NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Tolling by Time Reduces Congestion and Improves Air Quality

September 24, 2010

Current solutions for traffic congestion on U.S. highways, including the construction of old-style toll roads, are ineffective and do little to address ancillary problems such as road maintenance.  A better, more efficient solution is to implement congestion pricing, say John Merrifield, a professor of economics at the University of Texas at San Antonio and a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis, and H. Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis. 

Traffic congestion in the nation's 439 urban areas cost U.S. taxpayers $87.2 billion dollars in 2007, according to the Texas Transportation Institute.  Consider:

  • Approximately 2.8 billion gallons of fuel were wasted in 2007.
  • The average travel time delay during peak periods was 35 hours per driver.
  • The average cost per driver due to wasted time and fuel was $757.

Traditional toll roads and toll lanes are most often not operated in a way that helps reduce congestion, say Merrifield and Burnett.  A better solution is congestion pricing, which charges fees that vary by time for use of the roadway -- higher fees during peak hours and lower or no fees during off-peak hours.

Experience shows congestion pricing works:

  • A congestion fee on bridges and tunnels between New York and New Jersey resulted in a 7 percent decline in traffic during the peak morning period and a 4 percent decline in the peak evening period.
  • Traffic declined 15 percent in both London and Stockholm under congestion pricing schemes.
  • In Singapore, congestion pricing resulted in a 45 percent reduction in traffic.

Source: John Merrifield and H. Sterling Burnett, "Tolling by Time Reduces Congestion and Improves Air Quality," National Center for Policy Analysis, September 24, 2010.

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