September 28, 2009

I-35W MnPass (HOT lanes) to open this week

From MPR I-35W MnPass (HOT lanes) to open this week The entire article talks about MnPass without mentioning I-394 (the link includes animations).

The interesting bit from a transportation perspective is the variable priced shoulders, and how well that works.

September 18, 2009

Monitoring the Effectiveness of HOV-to-HOT Conversions

Monitoring the Effectiveness of HOV-to-HOT Conversions

Speaker: Randall Guensler, Ph.D.
School of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Georgia Institute of Technology
Date: September 18, 2009
Time: 3:30 p.m.
Location: Civil Engineering Building Room 210

+ Live Webcast Link
Please sign into the webcast 15 minutes early. Be sure you have the Flash Player installed on your computer. You can install and test the player here. For questions or connection issues, e-mail

A critical element of the planning process is the ongoing evaluation of consumer response to transportation strategy implementation. Ongoing evaluation is especially important for high-cost intelligent transportation system (ITS) deployments and value pricing initiatives involving economic incentives that may impact user groups disproportionately. For pricing strategies to be sustained economically and politically in major metropolitan areas, policymakers need hard evidence as to the actual costs and benefits of such strategies. Too often in the debate over converting HOV lanes to HOT lanes, sweeping generalizations are made by advocates in favor of and against pricing initiatives without sufficient evidence to back their positions.

To date, studies have provided pretty clear and convincing evidence that variable toll pricing on congested freeway facilities can reduce congestion on the priced facility. Studies also indicate that managed lane facilities are used by all income groups (although not at the same levels). Previous research efforts have focused primarily on the commute trips. However, the use of HOT lanes affects mode choice, departure time, and travel time for the journey to work, as well as supplemental trip-chaining activities and even the long distance travel made by a household. Ongoing value pricing studies in Atlanta and elsewhere have yet to provide solid evidence as to the impacts of congestion pricing on total household travel and emissions. The data collected to date are inadequate to draw solid conclusions. Ongoing household panel data collection efforts that would provide a detailed look at changes in household travel behavior and emissions before and after congestion-priced facilities are opened have not been implemented concurrent with managed lane introduction due to cost. In the proposal for federal funding support for the HOV to HOT conversion in Atlanta, Georgia committed to implementing a comprehensive study to quantify the effects of the implementation on congestion, travel behavior, emissions, and equity.

Dr. Guensler will provide some background on the Commute Atlanta Value Pricing study in which more than 1.8 million vehicle trips were monitored on a second-by-second basis. He will discuss the major research issues that the team identified in assessing consumer response to pricing and the problems encountered in conducting long term panel studies. He will also demonstrate some of the new instrumented fleet monitoring systems and online electronic travel diary tools developed for various research efforts. Finally, he will provide some information on the planned Atlanta deployment designed to quantify the impacts of HOV-to-HOT conversion.

Refreshments will be served in the rotunda following the seminar.

September 10, 2009

The Economics of Road Network Ownership: An Agent-Based Approach - International Journal of Sustainable Transportation

Recently published:

Zhang, Lei and David Levinson (2009) The Economics of Road Network Ownership: An Agent-Based Approach. International Journal of Sustainable Transport Sept. 2009 3(5) pp. 339-359. [doi]

This paper explores the economic impact of alternative ownership structures on transportation system performance, social welfare, and regulatory needs. Road pricing, investment, and ownership decisions are jointly considered in an agent-based evolutionary model applicable to large networks. Results suggest that a centralized public regime with average-cost pricing is far from socially optimal with even moderate demand growth. When properly regulated, a completely privatized transportation network could achieve net social benefits close to the theoretical optimum and distribute a high percentage of welfare gains to travelers. But an unregulated private road economy would suffer from higher-than-optimal tolls and overinvestment.

Keywords: network economics; privatization; road pricing; simulation of network evolution; transportation financing

August 21, 2009

Input Taxes, Output Taxes and Electric Vehicles.

From ArsTechnica Ford's plug-in hybrids will talk to electrical grid This is for charging the cars at the best time of day (night), but in theory could be extended to a means for charging cars for electricity different than regular electricity, in other words, a mechanism for replacing the gas tax with a different energy input tax.

