Auto Manifesto

June 15, 2009

Congestion Pricing Pitfalls

The ITS community has been a strong proponent of Smart Roads, which would provide drivers with real time information to help traffic flow and improve safety. We've started to see the fruits of these efforts in the form of dynamic signs that indicate traffic conditions.

In some places there are now dynamic speed limits based on the time and day. There are also plans in some areas to implement congestion pricing along certain routes to help reduce congestion by making travel more expensive during peak times.

The future potential of these systems is staggering, and they will provide an eventual pathway to autonomous vehicles (see previous posts, Part 1 and Part 2).

The question though, is how might unintended behaviors manifest themselves? Parking problems? More stress? Gaming of the system? These could negate any intended benefits.

For example, many airports have improvised waiting areas. That is, drivers pull over prior to the airport entrance, park and wait, rather than pay to park. They subvert the system.

The question about congestion pricing is how might motorists respond? It may be in ways that were not at all expected, which could negate the intended benefits.

Could it result in less on-road congestion but more drivers parking at peak hours? More accidents as drivers rush to reduce their tolls? Would this cause more stress than it reduces?

If implemented, will it produce the desired outcomes with minimal undesired side effects? I'm not saying it won't work, but congestion pricing is so complex and specific to the area where it is applied that it should be thoroughly tested and proven.

Source: Automotive Engineering, May 2009 (P. 20)

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