Still Congested

At the risk of wearing out my (very generous) welcome, there are a few more pieces to the congestion pricing discussion I’d like to add.

First up is this, again from the Daily Telegraph:

The London congestion charge has failed to cause a significant reduction in delays on the capital’s roads, it emerged yesterday.
In the last two years the congestion endured by drivers in central London has actually got worse, according to Transport for London figures.

The amount of traffic entering the zone during charging hours has been cut by around 20 per cent since the charge was introduced in 2003, but this has been largely offset by a reduction in the capacity of the capital’s roads, due to road works and the introduction of bus lanes.

Congestion fell by 30 per cent in the first year of the charging scheme but is now only 8 per cent below precharging levels.

The weswtward extension of the charging zone next week is expected to increase congestion in central London, as motorists living in Kensington and Chelsea will be entitled to discounted access to the existing zone.

Interesting. But it still looks as though overall congestion has declined. If it’s rising again, chalk it up to the habit many people have for adapting to disincentives if the eventual gain is great enough.

And in an example of how transportation rhetoric knows know international boundaries, consider this:

The Prime Minister’s spokesman insisted that ministers would press ahead with their plans for road-pricing pilot schemes. “Doing nothing is not an option and we know what will happen if we do nothing — congestion will get worse and worse,” he said.

Sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it?

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9 responses to “Still Congested”

  1. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    The Daily Telegraph seems to miss the target by about as far as Virginia’s papers. How much congestion would London have had without the road work?
    It sounds just like VDOT and I-66. This is just a political roll up to next Monday’s zone expansion.

    Regarding the London congestion Charging Zone, it is such a success that it is being expanded on February 19, 2007. The Congestion Charging zone will extend to the west to cover the areas of Bayswater, Notting Hill, North and South Kensington, High Street Kensington, Knightsbridge, Chelsea, Belgravia and Pimlico.

    A few factoids:
    Reductions in congestion inside the charging zone over the whole period since the introduction of the scheme now average 26 percent. This reflects an apparent combined effect of some gains following the July 2005 changes, offset by the loss of decongestion benefits since late 2004.

    In comparison with pre-charging trends, road users in 2005 were probably experiencing an effective 30 percent reduction in congestion, comparable to that in 2003 and early 2004.

    Typical delay values in the charging zone in 2005 were 1.8 minutes per kilometre, compared with 1.6 minutes per kilometre previously reported and 2.3 minutes per kilometre for representative conditions before the introduction of charging in 2002.

    The total volume of traffic (vehicles with four or more wheels) entering the charging zone on an average day during charging hours in Spring 2005 was 1 percent less than the equivalent value for 2004. The total volume of traffic entering the charging zone during Autumn 2005, following the
    changes to the scheme in July 2005, was 4 percent lower than the equivalent value for 2004.

    You can read more (warning this is 215 pages) in the Fourth Annual Report

  2. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    It is time to reprise a technique I call FARE roads. (Free And REstricted roads) The new idea is the “Fare Dollar” “Fare Account.” Every customer gets a credit of 40 rollover “Fare Dollars” when they register their E-Z Pass and every month they use the “Fare Dollars.” “Fare Dollars” can be used anytime. Drivers who wish to make many trips during peak demand periods and following incidents can buy more “Fare Dollars” through their E-Z Pass Account.

    “FARE Roads” provide all the advantages of demand managed roads. They raise prices to prevent volume delays. They raise prices to control congestion after incidents and breakdowns. “Fare Roads” eliminate incidents caused by congestion. Because the first 40 are free, the “working stiffs’ that travel at rush hour get many free turns. If they get together with their friends and car pool they can even buck the line and by sharing cars ride free on days when more drivers then roads are available.

    For those who aren’t familiar with E-Z Pass, it is a system that collects tolls electronically as drivers go under a sensor. It requires a pass in each car. The fare road system can augment this with Photo tolls, instead of only using photos for enforcement. The E-Z pass stations would be located on each highway segment that you wanted to demand manage. Probably one on each Interstate, and more at the exits to prevent overloading local streets. Usually they will be installed below bridges.

    The tolls are set by demand. So no complaining that the Regional Authority is charging you so that they can build another road or pay off a bond houlder.

    Another feature is that “Fare Dollars” could also be credited to Smart Pass accounts for use on our transit systems.

    The best feature of demand managed roads is that more drivers can use them. We are all familiar with the volume delays during rush hour. Everybody crowds onto the highway and everybody is delayed. When we manage a road it is like adding a forth lane to a three lane interstate. The extra capacity that taking turns creates is the reward of going to FARE roads.