Fuel (or electricity) taxes are input taxes. Theory suggests it would be better to tax outputs (actual miles traveled, by time of day and location). This would send a more direct signal to consumers about the costs they impose on the system and others. The difficulty is that this may be a much more difficult enterprise from a variety of points-of-view (collection costs, political acceptability, and even technology (GPS shadows etc.). As a second-best, input taxes are not too bad, it is better than a tax totally unrelated to usage, and the 20-30% reduction in collection costs may well make up for any inefficiencies.

June 26, 2009

Comments on Long-Range Funding Solutions Symposium

On June 24th, MnDOT held a "Long-Range Funding Solutions Symposium" to examine issues associated with the long-term funding of transportation. I was asked to be a discussant. These are my comments in extended form.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to discuss the topics raised today.

First, MnDOT has identified $50 Billion of unfunded "needs" for additional resources of which 86% are for the purpose of "mobility" over the next 20 years. I am not clear as to how these needs were identified, but several points should be kept in mind. First, this is a slow-growing region (and outside the Metro a declining state). It has 5 million people now, and at best is growing at about 1 percent per year. Second, per-capita Vehicle Miles Traveled has been flat for almost a decade, and overall VMT growth has been flat for about half a decade. There are several reasons for this, most recently recession and high gas prices, but I think the most important is market saturation. if speeds are not growing (because we have maxed out the network given current technologies and face diminishing marginal returns to new road construction), and people have finite time, they choose not to devote additional time to travel (and thus distance). Fortunately, since the I-35W Bridge Collapse, MnDOT has adopted a "fix it first" approach, so that system preservation, operations, and maintenance get the largest share of the existing budget, and comprise the first funded element of needs.

We cannot know what "needs" for mobility are if we have an unpriced (or underpriced) transportation system. People will always over-consume if they are subsidized, and people do not presently pay for the congestion externality they impose on others. Once we have something like marginal cost pricing (or a second-best version thereof), we can determine which links generate more revenue than they cost to operate and maintain, and that will signal where capacity should be added, where the benefits of added capacity outweigh the costs.

Another way of thinking about what $50 billion means is that Minnesota is a state of 5 million people, so that amounts to $10000 of new construction for each resident of Minnesota (because this is above and beyond the funded part which takes care of preservation (we hope)). Over 20 years, $10000 per capita is $500 per year, or about $0.50 per trip. But that $0.50 per trip is not to pay for existing infrastructure, that is to pay for new infrastructure those travelers may or may not use; or if we were to charge users, we would be looking at 10 to 100 times as much per trip, as the new capacity built for $50 billion will serve only 10% to 1% of trips, most trips will continue to use pre-existing infrastructure.

We could also talk about mobility vs. accessibility, and why is it important to enhance mobility, but that is another long discussion, and the reader is referred to the Access to Destinations study for details.

Attention is a scarce resource, spending time on non-starters like $50 Billion in "mobility" needs detracts from real problems with existing infrastructure.

In short, the $50 Billion suggested comprises Wants not Needs. (as Jim Erkel calls it the Rolling Stones theory of transportation finance ... You can't always get what you want, but you get what you need).

Second, we need to re-examine the institutional structure of transportation funding and administration. We should consider a public utility model where a transportation authority or utility with independence from the legislation and executive branch of government determines how much is required to maintain (and as necessary expand) the transportation system, with oversight from a Public Utility Commission or similar. This would resemble how Natural Gas and Electricity and Water and Sewer in many places are currently delivered. Like those, transportation is a utility that has costs that users should bear as directly as possible. The user fee notion would be embedded into the governance structure of such a transportation authority. The British might call this a Transportation Trust. We could consider how this is organized at different levels of government (keeping state and local separate or bringing them together?)

Third, Value Capture has not been fairly characterized in the presentation made today. If we do not have road user fees, transportation creates value for land-owners. (If we do have marginal cost user fees, a closed system, and invest the revenue in transportation, making some simplifying assumptions, we would not have additional land value associated with investment (in the absence of agglomeration economies)). Since we do not have road user fees, value is created. Several of the methods proposed by the value capture study hold promise for financing transportation systematically, not just at the project level.

