My main concern is that with tolls that high that only people with a lot of money can afford them (I make six figures but I doubt I would ever pay $40 for a toll. I would need much more money). These are also often the most influential people so they may think that everything is OK because they can afford the toll and never suffer in traffic. I think the same is happening with health care. Most people in Congress have enough money and get a nice insurance plan so they don't even understand how bad the US health system is for people in the lower incomes. They think it's perfectly fine and no need to change anything.
It's very problematic when in a society the people at the top never experience life the same way regular citizens do.
I live in Northern Virginia, and the statement "People who were totally banned from a road now could now use it at its busiest time" is false. People were already driving on I-66 solo during HOV-only hours, they were just counting on super lax enforcement and the law of probability falling in their favor for not getting caught. When riding in the metro in the mornings (which runs parallel to I-66 into DC for a time) you saw lots and lots and LOTS of solo commuters during HOV times.
I imagine now people are just switching their EZPass (toll transponder) to "HOV" and still driving solo, which I imagine is even harder to enforce.
Traffic into and out of DC to and from Northern Virginia SUCKS, it's always sucked, and it will continue to suck probably indefinitely. There need to be more roads and more bridges across the Potomac river but there's no logistically possible way to do so.
> Which would you prefer in general: Being forbidden from doing something at all, or allowed to do it at high cost? Under standard economic theory, the latter should always be better. In the first scenario, you have one option: don't do it. In the second, you have two options, including the same option as before.
This is not how the human mind works.
One part is obvious: would you rather starve, with no options, or starve in front of a beautiful cheesecake, just out of reach? Or worse, in front of a cake out of reach to you, but with other people feasting on it? This is not just "envy", it's loss, in the second case we're losing out and we're extremely loss adverse.
The other part is less obvious but no less real: we average the cost of options. A set of 11 plates with one of them broken is worth less to buyers than a set of 10 good plates, because the average value of 1 plate in the first case is less than in the second one. This has been demonstrated many times.
When you go from one option at no cost (slow lane) to one free option + one paying option, then the perceived value/cost of the "free" option isn't free anymore, it goes up because people average the cost.
(That said, tolls are probably the best possible solution; but the transition is always going to be painful).
I don't think people are being unreasonable by being unhappy with a $40 toll. The way the article words it, solo drivers all of a sudden saw a $40 toll where they previously had no permission to drive at all.
What actually happened was that people were expecting to see a $6 toll be put in place and instead saw a $40. Imagine going to McDonald's where your friend told you that you could get a Filet o' Fish for $1 but when you get there you find out that McDonald's was charging $5. You'd be mad. You still have the option to not buy the sandwich, but it went contrary to your expectations.
So the article is correct, but I don't think they fully accounted for the fact that people had already been told to expect something else. The article mentioned it, but then goes and talks like people are being unreasonably frustrated for tolls that were completely unexpected.
Ignoring the morals for a second, with tolls that high and difficulty identifying which vehicles qualify for a HOV exemption, I wonder how many days of tolls a single ticket is and likelihood of being caught?
Let's say a ticket is $150. If the toll is $6 then you're likely better off paying the toll as you're likely to be caught at least once every 25 days. At $40 they'd need to catch you at least once a week for you to lose money. The $150 amount is fictional, I don't know what the ticket would cost, more just a thought experiment.
In any regard, when tolls are this high, you have to consider issues like this. What works for a $4-6 toll doesn't scale to $40 unless the tickets also scale.
> "The real reason there's sticker shock is that the real cost of road transportation is hidden from most voters. Gas tax money goes to states and the US Department of Transportation which flows back as what seems like free federal money to build a lot of roads. Meanwhile, every transit project has to scrimp for funds..." "...estimated that tolls would have to be at least $41 to pay off the costs of construction."
A lot of people take for granted the Eisenhower interstate infrastructure.
I mean, one of the problems with tolls is that it is another form of taxing that has a bigger impact the lower income you have.
Without getting into an ideological discussion, having surge pricing on tolls would contribute to a minor divide in class.
In Australia this is a current topic, as (in Sydney specifically) there was a recent controversial highway widening which has been funded by tolls and constructed by a private company, which will own the road and tolls for the next 100 years or so. This highway leads to/from the CBD as a work commute for everyone coming from the west part of the city (the poorer part usually..) and so has direct influence on people's pockets in an already high expenses city on people choosing to live further away in a cheaper part of the city.