  3. If I am not mistaken there is considerable uproar over how the amount of congestion is (officially) calculated.

    The difference in time for a five mile trip within London before and after the congestion charging scheme amounts to only a few seconds, according to one account.

    The way it is done is to calculate the free flow time for the trip and the congested flow time for the trip, before and after congestion charging. Then since you are comparing the putative amount of time related to congestion only, a small change tursn out to be a big percentage difference, technically speaking.

    Congestion delay amounts to a relatively small part of our total trip, even if it is the most frustrating part. London Officilas and the system operators are making big gains, but the difference to the driving londoner is negligble.

  4. “The tolls are set by demand. So no complaining that the Regional Authority is charging you so that they can build another road or pay off a bond houlder.”

    How do you figure? WHERE is the money going? It is probably NOT going to be used to increase capacity on the heavily laden sections. If you are not paying for something somewhere then you are really paying for exclusive access, by excluding those who cannot afford to pay.

    If that’s the case, then the only reasonable place to send the money is to those that have chosen not to drive during that time: that is to pay the people who are being harmed by the system which is put in place to favor others.

    This is simply another iteration on the topic of, if you want to make conservation popular, then make it profitable. By taking the money from those that drive and giving it to those that don’t, you get double the incentive.

    Clearly that money is going somewhere, so spend it on other transportation modes, if you like. But if you do, then plan on giving up the sales pitch that says the usere should pay for what they get.

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “It is probably NOT going to be used to increase capacity on the heavily laden sections”

    Are you describing VDOT’s current methodology?

    Do we have a system now where we prioritize funds for the most congested roads?

    Tell me why the current system is better than a toll approach.

  6. It is not going be used to increase capacity in many of the worst places because there is insufficient space to do so. I doubt we will see any new roads or streets in Arlington because it is mostly built out.

    You may eventually see lanes added to 66 inside the beltway, but it was deliberately designed to make sure that no more than two lanes could be added.

    Widening 66 outside the beltway, south on 95 and the beltway itselfe is going to involve tearing down the sound walls that were built at nearly the cost of another lane to protect the hoses behind them. It is also going to involve tearing down the houses.

    In other words, the places with the most congestion are the least efficient place to spend the money. In these places you need to identify what is causing the congestion, and then move it someplace else. You will be able to do that far cheaper than turning Arlington into anotherversion of downtown Houston, which is 75% streets.

    Despite what you say about tolls, most of them are used in very limited ways or situations. The greenway charges one toll whether you get on at the first exit or the last. This is hardly an incentive to live closer in, or drive less. Toll plazas inevitably are causes of congestion and frequently crashes as well.

    Any reasonable toll system will have to toll by zones, because you can’t have enough sensors to track at very fine granularity. The zones will be much larger, if they exist at all in rural areas. Then there are out of state people who need to pay cash, or else sign up when they enter the state. You might have a problem with that from ICC.

    Nearly everyone uses or benefits from the roads in several ways. The present system taxes nearly everyone in several ways, in order to capture revenue that is associated with all of the benefits. The gas tax doesn’t pay for everything, but it does offer some marginal penalty to those that drive the most and drive the most destructive vehicles.

    All in all, I think that has it all over taxing only those who happen to use the roads directly. Reducint the tax base can only increase the tax rate, and much of that cost will be passed right back to consumers anyway. You will have a hidden tax that is off the books.

    The existing system has four problems: the biggest is not enough money to meet growing needs, rising costs, and playing catch up on deferred maintenance that we didn’t raise enough money for previously. For 20 years we hve kicked that can into the future and now the future is here. We may have to eat the beans now. It doesn’t matter in the least what kinds of reforms you have if there is no money to implement them.

    The other problems are rotten allocation of funds, no clear idea of what kind of land use reforms might really help, and general obstructionism.

    I agree the present system sucks. It is seriously broken, but it is still better than a brokens system funded by a broken system.

    We have a history of toll roads that didn’t work and went bankrupt. That’s why we moved to public roads. Why make that mistake again, just because we have new technology to make it bigger and faster?

    The Woods Hole, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket Steamship Authority is essentially a toll road, and a congestion pricing mechanism for the islands. (As a congestion mechanism, it does not work very well.)

    At one time it nearly went bankrupt and the Islanders had to chip in still more to keep it running. There was a huge uproar over the fact the allocation of fees charged to the islands was disproportionate to that charged to the other mainland port towns.