Fourth, in the short-term (next decade or so), gas taxes, indexed and adjusted appropriately should be used to fund transportation, as they are administratively much more efficient than road user charges. They have several advantages: foremost they are cheaper to collect than most of the proposed VMT charges. An annual odometer reading is certainly a similar alternative, but that does not have the environmental benefits of discouraging motor fuel consumption and encouraging better mileage. Ultimately as the fleet becomes electrified, the gas tax becomes a better and better incentive to move in that direction. If today 100% of the drivers use gas and pay for 100% of roads (which I recognize is not strictly the case at the state level, but is simply illustrative), and next year only 50% of drivers used gasoline, the remaining 50% would pay for all of the roads by doubling the gas tax. That provides a somewhat stronger incentive to switch to electricity. If the following year another 25% switch to electricity, than 75% use electric and 25% use fuel and pay the motor fuel tax, which is now 4 times as high. Eventually this becomes unsustainable as the last drive of a gasoline-powered car could not possibly afford 100% of the road system's costs, but in the meantime the incentive works in the right direction for the environment, and since government is always a lagging indicator, retaining the gas tax for as long as tenable should be considered the near term solution, with continuing research into road pricing, additional demonstration, and deployment of select strategies like High Occupancy Toll lanes. See Beyond the gas tax for a further discussion.

At any rate, as I have learned today, in Minnesota transit funding depends on the Motor Vehicle Sales Tax, so I will do my part to help fund transit and buy a car.

June 5, 2009

Seattle Tolls It All

From TollRoadsNews Seattle area plans comprehensive tolling - all expressways & arterials to toll

Note this is the long range plan (2040), so the technology, economics, and politics should change about a dozen times between now and then. Seattle is planning to toll an existing untolled bridge, which will be interesting to see if that can be politically acceptable.

May 1, 2009

Oberstar onboard with mileage tax

From LA Times: House transportation committee chairman wants mileage-based tax to pay for highway programs

April 24, 2009

Toll Road Traffic and Revenue Forecasts

Toll Road Traffic and Revenue Forecasts: An Interpreter's Guide by Rob Bain, a YouTube Video promoting the report:

YouTube - An Interpreter's Guide

March 27, 2009

Tolling White Papers

From AJ: The State of Oregon, the long-time US leader in transport finance, has posted a series of Tolling White Papers (about 2/3 down the page) Topics include:

Air Quality/Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Is pricing the best tool for reducing transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions?

Geographic and Situational Limits: Are there places in Oregon where tolling should not be considered? Are there conditions which should be defined and met for a tolling or pricing project to be successful?

Demand Projection Sufficiency: Are current travel demand models sufficient to effectively evaluate toll projects?

Economic Evaluation of Improved Reliability: How do we define and measure travel time reliability for personal and commercial travel, across a broad application of congestion pricing?

Assessing the Economic Effects of Congestion Pricing: How does “pricing” urban highway networks affect transportation, people and businesses?

Economic Comparison of Alternatives: How do you determine if tolling is a better alternative than other non-tolled options such as adding capacity or transit services?

Truck-Only Toll Lanes: Are truck only toll lanes a viable option for Oregon?

February 20, 2009

Obama Administration Shoots Down LaHood Mileage Tax Idea

Shot dead before it was even born ...

Via Techdirt, from Fox: Obama Administration Shoots Down LaHood Mileage Tax Idea

The Mileage tax, proposed in Oregon and some other states, and due to be proposed nationally, had the following debut for the US:

From the article:

"We should look at the vehicular miles program where people are actually clocked on the number of miles that they traveled," the former Illinois Republican lawmaker said.

Asked about the claim, transportation department spokeswoman Lori Irving immediately shot it down.

"The policy of taxing motorists based on how many miles they have traveled is not and will not be Obama administration policy," she said.

While I might think it a good idea from the point of view of managing traffic and replacing the gas tax as a source of funding, it will likely be more expensive to administer and politically unpopular, suggesting now is not the right time to pursue such a strategy.

The gas tax should be milked for all it is worth, until enough vehicles have switched away that it ceases to be viable. Scientific experiments on the technology underlying road pricing, and on the behavioral response are all worthy endeavors, but deployment is clearly premature.

