Talking Transit: Sharing tolls with transit - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Talking Transit: Sharing tolls with transit

Rendering of new Bus Rapid Transit station on San Diego's Interstate 15. Stations will have special bus access ramps.

Did you know? Miami shared I-95 toll revenues to fund expanded transit service on the interstate. As a result weekday bus ridership increased 57 percent.

Sharing toll revenues with transit is an innovative financing tool that can squeeze more capacity from existing transportation infrastructure and alleviate traffic gridlock. Cities across the country are combining congestion pricing with enhanced transit service as an incentive for people to travel during less congested times, as well as encourage the use of carpooling and transit, and reduce the enormous waste resulting from idling vehicles.

Congestion pricing is a traffic demand management strategy that prices roadways either by time of day or level of traffic. It is not a means of raising revenue, but rather a tool to allow traffic to flow more efficiently through a corridor. Studies show if only five percent of drivers change their travel behavior, either by shifting mode or time of day, significantly more people would be able to move through the exact same physical space in less time.  However, the benefits of congestion pricing are only possible if complemented with enhanced transit service, so it makes sense to share some of the toll revenues, after capital and operating costs are accounted for, to provide commuters more transportation options.

San Diego’s I-15 and Minneapolis’ I-394 and I-35 are two great examples of how sharing congestion pricing toll revenues with transit reduces gridlock. 

San Diego’s I-15 is a dynamically-priced toll road where tolls change every few minutes to keep traffic moving. Of the $17 million in toll revenues collected since its origin in 1996, $7.5 million has funded express bus service in the corridor, resulting in a 25 percent increase in ridership and fewer cars on the road. Due to the popularity of the express bus service, in 2014, an improved Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service will open in the corridor with more frequent and longer hours of service, reducing commute times by up to 45 minutes. The BRT is designed to streamline and speed up boarding, with multiple doors, a low-floor design, and fare boxes that accept Compass Cards, San Diego’s transit smart card. Bus ridership in the corridor is anticipated to grow by 41 percent by 2015.

On Minneapolis’ I-35, toll revenues have funded new bus routes, rolling stock, six new transit hubs, park and rides, real-time arrival information for commuters, new bus shelters, and bus-only lanes in downtown Minneapolis. Due to the improvements, overall bus ridership is up, with some routes experiencing a 200 percent jump. More importantly, in a survey of all I-35 bus riders, 30 percent of people commuting by bus had previously driven alone.

Washington, D.C. offers a great example of sharing toll revenues to complete a transit project that was in the works for decades. Without an extension of the existing Metrorail system in Northern Virginia, the travel demand that corresponds with projected population growth in the Dulles corridor will strain the already overburdened road system, resulting in more gridlock and environmental degradation, and threatening local economic opportunities and livability. To solve the congestion problem, construction has begun on a 23-mile extension of the existing Metrorail system to Dulles Airport and Tysons Corner, Reston and Herndon, Virginia. Dulles Toll Road revenues will fund $2.8 billion (52 percent) of the rail expansion project. In 2010, automobile toll rates on the Dulles Toll Road increased by $0.25, with two additional 25-cent increases in 2011 and 2012. One hundred percent of the toll increase will be dedicated to the Metrorail expansion. 

Sharing toll revenues to provide enhanced transit is an innovative way to efficiently move people. It also has an added benefit of promoting equity by providing lower income commuters affordable transit options. Further, commuter activity at bus hubs is a catalyst for economic development that would support small businesses and community development. During a time of constrained budgets, transportation agencies must rethink how they deploy resources to expand and improve transportation options.

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