Drivers willing to pay to move into the fast lane

A dynamic toll road in Atlanta, Georgia is proving to be a hit with drivers.

An express toll lane outside of Atlanta, Georgia is proving to be so popular with drivers that the cost to use it recently hit a record high of $8.

The I-85 Express Lanes run for 16 miles on a stretch of road just north of the city and employ a dynamic pricing system, where the cost to use them increases during busy travel periods and falls when demand is low. The aim of the pricing system is to ensure that traffic on the highway never falls below 45 miles per hour.

Since its launch two years ago, the toll road has become increasingly popular with drivers. The daily number of cars using it has increased by about 33 percent from a year earlier – hitting 20,000 recently.

The dynamic toll system has proven to be such a success that the state is already moving ahead with plans to add more such roads in the area.

In surveys, drivers say they appreciate that the toll road offers them a choice (they can use a number of free lanes on the same highway) and that it makes for a more “enjoyable” commute by reducing travel times.

Georgia is one of a number of states across the U.S. that have turned to dynamic tolling systems in order to reduce congestion and decrease emissions.

In Florida, for example, a dynamic toll to use the I-95 highway heading north out of downtown Miami has been so popular that it has repeatedly hit a politically imposed cap that drivers pay to use it.

And in Washington D.C., policymakers turned to a private company to build and operate a dynamic toll road along a section of the city’s congested beltway highway. The company eventually paid 75% of the cost to build the new lanes and, since that time, has steadily increased the number of drivers willing to pay a fee in order to avoid congestion.

Numerous studies have shown that drivers welcome the idea of paying a toll in order to avoid sitting in traffic. In a report from Washington, D.C., “What Do People Think About Congestion Pricing?,” around 60 percent of those surveyed by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board of Metropolitan Washington, D.C. said they would support a plan to introduce at least one priced lane on all of the region’s major highways, and pay a toll that rises in response to the level of congestion.

According to a comprehensive study of public opinion polls in 2008, undertaken by the U.S. Transportation Research Board of the National Academies, there is a “clear majority” of support for tolling and road pricing in the U.S. The study found that when people are provided with a clear benefit – such as free-flowing traffic – support for road tolls increases.

The report also found that people for the most part favoured tolls over higher taxes, because at least with tolls “the public is more assured of getting their fair share” and “tolling represents freedom of choice.”

The I-85 Express Lanes are just the latest example of the public throwing its support behind the idea of dynamic tolls, highlighting that consumers like the idea of choice – and are willing to pay for it – when it comes to transportation.

Brady Yauch is an economist and Executive Director of the Consumer Policy Institute (CPI). You can reach Brady by email at: bradyyauch (at) consumerpolicyinstitute.org or at (416) 964-9223 ext 236.

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