NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

A 'Hot' Idea for Easing Traffic

November 20, 2003

As policy makers continue to search for ways to decrease air pollution and congestion on highways, they may increasingly come to rely on a new concept called the high occupancy toll ("HOT") lane.

HOT lanes operate as a modified version of the high occupancy vehicle ("HOV") lanes that allow access to solo commuters for a toll. HOT lanes in Houston and Southern California have had overwhelming success.

Converting HOV lanes into HOT lanes offers a number of important benefits, says Matthew Marchant, a city council member for the Dallas suburb of Carrollton:

  • HOT lanes give individual motorists a faster and more predictable travel option; they are managed by a variable toll, depending on the level of congestion so as more drivers enter a HOT lane, the fee increases, ensuring that these lanes will never become congested.
  • HOT lanes have been shown to produce significant revenue; a recently published study estimates that the Dallas-Fort Worth area would collect $37 million a year by converting existing HOV lanes and as much as $228 million a year from a fully developed HOT network.
  • Underlying those benefits is a reduction in overall congestion and in auto emissions.

But, there is opposition to the use of HOT lanes; some have indicated that these lanes will increase congestion in the previously free-flowing HOV lanes. However, in areas where the variable toll rates were used, traffic flow continued to be free-flowing.

Another argument against HOT lanes is that they reduce the incentive for commuters to ride-share. But studies of the current system in California illustrate that ride-sharing has increased since the implementation of the HOT lanes, because multiple-passenger vehicles are given a "free pass".

Source: Matthew Marchant, "Here's a 'hot' idea for easing traffic," Dallas Morning News, November 17, 2003.


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