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AASHTO Journal

FHWA Issues Primer on Congestion Pricing and Transit
The Federal Highway Administration has published a new "Primer on Congestion Pricing and Transit," which examines the results of congestion pricing in the United States and internationally, and the relationship to transit service.

The report notes that between 1980 and 1999, route miles of highways increased by 1.5 percent, whereas vehicle miles of travel increased by 76 percent, resulting in massive congestion in the nation's cities.

FHWA states, "When searching for a solution to the congestion problem, most people immediately think of adding a new lane to an overburdened highway. Construction costs for adding lanes in urban areas average $10 million per lane mile. In general, the funding for this construction comes from the tax that drivers pay when buying gas for their vehicles. This amount is insufficient to pay for the lane addition. The bargain price paid by motorists for use of expensive new capacity encourages more drivers to use the expanded highway."

It further states, "Introducing congestion pricing on highway facilities would discourage overuse during rush hours by motivating people to travel by other modes, such as carpools or public transportation, or by traveling by automobile at other times of the day."

The report outlines five main types of pricing strategies:

  1. Variably priced lanes: Variable tolls on separated lanes within a highway, such as express toll lanes or High Occupancy Toll lanes.
  2. Variable tolls on entire roadways: Both on toll roads and bridges, as well as on existing toll-free facilities during rush hours.
  3. Zone-based (area or cordon) charges: Either variable or fixed charges to drive within or into a congested area within a city.
  4. Area-wide charges: Per-mile charges on all roads within an area that may vary by level of congestion.
  5. Pricing that does not involve tolls: This includes innovative parking-pricing strategies (e.g., surcharges for entering or exiting a parking facility during or near peak periods) and a range of parking cash-out policies, in which cash is offered to employees in lieu of subsidized parking.

However, the report finds that current congestion pricing has had little impact on mode shift to transit in the United States. But cordon pricing in London and Singapore has proven to be effective in increasing transit usage.

The report concludes with the following "key lessons":

  1. Corridor-pricing strategies in the United States have shown that the active involvement of transit agencies is not required to be successful. International cordon-pricing experiments, however, could not have been successful without the involvement of transit.
  2. Transit involvement in domestic value-pricing strategies has been limited. Upper management at both highway and transit agencies must commit to jointly developing a congestion-pricing program. Experience suggests that without an active transit role, projects are likely to revert to highway initiatives.
  3. All congestion-pricing schemes deployed in the United States to date have had the primary goal of congestion reduction (via modifications to travel times and routes) followed by revenue enhancements. Most areas have barely acknowledged mode shift as a goal and then usually only as a byproduct of pricing initiatives.
  4. Express buses and Bus Rapid Transit are the primary transit modes involved with, and benefiting from, HOV or HOT lanes and other corridor-pricing strategies, compared with the multiple transit modes (e.g., bus, rail, BRT, carpools, or vanpools) that must be involved with zone-pricing strategies.
  5. Congested areas might need to set their congestion-pricing fees relatively high to achieve the desired level of service on the roadways. Tolls on Orange County's California 91 have progressively risen (to as much as 95 cents per mile) to maintain free-flowing traffic; however, higher fees do not lead to significant modal shifts in the absence of a reliable and viable transit alternative.
  6. Insufficient development of park-and-ride facilities has greatly limited transit's involvement in the domestic pricing deployments. If mode shift is a project goal, properly sited parking must be developed to accommodate increased transit demand.

The full report is available at

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