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Time of Use Pricing in Transportation

December 3, 2014

As a 47 year resident of the Valley my heart goes out to rush hour travelers every time I am on one of the freeways that goes into/out of Phoenix. Besides the misery that traffic congestion causes there is also, in some cases, substantial loss of money in the delay. Building more freeways is one possible solution to this problem but that takes many years and hundreds of millions of dollars. In the meantime, there is no excuse for any road or freeway in Phoenix not to have at least one lane of traffic flowing at normal speeds. This can be accomplished easily with time-of-use pricing. One lane could have variable pricing based on demand that would keep traffic flowing in that lane. Then, if there were significant potential losses from idling, the driver could elect to pay for the right to keep moving. A vacationer coming back from Flagstaff who is not in a great hurry might be willing to endure slower traffic and avoid extra charges but a trucker with a very valuable cargo might not want to be delayed and might also be willing to pay a large amount to keep his cargo moving. There is no need build toll booths or stop traffic to collect this money. With today’s technology these payments can easily be collected electronically. Plus, these “extra” revenues could be a valuable addition that could be used for new transportation infrastructure.
This philosophy of traffic management is already being tried in Phoenix with respect to parking. Phoenix is experimenting with varying the parking fees to keep about 10% of the parking spaces available at all times. It is time to try this same idea on our roads to end frustration and freeways that become parking lots during rush hour.
We could also use this time-of-use philosophy to essentially create a new east-west freeway (say McDowell Rd) and a new north-south freeway (say 7th Street) by simply passing a city ordinance making these streets special use during rush hour and requiring an electronic sticker. The traffic lights could be timed for 40 or 45 miles per hour and, instantly, a new freeway is created. The charges for the required sticker could be varied to keep the traffic moving. Then, the most valuable cargo (whether passengers or freight) could get to the destination in a timely manner.
There are many similar ideas that we should be exploring but our transportation planners are stuck in the 19th Century when they advocate rail as a solution. Individual transportation is the future, not mass transportation. Let’s get on it.

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