Policymakers need to address equity concerns early when implementing congestion pricing to improve traffic flow, as each situation is unique and must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, according to a study issued today by the RAND Corporation.
Transportation policymakers often look to congestion pricing -- charging drivers more to travel particular routes at peak travel times -- as a way to reduce traffic gridlock and raise money for transportation projects. However, because these policies impose a cost on something that previously was not priced, critics often suggest that it will harm lower-income drivers who will be forced to pay additional costs or be "priced off" the roads.
"There is no single answer to the question of whether congestion pricing is equitable," said Thomas Light, co-author of the study and an associate economist with RAND, a nonprofit research organization. "The answer depends on how equity is defined and measured. It also depends on how congestion pricing is implemented and the characteristics of the region where it is put into practice."
The study was supported by a grant from the Environmental Defense Fund, a national environmental group.
"The research shows that equity issues can and must be addressed early on when designing a congestion pricing project," said Kathryn Phillips, who directs transportation advocacy in California for the Environmental Defense Fund. "A well-designed congestion pricing project can deliver clean air and less gridlock to everyone."
The RAND study evaluated alternative ways of defining and measuring equity and how such approaches interact with alternative forms of pricing, as well as the context in which congestion pricing is imposed. Light and study co-author Liisa Ecola reviewed dozens of studies and found that often congestion pricing results in most lower-income people paying less in taxes to fund transportation, although some proportion of the group may pay more.
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