"In an earlier part of this volume, it was shown that Raja kesarivarman alias Virarajendradeva I., the victory at Kudalsangamam, must have reigned in the period intervening between the reigns of Rajendradeva and of Kulottunga I.,[1] and that, apparently, his immediate predecessor was Rajakesarivarman alias Rajamahendradeva,[2]   and his immediate successor Parakesarivarman alias Adhirajendradeva.[3]  Since then, Professor Kielhorn’s calculations of the dates of an inscription at Belaturu[4] and of another at Manimangalam (No. 29 above) have established the fact that Rajendradeva ascended the throne (approximately) on the 28th May A.D. 1052,[5] while the reign of Kulottunga I. commenced (approximately) on the 9th June A.D. 1070.[6]  Further, Professor Kielhorn has shown that the date of the Manimangalam inscription of the 5th year of Virarajendra I. (No. 30 above) probably corresponds to Monday, the 10th September A.D. 1067, and that, consequently, this king ascended the throne in A.D. 1062-63.[7]

That Rajamahendra reigned between Rajendradeva and Kulottunga I., may be concluded from an Alangudi inscription of the 6th year of Parakesarivarman alias Tribhuvanachakravartin Rajarajadeva (II.),[8] which quotes successively the three following earlier dates : -

(a) Line 22. – “the third year of the lord Vijaya-Rajendradeva, who was pleased to conquer Kalyanapuram and Kollapuram and to fall asleep (i.e.,  to die[9] in battle) on an elephant.”  This statement must refer to Parakesarivarman alias Rajendradeva, who is known to have set up a pillar of victory at Kollapuram.[10]

(b) L. 55.- “the third year of king Rajakesarivarman (alias) the lord Sri-Rajamahendradeva, who, while the law of Manu[11] flourished (as) of old, rescued the great earth from being the common property (of other kings), dispelled (with his) sceptre the dark Kali (age), and was pleased to be seated on the throne of heroes under the shade of a red parasol.”

© L. 63.- “the thirty-fifth year of the glorious Kulottunga-Choladeva, who was pleased to rule after having abolished tolls.”   This refers to Kulottunga I., who bore the surname Sungandavirtton,[12] i.e., ‘the abolisher of tolls.’"

Another reference to tolls in India is here:

No. 598 (Page No 418)
(A. R. No. 598 of 1907)
Nandaluru, Rajampet Taluk, Cuddapah District
Saumyanatha temple – on the same place, left side
This is dated in Saka 1172, Saumya, Rishabha, ba. 15, Friday, Rohini corresponding to A.D. 1249, May 14, Saka year being current on which day there is stated to have been a solar eclipse. It records a gift of all the tolls including the ‘maganmai’ dues leviable at Nirandanur, for the expenses of the several festivals in the temple of Sokkapperumal, by one Perumal-Pillai the headman of Kaliyur and a toll officer, to secure the well-being of Madurantaka Pottappichchola Gandagopalar alias Manma-siddharasa. The record is incomplete.

TFC writes in about the RamkhamhaengRamkhamhaeng Inscription:

In the time of King Ram Khamhang this land of Sukhothai is thriving. There is fish in the water and rice in the fields. The lord of the realm does not levy toll on his subjects for traveling the roads; they lead their cattle to trade or ride their horses to sell; whoever wants to trade in elephants, does so; whoever wants to trade in horses, does so; whoever wants to trade in silver or gold, does so. When any commoner or man of rank dies, his estate–his elephants, wives, children, granaries, rice, retainers, and groves of areca and betel–is left in its entirety to his children. When commoners or men of rank differ and disagree, [the King] examines the case to get at the truth and then settles it justly for them. He does not connive with thieves or favor concealers [of stolen goods]. When he sees someone’s rice he does not covet it; when he sees someone’s wealth he does not get angry. If anyone riding an elephant comes to see him to put his own country under his protection, he helps him, treats him generously, and takes care of him; if [someone comes to him] with no elephants, no horses, no young men or women of rank, no silver or gold, he gives him some, and helps him until he can establish a state [of his own]. When he captures enemy warriors, he does not kill them or beat them. He has hung a bell in the opening of the gate over there: if any commoner in the land has a grievance which sickens his belly and gripes his heart, and which he wants to make known to his ruler and lord, it is easy: he goes and strikes the bell which the King has hung there; King Ram Khamhang, the ruler of the kingdom, hears the call; he goes and questions the man, examines the case, and decides it justly for him. So the people of … Sukhothai praise him…

Early 13th century obelisk inscription. The implication of this structure of righteous rule is that toll roads were the standard and toll free was idealistic.

Now, I could have sworn one of the earlier Gupta period inscriptions in India bore something similar but my Sanskrit is non-existent.

There is controversy about this, and some writers insist, controversially, that is fake. (Sydney Morning Herald, Nevertheless, some things are interesting fakes. And the idea that a 19th century monarch "discovers" that the ideal of a 13th century monarch was toll free roads is suggestive of how people feel things *should* be.


Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz is the antagonist of Perry the Platypus in Phineas and Ferb. He runs Doofenshmirtz Evil Incorporated, a company dedicated to destruction (with little profit on the side). At least two episodes of this series deal with toll roads:

According to the Wikia: In Toy to the World: "Not far from the toy factory, Perry arrives at Doofenshmirtz's location where a large amount of bricks are being loaded into truck. Perry gets caught in a brick trap and Doofenshmirtz approaches, explaining that he plans on constructing a great wall around the Tri-State Area. The only way people would be able to get in and out is through his toll booth."

In this case Doofenshmirtz is being ``evil'', following the "enclosure" movement of earlier times (see also The Transportation Experience), but in this, enclosing an entire metro area for the purposes of raising toll revenue (profits). No new value is being created, in fact value is being destroyed as wealth is transferred and an otherwise useless wall is constructed to ensure excludability. (Unless there was a congestion problem, and Doofenshmirtz uses time of day pricing to manage demand, I just suspect this is unlikely).

In Candace Loses Her Head " he's going to use his Drill-inator to tunnel to China, then charge tolls."

In this case, he is adding value to the world (from a transportation perspective), and needs the revenue to pay back the Research and Development costs of the Drillinator, leave aside the operating and construction costs. This seems not terribly evil, but perhaps unsound.

Doofenshmirtz: Ah, Perry the Platypus! Your timing is impeccable. And by impeccable I mean: COMPLETELY PECCABLE! [Laughs] Your just in time to witness my latest scheme. Behold, my Drill-Inator! I will bore a tunnel to China, build a toll highway, and make millions!

Unfortunately ...

Doofenshmirtz: The molted lava of the earth's core completely slipped my mind.
(Which reminds me of Transatlantic Tunnel)

Strib discusses Targeting toll lanes to catch cheats: "

Targeting toll lanes to catch cheats


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.  


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.  


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.

The rise of the robot car


I (and others) have been interviewed as part of the Minnesota GO project (sponsored by MnDOT and the Citizen's League) about the future of transportation. The selection of me talking about the rise of the robot car is below.

Truth be Tolled

An interesting 12 part documentary by the opponents of the now apparently dead Trans-Texas Corridor. It is clear tolling and privatization (concessions/franchises/etc.) will be tough sells, especially if packaged as land grabs or enclosure.

David Levinson

Network Reliability in Practice

Evolving Transportation Networks

Place and Plexus

The Transportation Experience

Access to Destinations

Assessing the Benefits and Costs of Intelligent Transportation Systems

Financing Transportation Networks

View David Levinson's profile on LinkedIn

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