This perhaps does not directly apply to this specific instance, but I do think it illustrates that this is slightly more of a complex issue and has more implications than the simplification of the issue the article author wrote - if you introduce a toll but allow people to use it, that does have an impact on overall equality in society, even if you can debate the merits & size of the impact.
> To many drivers' surprise, though, the tolls during rush hour were high, hitting $34.50 Monday morning and reaching $40 Tuesday.
Is this like "surge pricing" on tolls?
I thought most of the tolls are fixed to allow people know in advance what they must pay. If it increases based on demand, I think people will get mad.
I think the psychology, if any, need not go towards the two choices. But rather what people thought the "dynamic pricing" will be and that was $5-$6 on average.
People get mad at ride sharing companies for their "surge pricing" so this seems in the same mold.
> Last week, only people in carpools with two people or more, drivers with an exempt hybrid vehicle, [...] during peak times.
> This week, [...]. Hybrid folks and Dulles users also lost their privileges, [...]
If I bought a home on the far end of this road thinking I could buy a hybrid or electric car and use it on the toll road, and then suddenly they take that away and start charging $30 each way, I'd be really upset.
Whether the expectation that this road would remain open to hybrid cars is a _reasonable_ one is an interesting question. I'm not aware of similar changes (hybrids losing their exemption) in other road systems, but I don't exactly read transit-hawk blogs.
"The government could theoretically go back to the 20th century model of taxing more and building more free transportation, but voters haven't shown much appetite for raising their taxes."
This is the author weaseling out of addressing the reality that most Americans want higher taxes on the rich. Not taxes raised on everyone, not funds raised through purchasable perks.
"A significant majority of Americans believe that upper-income people and corporations pay too little in taxes, supporting other research showing that well less than half of Americans -- 38% -- agree with a proposal to cut corporate income taxes, and that the majority favor heavier taxes on the rich."
Let's assume that overall, this does not make the road any more or less efficient ( i.e. the same # of product, i.e. people and goods, still pass through the highway stretch per hour ).
For those whose $time_saved_in_traffic > $40, they now have a more economical option.
Imagine a business that bills out labor at $100/hr and offers to pay the $40 toll + $10 extra per day if the employee can and is willing to bill another 30 minutes. Employee is better off ( they effectively spend the same amount of time "at work" plus and extra $10 and likely slightly less gas money ). Employer bills out an extra $50, assuming 20% of that is markup over labor cost, this is an extra $10 in their pocket. The government gets an extra $40 (minus whatever the base toll is) to reinvest elsewhere.
The downside is that the remaining lanes ( those who cannot justify the cost of the fastlane ), will end up paying more in slightly longer commute times if the remaining lanes are now more congested.
What society should be paying attention to is how the efficiency of the road overall improves.
If there is open ( i.e. wasted ) capacity in the HOV lane, opening HOV lane to more traffic will improve efficiency in the road overall.
If the additional revenue can be reinvested to improve efficiency, this should improve things for everyone overall.
If there are no ( or negative ) efficiency gains, then those forced to ride in the mainstream lanes will bear the net cost.
tl;dr; Focus on improving the overall efficiency of the road.
I wonder if this will increase demand for "ride sharing." Anyone who takes an Uber/Lyft will automatically have at least two people in the car, allowing them to use this highway for free. I suppose this probably depends on how long the commute is and whether the ride would be <$40 (or <$40 + gas + car depreciation).
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catastrophe_theory I believe in the context of these road discussions its important to understand the math behind the usage of roads. Roads become less efficient, in terms of people per hour, the more people use them. While restricting access may be unfair it also creates value by getting cars off the road faster than what would have happened otherwise.
We have the best road system in the world with high quality roads over the whole country. Most roads are "rain-resistant", meaning heavy rainfall does not affect road conditions negatively. We don't have any toll roads.
We do pay a relatively high tax for it though. The article is spot on that tolls are the consequence of public not willing to increase their taxes.
Even for the honest ones, I would wager you'll find that most people fit into one of three categories:
1. The ones that won't pay at any cost for whatever reason.
2. The ones who will pay only if it's an emergency or they're in a rush and it's the difference between being on-time or late.
