Last Updated on January 20, 2021 by Michael

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Like it or loathe it, highways across the country are adopting dynamic tolling. This model sets prices based on the number of vehicles on the road at a specific time. It works by encouraging discretionary rush-hour drivers to use roads and highways at off-peak times. In other words, the aim is to even out traffic throughout the day.

Studies show that, initially, drivers who have not experienced dynamic tolling may be initially resistant. But when they become familiar with dynamic tolling, they support it, as it offers a more predictable and shorter commute. By removing even 5% of the vehicles from a congested roadway, the system flows much more efficiently.

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In the past few years, there has been a surge in interest in congestion tolling across the country. At least 12 states now using dynamic pricing on at least one tolled highway. They include California, Florida, Maryland, Texas and Virginia.

Around the world, Oslo, London, Singapore and Stockholm all use “congestion pricing” systems.

How Congestion Tolling Works

With congestion pricing, toll prices vary by time of day. Electronic toll technology collects payments. Traffic flows freely, while there are no toll booths. Highway authorities set toll rates in advance for different time periods. Alternatively, prices may be set dynamically. That means they may adjust every few minutes to ensure that the lanes are fully utilized.

Examples of Congestion Tolling in the U.S.

Dynamic tolling is becoming commonplace in many areas of the country. Here are some examples:

Since 1998, single-occupant vehicles pay a per-trip fee each time they use the I-15 High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes. Tolls vary with the level of traffic demand on the lanes. Surveys show that commuters overwhelmingly support the HOV lanes.

In Northern Virginia, I-66 has introduced rush-hour, peak-direction, high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes. This resulted in many drivers adjusting their travel patterns. The tolls are dynamic — meaning they change according to demand and volume of traffic. This helps maintain an average vehicle speed of 55 mph. The toll prices recalibrate every six minutes.

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In Fort Myers, Florida, a 50% toll discount led to a 20% increase in traffic before the morning rush hours. That meant corresponding drops in the rush hour itself.

Oregon is testing a pricing scheme involving per-mile charges, which it will consider using as a replacement for fuel taxes in the future. The state is testing a congestion pricing component, with higher during congested periods on high traffic road segments. The Puget Sound Regional Council has been testing the travel behavior impacts of a similar charging system in the Seattle metropolitan area during 2005-2006. Prices depend on the type of facility and its level of congestion.

New York City may be the first major city to ease traffic congestion by charging motorists a hefty toll for driving into its most crowded areas.