December 24, 2008

No Congestion Charge for Mancunians

From TollRoadNews: Manchester UK popular vote rejects congestion charge & shift to public transport

"Just over half of 2m eligible voters have voted in eight Manchester area constituencies and the proposals went down to defeat in all eight, with the overall margin 79% against, 21% in favor. "

November 28, 2008

London congestion charge zone slashed by Boris Johnson

From Times of London London congestion charge zone slashed by Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson (BoJo) is eliminating the western extension of the congestion charge zone as of 2010, implemented in 2007, by former mayor Ken Livingston, but retaining the original core zone instituted in 2003.

October 20, 2008

Road User Study

The Iowa Public Policy Center-developed Mileage Charge will be tested in Baltimore, as noted in this Baltimore Sun article: Baltimore to test-drive gasoline-tax alternative.

It, or something like it, is the future. (though in contrast to a famous saying, "the future is *not* now".)

September 23, 2008

Federal officials struggle to maintain order at toll road hearing

From the LA Times: Federal officials struggle to maintain order at toll road hearing . The problem is the road crosses a park. This brings back the freeway revolts of the 1960s and 1970s.

August 31, 2008

Extra lanes in I-94 will stay

From Strib: Extra lanes on I-94 won't disappear. MnDOT is going to study making them managed or HOT lanes, extending the MnPass network potentially (which already includes I-394 and will soon have I-35W thanks to the Urban Partnership Agreement).

August 7, 2008

Congestion Charge does not end Congestion

From the Guardian: London still gridlocked despite congestion charge

Apparently, the problem is not that the congestion charge reduced demand (trips entering are lower), but that supply has been contracted due to road works and pedestrianization schemes.

Again of course, the objective in a dense city center should not be to move cars faster through the center, it should be about moving people to their destinations in the least time, and giving them more possible destinations.

Also the term "gridlocked" is used quite loosely and hyperbolically here.

June 24, 2008

NSW says no to congestion charge

NSW says no to congestion charge

"But Mr Roozendaal on Tuesday poured cold water on the suggestion, saying it was "not something the government will be part of".

"His whole theory is about taxing free roads into Sydney," the minister told reporters in Sydney.

"Sydney families already have high interest rates to deal with, high petrol prices. To face taxes on free roads into Sydney is an unacceptable burden for families in this city."

Prof Hensher's intervention follows the release of a report by the Institute last month, which called for car registration fees and petrol taxes to be scrapped and replaced with a congestion tax.

That plan was similarly rejected by Mr Roozendaal.

The introduction of a congestion tax is also opposed by the NSW opposition, which says public transport needs to be improved before such a change can be made.

"You cannot have a congestion tax without having proper public transport," opposition roads spokesman Duncan Gay told ABC radio on Tuesday."

Lesson: An 8% reduction of congestion is insufficient politically to warrant a whole new financing scheme.

June 17, 2008


UPDATED August 27, 2009.

I am leaving today for Paris, where I will be presenting a paper at The 3rd International Conference on Funding Transport Infrastructure. We hope to have the 4th conference in Minnesota next summer.

The paper is:

Levinson, David and Andrew Odlyzko (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) pp 2033-2046 [doi]

Abstract. Technology appears to be making fine-scale charging (as in tolls on roads that depend on time of day or even on current and anticipated levels of congestion) increasingly feasible. And such charging appears to be increasingly desirable, as traffic on roads continues to grow, and costs and public opposition limit new construction. Similar incentives towards fine-scale charging also appear to be operating in communications and other areas, such as electricity usage. Standard economic theory supports such measures, and technology is being developed and deployed to implement them. But their spread is not very rapid, and prospects for the future are uncertain. This paper presents a collection of sketches, some from ancient history, some from current developments, that illustrate the costs that charging imposes. Some of those costs are explicit (in terms of the monetary costs to users, and the costs of implementing the charging mechanisms). Others are implicit, such as the time or the mental processing costs of users. These argue that the case for fine-scale charging is not unambiguous, and that in many cases may be inappropriate.

June 15, 2008

Memo to the Next President of the United States on Transportation Policy

I have drafted a Memo to the Next President of the United States on Transportation Policy.