3. The ones who will pay just so they don't have to sit in traffic. Either the money is meaningless to them or they'd rather be happy than rich.
I'm reasonably frugal, generally speaking, but I'm still category 3. My sanity is worth more to me than the $40. Even if it costs me some percentage of my daily pay. I'd rather spend all my money on things that remove friction from my life so I have more time for fun than spend my time dealing with one frustration after another. My happiness is worth way more to me than money. I would say that a fair portion of my time and pay cheque every month is spent on removing friction from my life.
What would be interesting is if (as I predict) the majority of people fall into categories 1 and 2. If too many fall into category 3, I'm going to need to rethink my strategy.
Seems like toll roads are always simply rent-seeking or exclusivity-seeking behavior by entities having greater-than-average resources compared to ordinary individuals.
On private property, toll regulation according to a market seems fair enough under a free-enterprise system.
On public property, toll roads are always unfair unless the toll rate is virtually insignificant to all potential users. Any other explanation does appear deceptive, whether intentional or not.
Therefore it is usually just destructively extractive for the average users to fund roads on public property exclusively by tolls alone.
When the public tolling entity is under the jurisdiction of electable officials in a working democracy, the proper response is for a disruptive candidate to campaign on a platform of eliminating toll roads altogether. With public support this could include public purchase of private toll roads according to eminent domain if a price affordable to the citizens can not be negotiated.
Other things being equal, this type candidate should be able to prevail in cases where toll rates are particularly significant to the citizens in general.
Assuming of course free enough enterprise and democracy working well enough . . .
> Which would you prefer in general: Being forbidden from doing something at all, or allowed to do it at high cost?
There are plenty of government policies or state run services that prevent or completely avoid this dynamic in the name of pseudo 'fairness'. When usually it more often restricts options for more people rather than makes it more fair.
It's easy to see why from a populist perspective, look at the outrage on Twitter:
>> I don't have to use it, but it's effing outrageous. Armed robbery. $34.50 for 10 miles? New tolls on I-66 kick off with some high rates. https://twitter.com/andreas_adriano/status/93772317073970790...
... he admits he never even uses it but he still finds it unfair 'highway robbery' regardless.
And it's not just a policy helping the wealthy as it would be using the service to maximal efficacy rather than below capacity. It's a net gain for average users. As there will never be a high number of people willing to pay that fee, not slowing down existing traffic. Plus the additional revenue gained could otherwise be used to improve the operation, go back into the economy via employee income or spending, etc. It's a net gain.
I guess I'm at a loss here because I've lived in DC almost 6 years now and it never occurred to me that I-66 was HOV only during certain portions of the day. I know I am not alone in this because I see similar conversations happening elsewhere.
Additionally, many comments say that single traveler HOV use is forbidden however I frequently see single drivers in the HOV lanes on 66 and elsewhere un-restricted. As a computer vision engineer, I know that DC doesn't have the capability to build camera systems that can infer a single/multi passenger drivers and the number of police that are 1. available and 2. can discern as much are simply not there. Are they now mailing toll charges to everyone who does not have the EZPass system?
What they effectively did was permit free use of I-66 virtually unimpeded, through lack of enforcement of the intended laws, for years and then rapidly and expensively enforce the system.
So the question I have is, how is it that they can go from a minimally (at best) enforced HOV policy to a high toll rate system effectively overnight, and expect that driver behavior will change without outrage?
It seems like it will certainly decrease the road users, IF one of two things happen: they can identify and charge (or overcharge) drivers based on occupancy (I argue they technologically can't) OR rely on self-policing of behavior from drivers.
An individual car might not be a mass transit system but a highway is (albeit inefficient). I think it's just as absurd to use demand pricing for highways as it would be to use them for subways. (I support HOV lanes though)
The main issue I see with a non-HOV toll option on an HOV road, toll lanes, etc. is that it gives the wealthy an option that others do not have. If there isn't enough commuting capacity (regardless of medium) we need to provide more. The state should not give the rich an option to make their commutes tolerable because that's easier than solving the problems (because we all know that when the rich and powerful have problems with how the state is running things that's when they change).
The wealthy have to wait on the same subway platforms as the poor. The national parks don't have a "skip the line if you're rich enough to justify the insane price" option. The wealthy should have to sit in the same traffic jams as the rest of us. Congress should have the same healthcare options as the rest of us.
