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Reason Foundation

Introducing Congestion Pricing on a New Toll Road

Robert Poole
September 1, 1992

Executive Summary

Congestion pricing—charging a price to use highways that is high at peak hours and low at off-peak times—holds great potential for easing traffic congestion and reducing auto emissions in Southern California. New technology for nonstop electronic toll collection, coupled with increased public concern over congestion and auto emissions, makes implementation of such pricing more feasible today than in previous decades. But the political risks of charging for freeway use suggest the need for demonstration projects, both to introduce the public to the idea and to collect data so as to quantify its effects.

This paper proposes a specific demonstration project in Southern California. Orange County, part of the greater Los Angeles metro area, has five new toll road projects under development: two private and three public. Two of these projects will begin construction before the end of 1992. The private project to add HOV/toll lanes to SR 91 already plans to use congestion pricing. This paper suggests that the public San Joaquin Hills Toll Corridor also adopt this technique, rather than the flat-rate tolls currently planned.

Specifically, a five-year experiment is proposed, in which the peak-period tolls would be increased every six months, while keeping off-peak tolls at a constant low level. Measurements of traffic flow and ride-sharing would be made, comparing the SJHTC with the competing (free) parallel routes, I-5/405 and SR 1. Emission-reduction effects would be calculated from the measured data. To ensure that transportation alternatives were available for those "tolled-off" the SJHTC by high peak-hour tolls, door-to-door van service would be offered in the corridor, providing a flexible alternative mode.


Robert Poole is Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow and Director of Transportation Policy

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