The memo outlines ten visions, which are summarized here, for fuller discussion, see the full memo:

  1. Within eight years more cars sold in the United States will be powered primarily by electricity and bio-fuels than by fossil fuels. All buses and passenger trains will use electricity or bio-fuels.
  2. Within eight years Americans will be able to ride autonomous smart cars that drive themselves in mixed traffic.
  3. Within a year, an independent federally-funded Bridge Inspection Service will begin to inspect and publicly report on the quality of all bridges on the National Highway System.
  4. After thorough evaluation, within eight years, bridges and pavements on the US Interstate Highway System will be upgraded to handle trucks carrying up to 100,000 pounds, increasing the efficiency of the trucking industry and by reducing the number of vehicle trips, increasing safety for other road users. These improvements will be paid for by the trucking industry, which directly benefits from the improved system. In heavily traveled corridors, a system of truck-only toll lanes will be constructed.
  5. Within eight years American travelers can choose to travel congestion-free by car or bus through America's largest metropolitan areas.
  6. Within four years American travelers will enter airports and transit, and train stations and cross borders, passing both security and immigration controls without delay while ensuring security.
  7. Within eight years a new source of transportation revenue based on time and place of use will be deployed, replacing the federal and state gas tax. This funding will support highway and transit networks.
  8. Returning to the vision of Democratic President Andrew Jackson, items in federal transportation legislation that do not serve a national purpose will be vetoed.
  9. Extending the bipartisan efforts of transportation deregulation in the late 1970s and early 1980s, within four years, highway and transit services and infrastructure will begin to be competitively provided by independent (public, private, or non-profit) organizations under appropriate local or federal oversight. Infrastructure will be provided under a public utility model, ensuring quality of service in exchange for earning a rate of return.
  10. Within one year, the United States federal government will establish separate capital and operating budgets. This will be coupled with a federal program to guarantee loans and bonds for highway and transit infrastructure projects.

  11. Full memo after the jump

    Continue reading "Memo to the Next President of the United States on Transportation Policy" »

June 10, 2008

Manchester Congestion Charge

From the Guardian, Manchester gets a huge investment from the UK government, and imposes a congestion charge. This scheme tests two cordons rather than being area-based. This should greatly simplify administration £2.8bn for Manchester transport as congestion charge plan confirmed

May 20, 2008

Tales Mistold: Does congestion pricing increase throughput

In the FHWA publication (and widely repeated elsewhere): Congestion Pricing: A Primer the claim is made (p.3) that the throughput on priced lanes exceeds those on unpriced lanes, using California SR91 as an example.

"Effects of Pricing on Vehicle Throughput
Vehicle “throughput? on a freeway is the number
of vehicles that get through over a short period
such as an hour. Once freeway traffic exceeds a
certain threshold level, both vehicle speed and
vehicle throughput drop precipitously. Data show
that maximum vehicle throughput occurs at free
flow speeds ranging from 45 mph to 65 mph. The
number of vehicles that get through per hour can
drop by as much as 50 percent when severe con-
gestion sets in. At high traffic levels, the freeway
is kept in this condition of “collapse? for several
hours after the rush of commuters has stopped.
This causes further unnecessary delay for off-peak
motorists who arrive after rush hour.
With peak-period highway pricing, a variable toll
dissuades some motorists from entering freeways
at those access points where traffic demand is
high, and where such surges in demand may push
the freeway over the critical threshold at which traf-
fic flow collapses. Pricing prevents a breakdown
of traffic flow in the first instance, and thus main-
tains a high level of vehicle throughput throughout
the rush hours. As shown in the graph above, each
variably priced lane in the median of State Route
91 in Orange County, California, carries twice as
many vehicles per lane as the free lanes during
the hour with heaviest traffic. Pricing has allowed
twice as many vehicles to be served per lane at
three to four times the speed on the free lanes. "

As a transportation engineer, I can see several flaws with this argument.

The SR91 toll lanes are a separate facility than the SR91 free lanes. If the tolls were removed from the SR91 toll lanes, would the throughput be as high? If so, the gain cannot be attributed to the tolls. This is an easy experiment to do (set the tolls to zero one day).

It should be noted, the throughput at a particular cross-section might be lower on the untolled lanes, because of queue spillbacks. Because the toll lanes are separated from the untolled lanes, they are able to bypass the series of bottlenecks that are SR91.