The worst part about toll lanes and the other demand based pricing for necessities is that they reduce the incentive to increase supply.
If it were independently verifiable that any given implementation of surge pricing was optimized for bandwidth (people-miles over the time period surge pricing applies) rather than latency (average speed) or revenue I might feel differently but considering how pretty much every other traffic control rule turns into a revenue source of some sort (tolls on I90 in MA were only supposed to last long enough to recover the construction cost) I quite frankly don't trust any government to do it that way unless it's 100% in the open.
Is everyone else missing the fact that this may be a bug in the algorithm? Read the update to the article, tolls are “surging” despite the road being almost empty.
> Which would you prefer in general: Being forbidden from doing something at all, or allowed to do it at high cost?
This is market economics at its best. If you don't like the $40 toll go back to alternative routes you were using before they introduced the toll. I also find it ironic that "free market" Republicans are suddenly stamping their feet and demanding either price controls at $6 or reverting to the old system.
I'm a guy with a long commute and a dislike of traffic jams. I've shifted my work hours to get me to work by 6:30 am at the latest. I'll take the toll route (Boston's Tobin Bridge, $1.50) or the free route (I-93) without considerating cost because I've taught myself that time is worth more than money.
But if the Tobin toll abruptly went up to $20, my loss-aversion anxiety would spike (cf. this year's Nobel Memorial winner Richard Sunstein, for behavioral economics) and my behavior would change in ways that weren't exactly rational.
This already happened on the Tobin Bridge when the tolls were first introduced. People from the neighborhoods near the Tobin used alternate routes and clogged them. The government response was wise: issue special toll tags to neighbors giving them a discount on the Tobin. The wisdom was that it countered loss-aversion with a special privilege. It worked. (Of course, this being Massachusetts, there's a small but thriving black market in those special toll tags for wiseguys wanting to save a couple of bucks a day. But so what?)
In a place like the DC area, people react to loss anxiety by attacking public projects as well as by changing their behavior, so this experiment may not last too long. I hope they can get some skilfull behavioral economics people to work with them before the whole thing gets shut down hard by fake-angry politicians.
If the goal is really to increase vehicle occupancy, the highway needs stations named for Tom and Ray Magliozzi's Russian chauffeur (Pickup Andropoff) near the exits. Getting more people into cars has proven very difficult.
Understanding this kind of peak-load pricing, and how to apply it effectively, will help all sorts of future projects in our overcrowded metroplexes.
Tolls change routing decisions. If you can't gauge a toll until you are at the road because it keeps changing, that's a risk. Dynamic tolling asks people to take a risk; that will never work unless they do like Uber and fix the price at the time you leave. It's only fair that the planning risk should fall on the central traffic manager, as they have the most information and capabilities.
The true cost of a trip is masked behind sales taxes, property taxes, income taxes, various state fees unrelated to roads, insurance, rent/mortgage for the cost of space for the car, the loan for the car, etc. The technology exists to toll everyone for the actual cost per mile, with higher fees for higher weight (trucks wear roads way faster than cars), and congestion. It incentivizes more investments in cycling and pedestrian lanes, would affect how and where housing is built, and how much investment is made in public transit and where it's located.
Congestion fees are used by at least Long Island Rail Road, it's roughly 50% higher during peak times. So it can be applied to public transit as well. In fact a chunk of automobile transport is public transit because the biggest cost in the whole system is the infrastructure which is publicly owned and maintained, typically without direct user fees that relate to usage. Gasoline taxes only approximate a person's usage.
So, in the article, the author says (as the 2nd of 3 possible options):
Add lanes, which Arlington doesn't want and there's no money for (or would require high tolls to fund); or
Does adding lanes alleviate anything?
I have seen multiple studies indicate adding lanes does not help w/ traffic, and actually makes things worse.
Is it simply assumed that more roads = less traffic?
I find these types of articles massively deceiving, if there is a simple explanation for something, a complicated explanation isn't required, ie. the human psychology. Here is one reason why the drivers reaction makes sense, when previously people were disallowed to use the toll road it wasn't about money when you charge them $40 it is all of a sudden a question of money. Previously people were perhaps understanding of congestion problems and it's natural when you have so many cars on the roads that the government should disallow some and they understood that otherwise the traffic wouldn't move. Now when you make it about money, it's no longer arbitrarily decided who gets to ride in the toll road, it's about who can afford to ride on the toll road. (or to the extend that it was arbitrary before)
Consider that taxpayers fund and build airports. Available seats on an airplane are priced using demand based pricing.
