Washington, D.C. – At its January meeting, the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) discussed a report on several congestion pricing options and the public acceptability for implementing them in metropolitan Washington.
The TPB report, What Do People Think About Congestion Pricing?, is based on the findings from several forums held throughout the region to gauge the public’s views on strategies aimed at reducing congestion and raising revenues for transportation.
During intensive, four-and-a-half-hour sessions, forum participants were provided information on the current and projected state of transportation funding and congestion in the region and then presented three pricing scenarios:
- Scenario 1: Priced Lanes on All Major Highways – variably priced lanes on all interstates, as well as some other major roadways;
- Scenario 2: Pricing on All Roads and Streets – variable, per-mile pricing using vehicle-based GPS systems;
- Scenario 3: Priced Zones – drivers pay a fee to enter or drive within a designated area.
Participants’ reactions to the three scenarios varied significantly. Of the three, Scenario 1 was the most popular, with 60% of participants expressing support for variably priced lines. People liked that it was optional (non-tolled options would largely be maintained) and that it offered increased predictability. However, they were concerned about this scenario’s implications for fairness and whether congestion would simply move from priced lanes to non-priced lanes.
The GPS-based Scenario 2 provoked strong negative reactions, with only 10% supporting the idea and 86% opposing it. Participants considered the proposal an invasion of privacy and thought it was too complicated and likely impossible to implement. Scenario 3, in which certain designated zones would be priced, seemed logical and straightforward and garnered 50% support, but many participants were less interested in it because they felt the focus on specific zones would not do enough to solve regional problems.
Overall, participants were skeptical about the effectiveness of the pricing scenarios, particularly in reducing congestion. They said they want to see significant changes in transportation – and are cautiously open to pricing – but they want to see clear benefits in their personal lives, including increased transportation options. Participants did not believe that pricing could actually reduce demand because, they argued, driving for most people is a necessity not a choice.
Participants expressed higher support for more obvious and existing solutions – such as increasing gas taxes – than alternative approaches like congestion pricing. Support for raising gas taxes nearly tripled between the beginning and end of the forums (rising from 21% to 57%), after people learned more about it and considered congestion pricing alternatives. Participants were surprised to hear that the federal gas tax had not been raised in nearly twenty years and that it is not indexed to inflation.
The TPB carried out the research in partnership with the Brookings Institution. The study was funded through the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Value Pricing Pilot Program.
More than 300 participants who were broadly representative of the region’s population came together in five forums—two in Maryland, two in Virginia, and one in the District of Columbia. Participant perspectives were collected through discussions, keypad voting, and paper surveys.