Throughput is most appropriately measured at active bottlenecks. The discharge rate at bottlenecks when demand exceeds capacity is nearly constant (well within 10% of the pre-queue formation maximum rate) according to much research in the area:

e.g. Michael J. Cassidy and Robert L. Bertini (1999) Some traffic features at freeway bottlenecks. Transportation Research Part B: Methodological. Volume 33, Issue 1, February 1999, Pages 25-42


Zhang, Lei and David Levinson Some Properties of Flows at Freeway Bottlenecks. Journal of the Transportation Research Board No. 1883 122-131.

so one has to assume that if the toll lane outperforms the untolled lane, the problem is that the throughput is not in fact measured at the active bottleneck, but rather upstream of the bottleneck. It is natural that this might have a lower per-lane throughput than the bottleneck itself. Think about it this way:

A bottleneck has 2 lanes, assume a capacity of 2000 vehicles per lane per hour, so it can handle 4000 vehicles per hour.

Upstream there are 3 lanes (or 2 lanes, but they are joined by an on-ramp, so effectively 3 lanes). At the peak those three lanes each carry 2000 vehicles per lane per hour for a short period of time. However once those vehicles reach a bottleneck that can only accommodate 4000 vehicles, a queue forms (at the rate of 2000 vehicles per hour spread across the the three lanes). Eventually that queue reaches the measurement point, and flow there drops from 2000 vehicles per lane per hour to 1333 vehicles per lane per hour.

To the untrained eye, this may appear as a loss of throughput due to being untolled, but in fact it is a loss of throughput due to a bottleneck spilling backwards. The 2000 vplph was unsustainable because of the downstream bottleneck, and would only be observable for a short period of time. Pricing cannot solve that problem except by reducing demand.

The comparison made in the FHWA report is fundamentally misleading, and in the long run does no service to road pricing.

The evidence on I-394 for instance suggests that at bottleneck points the throughput on the free lanes exceeds that on the tolled lanes, because the toll lanes have prices that prevent demand from approaching capacity (to ensure reliability).

As readers of this blog will note, I am of course supportive of congestion pricing in general (if the transaction costs can be brought down), but making unsupportable and misleading claims should be discouraged.

April 13, 2008

Private Toll Roads

Article in NY Times about experience of privatization on Indiana Toll Roads: Toll Road Offers New Jersey a Fiscal Test Drive . While noting critics, the article is generally favorable. This is an issue primarily for existing public toll agencies which a number of governors want to sell off for cash up front. Secondarily, the issue arises of tolling existing untolled roads and building new private toll roads.

The article did not raise the issue of non-compete clauses, which were the undoing of California SR-91's private ownership.

April 7, 2008

Albany kills NYC Congestion Charge

From New York Times: $8 Traffic Fee for Manhattan Gets Nowhere

March 23, 2008

Congestion Pricing in NYC

From Streetsblog, Paterson Backs Pricing, Introduces Bill in Albany

Congestion Pricing in NYC may yet live. The politics are that the excess revenue from pricing goes to support transit. Locals support (generally), while auto commuters and others who drive into Manhattan oppose. I still have issues with an area scheme vs. a cordon scheme (the latter should have lower collection costs), but again this is a perfect vs. good situation.

My class did a case study on this last semester here

October 13, 2007

Car sharing and congestion pricing with compensation

Nice article from the Financial Times on carsharing: You take the hire road

"Streetcar fosters this sense of community by encouraging a sense of responsibility towards other club users. You are asked not to leave the car with the petrol tank less than a quarter full; if the car gets dirty, you are invited to earn an hour’s free rental by taking it to the car wash and getting it cleaned at Streetcar’s expense; and if you return the car late, keeping a neighbour waiting, you are fined £25 – of which £20 goes to your aggrieved fellow member."

This is exactly the same logic behind the Delayer Pays Principle: Examining Congestion Pricing with Compensation (1.2 MB) (International Journal of Transport Economics 31:3 295-311) Peter Rafferty and I have posited for congestion pricing, those who cause delay pay those who they delayed.

October 4, 2007

Counting you in your car

From the Washington Post: Infrared Scans May Regulate HOT Lanes. The latest technology used to detect cheaters in HOV/HOT lanes.

