Pricing Congestion on Mother’s Day

Photo: Cindy Yamanaka, OC Register
For those traveling the 91 Express Lanes out in Orange and Riverside Counties this Sunday (Mother’s Day!), bring some extra change, because the toll will be going up.  The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA),  the body that oversees the expressway, varies the toll to accommodate for unusual fluctuations in traffic volume.  The variations in toll fees are designed to manage traffic congestion, which typically increases during holidays.
Holidays can cause traffic on the 91 to vary widely from the regular commute pattern, and the tolls are adjusted accordingly, said Joel Zlotnik, an OCTA spokesman. It’s part of the congestion-management pricing, the goal of which is to ensure the lowest possible tolls while ensuring free flowing traffic to drivers on the 91 Express Lanes.
Congestion pricing is not a new concept.  Gasps over a toll increase this Mother’s Day should be tempered, however, as pricing policy has been in effect since 2003.  Whether you are for or against the pricing system, there are real advantages to the practice, at least according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (US DOT).  US DOT recently released a 605 page report, Transportation’s Role in Reducing U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions, with portions of the report identifying that congestion pricing would not only reduce VMT [vehicle miles traveled] but also result in more efficient traffic operations. It was further shown to be a cost-effective solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions as people utilized other, less carbon intensive modes of travel.
Dulles Toll Road, Washington DC
Road pricing, congestion pricing, or value pricing – all synonymous with each other – have been evaluated and studied  extensively and are considered very beneficial for increasing road capacity and reducing demand; increasing road capacity and reducing peak-period demand; and reducing total vehicle travel, while avoiding the need to add capacity.  The research findings can be found here.
If you’re out there this Sunday on the 91 or the 73, 133, 241, 261, or any toll road for that matter, and find yourself confronted with an increased toll, think about the big picture –  like GHG emission reduction. Who knows, it might make you feel a little bit better about the increase.  Then again, shouldn’t there be a discount for mothers?  Congestion pricing, yay or nay?
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