In the early hours of March 31st, New York State took the landmark step of moving forward with implementation of a congestion pricing policy for Manhattan. With this deal, NYC edges out other cities like Seattle and Los Angeles to be the first in the U.S. to impose a charge on all vehicles entering a specific zone of the city. Other kinds of congestion pricing like dynamic rates for express toll lanes have existed for years, but drivers generally have an alternative option to reach their destinations without paying a fee. Starting in 2021, that will not be the case for almost any vehicle traveling into Manhattan below 60th Street – only emergency vehicles and vehicles transporting someone with a disability are exempt from the charge established in New York’s legislation.
Most people seem to agree with a “user-pays” principle for transportation infrastructure, especially for roads and highways. The fuel excise tax on gasoline and diesel has long been the primary source of federal and state transportation revenues. While economists have long advocated for other types of fees, transportation professionals, policymakers, politicians and even the public have just recently become more active in pricing discussions. A number of trends in transportation technology and behavior have launched this discussion, which was strongly evident this year at the TRB Annual Meeting.
On August 8th and 9th, I had the opportunity to attend the 2018 National Household Travel Survey Workshop (NHTS) in Washington, DC. I presented a poster called Evaluating Alternative Transportation Revenue Regimes Using the NHTS Transferability Statistics, based on work EDR Group has done for the Western Road User Charge Consortium (RUC West). This NHTS data product from the 2009 survey allows us to estimate the travel behavior of households at a census tract scale across the U.S. To date we’ve examined 10 states to understand how revenue-neutral conversion from a gasoline excise tax to a road usage charge would affect different groups of households.