(1) Hopefully they won't throw out this data after its collected (see previous post on LA), it does have valuable planning uses in predicting mode utilization.

(2) Any semblance of privacy you thought you had is gone, hopefully we can watch the watchers just as easily as they watch us. David Brin's Transparent Society is interesting in this regard.

(3) The amount of effort we go to in order to enforce minor rules is amazing. In the absence of congestion on the HOV lane, (and the presence of congestion in the general purpose lanes) it is actually efficient for there to be some small amount of cheating: it takes a car out of the congested lanes, puts it in the uncongested lanes (without congesting them) and produces a net benefit to society. Too much clearly would congest the HOV/HOT lanes. It reminds one of the expression "A Puritan is someone who is deathly afraid that someone somewhere is having fun." The point isn't that it is costing society to have some cheating, the point is that "free riding" is cheating and "unfair" whatever that means.

July 5, 2007

Electronic toll collection and toll rates

A nice article in NYT: Technology Eases the Ride to Higher Tolls citing important work by Amy Finkelstein of MIT on Tax Salience, the less you are aware of a tax, the easier it is to raise, this applies to tolls, so electronic tolls which have less salience than manual, result in the ability to raise tolls faster. Finkelstein's paper was cited in Levinson and Odlyzko's "Too Expensive to Meter:The influence of transaction costs in transportation and communication" earlier this year.

June 8, 2007

Bloomberg does the hard sell

Mayor Bloomberg of New York is doing the hard sell to get congestion pricing approved, along with some help from FHWA (Mary Peters) Urban Partnership Agreement. The Selling of Congestion Pricing -

Everyone thinks the losers will be commuters priced off the roads. But consider the poor parking garage owner, who will now have to lower their rates to attract back customers. I wouldn't be surprised to see parking prices drop almost as much as congestion charges rise, meaning only "through trips" (New Jersey to Brooklyn, Queens, or the rest of Long Island) would be truly priced off the road.

April 23, 2007

Manhattan Congestion Charging Scheme

Mayor of NYC Bloombergproposes a Fee for Driving Into Manhattan

"The proposal that is sure to attract the most attention, and possibly objections, is one to impose the $8 fee on car drivers, and $21 for truck operators, to drive in Manhattan south of 86th Street."

As the article notes, this proposal copies the London congestion charging scheme, almost point for point, including the use of cameras and the extremely expensive AVI system for enforcement.

April 2, 2007

Missing your forecast

From today's Sydney Morning Herald: Cross City Tunnel receivers put tollroad on sale block . The tollroad tunnel went under (so to speak) in part because they missed their forecast, getting 30000 travelers per day instead of 90000.

Another article on this in Toll Roads News The firm responsible for the forecast was Hyder Consulting who remarkably still claim credit for the project on their website.

Forecasting traffic is not easy, but there are established methods that should get freeway demand estimates within 20-30% or better (i.e. one lane) of actual values (not 300% off) and one is not convinced these guys used them. In fact, even with no tolls, traffic was still only 60% of the predicted flow.

Unfortunately, there is really no liability for poor forecasts, at least not for the forecasters.

Of course this points out the advantages to private sector assuming the risk, the public is not on the hook for a bailout. It also argues for higher returns to compensate for the risk, otherwise projects won't get built.

March 3, 2007

Rod Pricing

One might call it Rod Pricing instead of Road Pricing, given the important role that Rod Eddington of Eddington Report fame is having on the Road Pricing debate over here. Two articles from the anti-pricing Telegraph

* here and

* here

discuss the issue. Rod seems to have introduced some sense into the argument, suggesting it is only appropriate for city centers. In economic jargon, this is the area where marginal costs are increasing. On uncongested roads, marginal costs per use are falling or zero, the fixed cost of the road is spread across more users, but congestion has yet to set in. (This of course is concerned with congestion costs and construction costs, not environment costs, which should be dealt with differently).

The government moving towards zones (or cordons) is some progress on the issue. One must ask though whether the collection costs will be larger than the revenue in rural areas (I strongly suspect they will), or whether a few pence per mile will affect behavior much (I suspect it won't).

