Pricing Can Reduce Congestion in City Centers
May, 2010Proper pricing in parking and in the use of so-called freeway HOT lanes can reduce congestion in city centers. That theme held forth as Donald Shoup, a UCLA Professor of Urban Planning, and Robert Poole, Director of Transportation Policy at the Reason Foundation, among others, spoke March 19 in Los Angeles at The Rosenfield Forums, a program of the UCLA School of Public Affairs.
Shoup and Poole were part of a daylong discussion, led by UC academics and transit experts, titled “Changing Lanes: Bold Ideas to Solve L.A.’s Traffic Problems.”
Traffic congestion vexes every major city on the planet, though in the developed world, Los Angeles is widely viewed as the congestion capital, notes the UCLA School of Public Affairs. However, meaningfully reducing traffic delays in large or growing metro areas has proved a very tall order.
Why? That’s because, it became clear during the traffic forum, the causes of traffic congestion are widely misunderstood, and the economic, social and environmental consequences of traffic are often abstract.
Also, the most politically popular solutions to congestion have proved largely ineffective, while the most effective approaches have been politically unpalatable.
Southern California is in the midst of two bold experiments to untangle its legendary traffic congestion: One, multibillion-dollar investments were made in new public transit systems – light-rail commuter services, bus rapid transit and subways. Two, Orange and San Diego counties were among the first in the U.S. to implement congestion pricing, in the form of high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes on Interstate 15 and state Route 91.
Reason Foundation’s Poole spoke of the success of HOT lanes in Southern California. They are installed alongside existing freeways, with two lanes in each direction. It is important that two lanes be used, he said. The single lanes seen in standard car pool or high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes become overused and don’t offer the flexibility that two do.
Drivers are more willing to pay for the use of HOT lanes if benefits such as ease of use and speed exist. This happens when two lanes are installed, Poole said.
He added that toll rates must be set based on an algorithm that varies them depending on usage, time of day, and other factors.
“One of the social issues is that some feel these (HOT lanes) are ‘Lexus’ “ lanes and that only high-end users will populate the system,” Poole said. “Statistics show that isn’t true.” Of the vehicles using HOT lanes, only about 5% are in the Lexus category, he said.
The use of HOT lanes also increases safety, reducing risk to drivers, and cuts greenhouse gas emissions, Poole said. Plus, there are cost benefits. When you install HOT lanes, you get bus lanes at the same time. And the HOT lanes can be installed at one-fifth the cost of a light-rail system, Poole said.
UCLA’s Shoup provided an updated look at the theories put forward in his book “The High Cost of Free Parking.” He noted that Los Angeles has more parking per square mile than any other city on Earth, and that people park for free on 99% of their trips.
His belief is that on-street parking rates should be set so there is one spot empty at all times on each block face. That would mean people wanting to park on the street would always have an opportunity to do so, thus quickly finding a space and not “cruising” to look for parking. Those not wanting to pay higher rates to park on-street would quickly decide to move into lower-priced off-street parking, Shoup said.
Rates would change reflecting demand, he added. If parking rates were too high for some, they would decide to take other means of transportation or car pool, thus reducing traffic congestion.
Shoup said the amount of money collected in parking fines is about five times that collected from parking fees. He suggested a sliding scale for fines, with the first violation being a warning; after that, the increasing fines set in.
“Most fines are paid by a few recurring violators,” he noted, “and they can be dissuaded from violations ... with high penalties.”
It also is important, Shoup reiterated, that the money collected from parking be placed back into the neighborhoods it comes from to make parking charges more politically popular.
In addition, parking space requirements, set by the local government, should be abolished to make urban renewal easier, he said.