Taxpayers provide land and (sometimes) fund rail infranstructure. Most long distance rail uses demand based pricing (the last seat costs more than the first).
Taxpayers also (sometimes) provide/pay for land and the costs to build roads. Until now, we haven't seen demand based pricing (the last slot costs more than the first), but it actually fits well with other modes of taxpayer funded transportation.
This approach also considers the cost and value of a road network in a congested area. This could possibly fund other new transport in the area if it really is such a valuable commodity.
I understand the psychology of it as far as the high price goes, I think also people are appalled that there are others who can afford such obscene prices too, not just that the prices are so high. And well the two counties funneling traffic into this road Fairfax and Loudon are the richest counties in US, I have no doubt they'll be enough people who will pay the $40.
But what most people are upset about is that the hours when the whole highway becomes HOV-2 only have been expanded. So solo drivers who were getting up early, could have made it into the city before the restrictions kicked in, now won't be able to, and will have to funnel to secondary roads.
When the price algorithm goes above some unacceptable amount, they should just change it to "Carpool only", as it was before, and there would then be no reason for people to complain.
If they made the "Carpool only" have some sort of fine for violations, say $100, paid the same way as the toll would have been, people could still use it in real emergencies.
It sounds like the calibration of the toll amount is a bit off, and can probably be adjusted over time as the systems get experience managing the demand of the road. If they'd launched with an $8 toll, and ended up with gridlock on the road, would that have been better?
There is an important point lost here. People are saying 'people who couldn't use the road before now have the option to', but they are ignoring that the restricted hours were increased by 90 minutes in the morning and evening. I used to have an option to get to work super-early, or work till 7pm then head home on a road that was no busier than the rest of the regions traffic. Those options are now off the table. What was legal, fair, free, and without congestion is now blocked by a toll that is pushing early morning traffic onto roads not built for commuter traffic.
If the road was already pretty full during rush hour when no solo driver was allowed, how is this new rule going to help by adding even more drivers? Sounds like a major fail to even have that kind of rule in first place.
This is a decent follow-up noting that the average toll is well below the peak toll. Of course, it doesn't talk about the median.
The article quotes a legislator:
> which is why I called charging the highest toll in the country what it is: price gouging.
No, no, no it's not price gouging: it's charging what the privilege of driving in the fast lane is worth.
The problem in northern Virginia is that there are too many people commuting. Fortunately, there's the entire rest of the country that they can move to.
'Not located in northern Virginia, New York or California' is a very real marketing edge for a potential employer.
Stuck in traffic, you might as well be stuck in prison. Say your loved ones are counting on you to be somewhere. When you are stuck , you're letting them down! Suddenly you have an option when there were no options previously. Now $40 looks pretty cheap in the face of fighting a spouse, disappointed children, etc.
This is kind of a joke, but imagine this scenario:
If I illegally immigrate to USA, how much I would make just to take a ride with people?
I believe I could charge US$20 per trip. One trip early morning, go back by public transportation (it is just 10 miles!), and get another ride. The same at rush hour in the other direction. It would me about 80 * 22 = $1760 each month. Nothing bad. Better than a minimum wage of $1,150 per month.
This is a kind of job that exists in a lot of places: https://gizmodo.com/10-transportation-related-jobs-that-only...
It's not about the price, it's about expectation.
The shock comes from people thinking, you've just opened a road for the rich, not for the every man. Roads have not, historically in the US, been excluded to a certain group of people. Of course people will react harshly.
Some economists need to get their heads out of their asses and live in the real world for a bit.
Can it be cheaper if you drive faster ?
ie. 45mph = $40
ie. 80mph = $30
ie. 100mph = $6 (for contrast)
et cetera ? That would make traffic flow and people happy ?
Not US driver, don't know the US speed limits. On oposite side, Germany doesn't have speed limits on some tolls. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autobahn
they should fund public transport proportionally to a tax applied to fuel.
that way more cars also means more buses (or well maintained if people insist on using cars)
every year crank up the fuel tax and you'll see more people using busses.
good idea, and reward cyclists, and promote remote work