Miami toll system proving popular with riders and good for transit

Why a dynamic toll road in Miami has been popular with drivers and a boost to public transit ridership.

A dynamic toll system in Miami is proving to be a hit with drivers and a boon for public transportation.

Due to its popularity, officials in charge of the toll system, which first opened in 2008 on the northbound lanes of I-95 and have since been expanded, have decided to raise the $7 cap on tolls to $10.50 in order to keep traffic flowing during peak travel periods. They have also hiked the minimum toll to 50 cents from 25 cents. The toll fluctuates with traffic conditions – rising during the morning and afternoon commute and dropping in off-peak hours.

In order to get politicians to sign off on the project when it was first launched, officials agreed to place a $7 cap on the toll charged to drivers – which worked out to about $1 per mile travelled (see our original story on the tollway). But in the ensuing years, officials say that demand for the toll lanes – which promise to keep traffic flowing at a minimum of 45 mph – has overwhelmed its capacity and has resulted in congestion. Overall, ridership on the toll lanes has surpassed initial forecasts.

The cap on tolls, according to recent data, was undermining the entire project. In order for a dynamic toll system to work, prices must be able to fully fluctuate with demand. Because the toll was maxing out at $7, it was failing to deter more drivers from entering the toll lanes and, subsequently, resulted in greater congestion.

Data showed that the number of days that the maximum toll was reached had been steadily rising prior to the recent hike. At the same time, the number of trips during peak travel periods that were above the 45 mph threshold had been trending lower.

“That day you paid seven bucks, we were trying to get you not to go there,” Rory Santana, who oversees Miami-Dade County’s stretch of 95 Express for the Florida Department of Transportation, told a local media outlet. “If [the toll’s] seven dollars and everybody piles in [the express lanes]…we lost our opportunity to try and keep the spaces between the vehicles there and keep the speed up and keep the flow going…and if it breaks down, the general purpose lanes breaks down.”

GOOD FOR PUBLIC TRANSIT

Public transit has also benefited from the toll lanes, as express buses can use the new lanes without having to pay a toll or sit in traffic. Prior to the toll lanes, buses were allowed to ride in carpool lanes, but those were nearly as congested as the general lanes.

Ridership on one bus route using the express toll lanes has surged. According to data from the region’s transit agency, average daily ridership on that bus route has increased by 45% since the toll lanes were introduced. In contrast, overall ridership on the region’s bus system has declined over that time period.

A spokesperson from the transit agency called these new riders, “choice riders.”

“These are people who have vehicles or have access to vehicles…but choose to use public transportation,” she said.

Residents of the city – who have already backed the tolls and express buses by actually using them – are preparing for a much larger rollout. Two more express tollways are already under construction and even more are in the planning stages. The head of the Miami Expressway Authority and member of Florida’s Transportation Commission even referred to express buses on tollways as the future of mass in transit in Miami.

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 

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