Report from the Tolling Forum

Update: Oregonian coverage of the forum

I had a chance to sit through most of the tolling panel yesterday (I had to leave before the last group of speakers to get to another commitment).

The program was organized by the Cascadia Center of the Discovery Institute, an organization I was not previously familier with (not to be confused with the Cascade Policy Institute, which had representatives in the audience).

There were a few perspectives that were new to me.

One speaker suggested that perhaps we should move to a model of having “basic access” (local streets and transit) be “free”, funded by fuel taxes, but fund the freeway network by tolling.

Another suggested that what users were really paying for with tolls is reliability: knowing you can get from point A to point B in a certain amount of time.

The packet handed out to attendees included an abridged version of this paper titled “Travel Value Pricing”. One of the interesting conclusions was that you should price your roads to optimize the performance of the whole network, not just individual corridors.

The kind of city-center congestion pricing implemented in London was also discussed. The Stockholm example was discussed in some detail. The experience was about a 25% reduction in auto trips. This split into about 3 equal portions:

  • 1/3 mode-shifted to transit
  • 1/3 time-shifted out of the congestion pricing period
  • 1/3 went away in a phenomenon described as “trip consolidation” where multiple trips were combined into one (not unlike what Metro is encouraging in the “Drive Less, Save More” program)

The discussion of cordon pricing also included impacts on local businesses. The London case is somewhat confused, as there were other economic factors going on, but in Singapore and several Nordic countries the experience was that retail sales were neutral or improved. The suggested mechanism is that removing auto trips increases “footfall” as folks shifting to transit, carpools, etc. now have to walk past retail establishments as part of their overall commute trip.

I’m looking foward to watching Jim Karlock’s recording of the balance of the forum that I missed.

Clearly there’s a lot of knowledge/experience out there that our region needs to absorb as we look at tolling policy options.

6 responses to “Report from the Tolling Forum”

  1. Your posting mentions an unfamiliarity with the Cascadia Center of the Discovery Institute.

    The Seattle based Discovery Institute is generally libertarian/conservative in outlook, promoting (according to their website “the free market and individual liberty.” Their Cascadia center is the one area that seems more supportive of a goverment role (they have long been supporters of rail — especially rail freight — and argue for increased investment in transportation infrastructure). The organization houses a number of topical “centers.

    In addition to the Cascadia Center, these include:

    the Center for Science and Culture, which “supports research by scientists and other scholars developing the scientific theory known as intelligent design”

    the “Technology and Democracy Project” which “supports technology as the key engine for economic growth and seeks to free its natural advancement from the burdens of undue government regulation.”

    the Economics unit which “works to foster economic growth by limiting tax and regulatory barriers to businesses and individuals alike.”

  2. Discovery Institute? Wha..?

    I would like to ask them why so many dinosaurs decided to croak in Saudi Arabia, so that they got the biggest share of petroleum. Ritual burial ground for dinos, maybe? Couldn’t God have found a more fair place?

  3. The “Discover Institute” isn’t the topic here, it’s toll based road funding.

    …come on ya’ll, get on topic. It’s the only market relevant, intelligent funding mechanism for roadways (far more accurate and market based than “fuel tax”) and it so often gets scoffed at by people who most likely SHOULD be supporting it.

    Especially being it could lower the costs for many people and raise costs from where they come from, the majority users.

  4. The economic justice angle got some discussion at the forum.

    One panelist argued that saving time has value to all economic classes. Example: if you’re facing a fine for picking up your kid late from day care, the toll is a bargain no matter what your income level is (of course, you may need a certain income level to have your kid in day care).

    Another example is that someone who cleans houses might happily pay tolls to be able to get in one more cleaning job per day.

    These feel slightly patronizing. It doesn’t address the poor schmo who has to commute each day choosing between the congested lanes and the higher-speed toll lane.

  5. These feel slightly patronizing.

    I think this is one of the reasons understanding the biases of the conference presentors is important. I don’t think the “free-market” advocates of tolling really consider the social justice issue legitimate. They try to redefine it in their own terms of how the marketplace works, rather than addressing it as understood by those of us who do have it as a real concern. Their real answer is “So what? We exclude people all the time based on ability to pay. That’s the way the marketplace works.”

    The problem is excluding people from a public facility based on their ability to pay. And right-of-way is, by its nature, public. And the result is a public investment that benefits those who are more wealthy at the expense of those who aren’t.

    So the people who pay the toll get the benefit of a less congested freeway. What do the people who don’t pay the toll get? And that is where the issue of how the tolls are used becomes an important justice issue. The tolls have to be used to provide alternatives for trips where people are no longer using the freeway because of the cost. That way the people paying the toll help mitigate the costs their convenience is imposing on other people.

  6. Why do people get an inalienable “right” to drive on the freeway anyway? All this crap about the “poor commuter”!!

    If someone can’t pay the full cost of their transportation (car, train, or whatever) they need to be living closer or find another way to commute.

    I get sick and tired of “well this poor ole’ guy that can’t afford the toll” (which is usually subsidized by every other bloke anyway) gets a full on “right” to get to work?

    The simple fact of the matter is if people can’t play, get out of the game. Seriously, where do we stop subsidization at the expense of the middle class and upper classes?

    Toll, Toll the blasted roads!!!! Please! Make me pay for my fair usage, or if I don’t drive don’t make me contribute via the general fund! If the McDonald’s employee can’t afford to come all the way from Camas to downtown Portland because of a toll, he shouldn’t be working at McDonalds in downtown Portland!

    It seems this is just the other side of the argument that makes transit advocates seem less serious. One of the primary reasons cars and roads offset the transportation balance in this country in the first place is this false theory of “freeway”. By taking it out of income taxes and fuel taxes it improperly skewed the decision making process for deciding when and if driving was what one wanted in the first place. That situation continues today.

    It seems that with the anti-toll, pro-transit motives the idea is just to destroy any market relevancy at all and create a false dichotomy of transportation decision making.

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