Getting congestion pricing right on Westpark and elsewhere
Catching up on my Chronicles from last week, it looks like Westpark tolls were a top story: first
the proposed rush hour increases (doubling the tolls), then the blowback
, then the giving-in to public pressure to rescind the proposal
. Obviously an unfortunate situation, given that congestion pricing is definitely the wave of the future. Here are some ways I think it could be done better, with more public acceptance:
- Real-time pricing: like some of the roads in CA, don't set a fixed pricing schedule, but adjust prices in real-time to reflect supply and demand. People will quickly learn which times of day fit their budget.
- Integrate it from the beginning in all new toll road and managed lane projects. People need to know what "the deal" is before they choose to buy a house way out that road. They feel justifiably upset when they base their decisions on one price which suddenly changes on them a year or two later.
- If real-time is not an option, raise scheduled prices in smaller increments and in narrower time windows: obviously an immediate jump to double the toll was too much all at once. A series of smaller increases as needed would have been more palatable. And six hours a day was way too broad. Start with a small increase in a narrower time slot, and expand every 6 months or so as long as it's needed. Give people time to make adjustments, like work schedule changes, transit, or carpooling.
- Offer bargains just before and after rush hours: I actually learned this from an old proposal Art Storey made for Beltway 8 a couple years back: make the price just before or after rush hours actually cheaper than the rest of the day. This gives a strong incentive to people who have the flexibility to move their trip just a little earlier or later. I think his proposal was $1 most of the day, $2 at rush hours, and $0.50 the hour before and after rush hours. This also helps diffuse public opposition, because you're offering them a discount option in addition to the increase.
- Better marketing: the average citizen doesn't understand the congestion pricing. The proposal I've been promoting for a while now is MaX Lanes, short for Managed eXpress Lanes - which "move the maximum number of people at maximum speed." Who can argue against optimizing our capacity like that?
- Put the additional revenue in an expansion fund specifically for that road: people need to know that these extra charges are going to ultimately go to what they really want, which is more capacity on their specific commute. In the case of Westpark, it could go towards acquiring the additional RoW from Metro for expansion while offering them virtual express bus lanes (i.e. reserved capacity for their commuter buses).
Let's hope this incident doesn't permanently deter HCTRA and the county commissioners from much needed congestion pricing, which not only alleviates congestion, moves more people, and encourages employers to offer more flexible schedules and telework, but also gives people better pricing signals about the true costs of buying a house far out vs. close in.
Labels: mobility strategies, toll roads