(Graphic: Washington State Department of Transportation)
The Problem: Understanding how congestion pricing affects households and their travel choices
Congestion pricing refers to various forms of variable roadway tolling that are designed to improve traffic flow and reduce peak-period congestion. Under the Urban Partnership Agreement and Congestion Reduction Demonstration (UPA/CRD) programs, USDOT has provided funding to several metropolitan areas that have implemented congestion pricing. USDOT is evaluating these programs through the collection of data such as traffic counts and speeds, transit ridership, and system revenues. However, the Federal Highway Administration would like additional insight into how congestion pricing affects individual travel choices. For example, to what extent do travelers respond to tolling by using other routes, changing their departure time, switching to public transportation, or avoiding the trip altogether by telecommuting? How are low-income households affected?
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The solution: Developing a before-and-after household survey
The Volpe Center is fielding a before-and-after household travel survey at two of the UPA/CRD sites, in Seattle and Atlanta. In each region, a sample of travelers on the affected corridors, along with other members of their households, will complete a travel diary with details of all of their trips over an assigned two-day period. The survey also includes questions about demographics, general commuting patterns, and personal attitudes and values. The first survey was administered as a pre-tolling baseline, while the second survey will be fielded roughly 4-6 months after the start of tolling, using the same panel of respondents in each of the two regions.
The Volpe Center team drew on its experience with travel survey methods to maximize the representativeness of the sample and the quality of the data collected. Data from both survey waves will be analyzed to identify the impacts of the congestion pricing programs on household travel choices. The analysis also includes inquiry into equity impacts, looking at households that vary by income, geographic location, and other factors.
The Result: Advancing the state of knowledge on congestion pricing and traveler behavior
Interest in congestion pricing is expected to grow over time as state and local transportation agencies seek to manage travel demand and congestion in a fiscally constrained environment. While many studies of pricing have been conducted, these agencies still face uncertainties about how travelers may respond to different forms of pricing and how lower-income households are affected. This study is an opportunity to gain an unusually comprehensive look at these impacts of pricing using real-world data from two regions.