Andrew Odlyzko and I recently (two days ago) finished a draft paper on the subject "Too expensive to meter: The influence of transaction costs in transportation and communication", which he has put on his website
this link

February 21, 2007

The Prime Minister Responds

The UK PM emails road pricing signatories, those who signed the petition opposing pricing. His letter is interesting from a number of perspectives, and was clearly written in part by transportation professionals.

However there is an (intentional?) misrepresentation of the induced demand problem hidden in the text.

If it is the "beginning ,not the end of the debate", it has not got off to a good start. There are several elements missing from the context, though perhaps they will be brought back in:
1) Hypothecation (the British term for earmarking) - money raised from transportation should be spent on transportation (or its impacts). When talking about building facilities the PM says "Tackling congestion in this way would also be extremely costly, requiring substantial sums to be diverted from other services such as education and health, or increases in taxes." Implying more money for roads from the same gas tax is less money for something else. This is because in the UK the petrol (gas) tax is used as a cash cow to cross-subsidize other sectors of the economy that should be paid for out of general revenue or otherwise. If people instead saw transportation taxes/tolls/prices as paying for transportation services, there would be more readiness to do so.

2) Local decision making - most travel is local, decision making about tolls and pricing should be local (though obviously there are positive network externalities associated with choosing a common technological framework).

February 20, 2007

Ghost town

In a less than overly popular move, Ken Livingstone has implemented the western extension of the Congestion Charge, as noted in the GuardianProtest greets congestion charge's westward push BBC devoted almost the entire half-hour of local news last night to the topic.

Several things to note, though the evidence is anecdotal. First, students are on break this week, so traffic levels are lighter. That said, the buses seemed to make much better time.

Second, it is being billed more for environmental than congestion-relief reasons now, so the nominal motive has changed (the underlying motive, punish the car and raise money remains). Paying lip service to carbon reduction is now politically correct, whether or not this is the best way to achieve that end.

Third, the national government's long-term road pricing scheme is becoming very unpopular with everyone but the environmentalists, as the public rightly sees it as a way to collect more money, rather than manage traffic and improve transportation. Perhaps hypothecation should be restored in England. The road pricing debate is spilling over on the congestion charge. Privacy issues are also re-emerging as critical.

Some of the roads in the old zone were empty enough during the morning that it felt like a ghost town walking around, all the cars are parked, no vehicles are moving. It is not quite that level in the western extension, though better than it had been ... but again, this week is break.

I do believe a major mistake was made in letting residents of the west get to use roads in the east as if they were local. This will raise traffic levels in the east. A zone system would be much fairer, with perhaps some discount for those in the west. I am sure there were political reasons for this.

If the zone gets extended further, some form of zoning will be necessary, or it will lose all effectiveness.

It will be intersting to see the final analysis on traffic levels. I suspect the government lowballed the official congestion reduction estimates of 4 percent to be able to claim victory when a greater reduction occurs.

February 13, 2007

Road Pricing Petition Redux

A few weeks ago I noted the anti-pricing petition in London. That petition now has over 1 million signatures (about 2% of the entire country), and the government proposed policy looks like it might be in trouble ...Pressure mounts over road tolls

Top-down schemes like this without the support of the public do not seem like they are the right way to proceed.

-- dml

December 21, 2006

Road Pricing Petition

The Road Pricing debate in the UK is much more advanced than the US. Many reports and white papers have advocated adopting road pricing to reduce congestion and pollution (though whether the fuel tax would be reduced is not quite clear, one suspects no). This has garnered some public debate, being shown on the national news and in the daily newspapers. The Telegraph has a link
to a petition at Number 10 Downing Street that opposes road pricing. To date 58,676 people have signed. I did not see a petition in favor of pricing. After the public comment, the government will make a decision, though I am doubtful the public comment will actually affect the decision.

While the success of the London Congestion Charging scheme are impressive, it is unclear whether the rest of the country is willing to go along with still higher prices to travel (fuel here is near the equivalent of $8.00 per gallon).

June 13, 2006

Road Trip

We returned from a road trip from Minneapolis to Pittsburgh last night. We went to Pittsburgh to attend the lovely wedding of Jason Hong, a friend of ours from Berkeley quizbowl, who is now a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University. We stopped for the night outside Toledo on the way there and outside Milwaukee on the way back.

Random observations in roughly chronological order.

Continue reading "Road Trip" »