Electronic Toll Collection: Key To Solving Urban Freeway Congestion
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Electronic Toll Collection: Key To Solving Urban Freeway Congestion

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    For several decades, economists have advocated direct pricing of highway use to resolve congestion problems. New technology and changing socioeconomic trends now make "congestion pricing" feasible. The key advance is electronic toll collection (ETC). ETC systems now on the market use a credit-card-size vehicle-mounted tag which can be read by roadside equipment without the vehicle having to slow down. The user's account is automatically debited for the amount of the toll, which can be varied by time of day in accordance with congetion levels. Demand studies estimate peak-hour charges of between 20 and 60 cents per mile on highly congested urban freeways, to 10 to 15 cents per mile on less-congested suburban freeways. Off-peak charges in many cases would be zero. Political feasibility will be improved if ETC-based congestion pricing is introduced via demonstration projects, such as adding ETC to an existing tollway, converting a High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane to a pay lane, or launching a new tollway with congestion pricing from the outset. Other potential problems--equity considerations, privacy, ownership of the system, and standardization--are all resolvable in various feasible ways. Coalitions in favor of congestion pricing via ETC will include both traditional highway interests (producers, auto clubs) and advocates of full-cost pricing for highway use (environmental groups and transit advocates). Each stands to gain from the shift to direct pricing, making it feasible to bring this congestion solution into being, now that the technology exists to do it simply and economically. Notes & references. 12 p.
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