Thursday, March 11, 2010

Toll Roads and Transit

It occurs to me that toll roads and transit may be natural political allies. If I build a toll road, I have a financial interest in being the best possible transportation alternative, and prefer if any alternative roads are more congested than my own, because that provides an incentive to pay for the use of my toll road.

Now, I can improve on my toll road if I charge variable tolls, in response to changing conditions. Because the cumulative effect of additional cars is greater with each additional car, I thereby need to charge more for each additional car.

Because of the Bureau of Public Roads congestion curve, we have a pretty good idea at lane efficiency, and thus of the rate to charge to represent the impact of an additional vehicle on all vehicles already on the roadway.

Ergo, both transit (with dedicated ROW) and toll roads have an incentive for alternatives to be congested, and thus a political/financial incentive to fight against expanded capacity.

Better yet if the toll road is privately owned, because private owners are immune to certain political pressures. I'm semi-perpetually kicking around the idea of a share-based system, with different landowners kicking in land for ROW and receiving shares in return, with the shares entitling them to revenue from the toll road... Now, if a transit agency were to buy into such an arrangement, providing capital for construction of the facilities, and receiving right of use for its vehicles in return, you could have a very interesting system.


  1. I'm all for privatizing the roads, but how do you charge people? Would we really have a toll booth every time you change to a different ROW? Great blog, BTW!

  2. Radio Frequency IDentification (RFID) tags have become very cheap and easy to use in a transponder based system. UDOT has just brought one online for what used to be the car pool lane.

    No stopping, no toll booths, just a transponder in your car (about the size of a radar detector) that allows you to ride in the 'fast lane'.

    Keeping at least one lane open and untolled provides essential access to a) people without transponders, and b) people with serious privacy concerns.