    So, if you want a highway system that is guaranteed to make money for the owners, at your expense, just sign on to the idea of tolls. The WHMV&N is a pretty small operation but, having watched it in action, I can assure you it is plenty big enough for major boondoggles. The only thing good about it is that it is a good source of well-paying bonds that you never have to worry about going South.

    So, here is the deal, inside the WHMV&N congestion cordon gas is $2.75 a gallon when it is $2.25 outside. Similar differences apply to every commodity. I know people who have never left the island. never been more than ten miles in any direction, unless they were out fishing. Do you think they don’t pay their share of the “tolls”?

    Yes, the present system is broken, but let’s not make it worse with tolls.

  7. OK so the delay time went from 2.3 to 1.8 minutes per kilometer which is a 21% reduction in delay time.

    But say the average free flow speed is on the order of 20 km/hour (if it is that high.) So it takes 3 minuts per kilometer, plus the delay times. So the average reduction in travel time is like from 5.3 minutes per kilometer to 4.8 minutes, a reduction of 9%.

    The toll is something like $20, isn’t it? So if you drive 20 kilometers inside the boundary and save 10 minutes at a price of $20, that means you have to value your time at $120 an hour, to make it worth while.

    Typically transit is half the speed of a car, or less. So, you can save the $20 congestion fare and travel the same 20 kilometers in two hours time, meaning you value your time at less than ten dolars per hour, considering bus fare.

    Boy, that sounds like such a wonderfule deal, I just can’t wait till we get it over here.

  8. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    You make a lot of good points that actually favor tolls.

    First there IS sensor granularity already in use and working fine and your point about NOT using variable pricing is one of the areas they actually intend to change – more on this below.

    Second.. it’s not necessarily about build more lanes as it is about optimizing the existing infrastructure with targetted improvements that are not done now because of a lack of money AND a focus on mega projects – that are not only ungodly expensive but really only speed traffic to the next bottleneck.. that there is no money to fix.

    Third – variable price tolling asks you a direct question – how important is it for you to drive right now?

    Everyone gets asked that same question AND the answer to that question…

    1. – takes some discretionary trips off the road at that hour

    2. – collects money for optimization improvements…that over the longer run.. produce infrastructure that functions much better for everyone.

    This is not about penalizing people.

    This is about allocating the costs required to deliver better functioning infrastructure directly for those that will benefit.

    The no-toll response is essentially you saying you cannot afford a new furnace because the one you got is so inefficient you can only afford the fuel for it even though a new one would cut your fuel costs so drammatically that in a short time – you’d actually end up with MORE money in your pocket.

    I have an EZ-Pass transponder and I have a in-car GPS that tells me if my route has TOLLs.

    What it does not tell me is how much those TOLLs are nor the current traffic congestion status much less if there is a less-congested option for a higher toll.

    All of these things could come together if we collected TOLLs and used some of that money to provide current status and the option to bypass congestion if it was important to you on that day or every day.

    Without this – you are doomed to the status quo.. except that it will continue to worsen with every new job that comes online in NoVa.

    You’re already paying for congestion – well documented in wasted time and fuel and things that you CANNOT do and are forced to time-shift because of congestion.

    TOLLS would likely SAVE you time and money and fuel and allow you to do things that you cannot do right now because some appointments at certain times are not dependable.. unless you allow 2-3 hours lead time “just in case”.

  9. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Ray – What if –

    You had a computer and an in-car GPS that told you the fastest route for the current conditions.

    That route might well change if there was an accident or some back-up. You’d automatically get the best route.

    Now I’m anticipating one of your comments and that is the “if well run” – and I’ll admit it could well be screwed up incompentent and/or irresponsible management but I ask you – all things equal – what do we have right now?

    Now what if in that equation – you also had a choice between faster paths for more money by taking advantage of a variable priced toll path?

    Ray – this technology is Here right now but not yet ready for Metro-wide prime time.

    What is lacking is real-time traffic info.

    The technology for using this info in your GPS already exists and some GPS will re-route you based on that real-time info.

    Consider this capability for your everyday commute. Consider this capability for out-of-state folks.

    This is how you would manage congestion.

    You would have the info necessary for a decision that is best for you.

    If you absoultely had to to somewhere.. you’d quickly find out to either allow an extra hour or pay an extra $5.

    If you were from New York on your way to your Florida Condo.. you could decide if you want to spend 4 hrs trying to get through the DC area or pay $20 for a one hour trip.

    Everytime you or the New York guy choose to pay – the money would be recycled back to address some known bottleneck.

    If run properly it would be almost a self-optimzing system balanced near perfectly between demand and supply.

    There is absolutely no way you can accomplish any of this without TOLLs.

    TOLLS are the path to a better system.

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