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Environmental Justice Emerging Trends and Best Practices Guidebook

4. Road Pricing Mechanisms


Goals Addressed by Road Pricing Mechanisms

The Nation's transportation system faces many major challenges, including growing traffic congestion; inadequate funding; and emerging concerns such as air pollution, global climate change and its potential impacts on transportation infrastructure, and sustainable development. Road pricing has potential to help address many of these critical challenges. It has begun to attract attention as a policy option for managing transportation demand and improving transportation system performance. However, experience from several proposed and implemented projects shows that concerns regarding the impact of road pricing on disadvantaged communities, particularly low-income populations, have often arisen. This chapter describes some of the issues raised, along with potential solutions to achieve environmental justice by addressing these concerns during planning, outreach, and implementation of road pricing strategies.

As a policy that is typically applicable at the local and regional levels, road pricing involves charging drivers to access and use roads. In addition to supporting roadway operations, the fees charged to drivers are meant to offset the social and environmental costs of using their vehicles. These include the costs of travel delays for other road users due to congestion, the costs of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, the health costs resulting from exposure to pollutants and road accidents, and the effects of diminished quality of life in congested areas. Vehicle ownership and licensing fees, dedicated road taxes, gas taxes, and user tolls are often used to fund the construction and maintenance of roads, but not to cover the social costs associated with their use. These costs are not perceived by drivers and are often left out of project evaluations and impact studies. Charging fees in proportion to use of roads, especially in locations prone to high congestion, is one way to address these issues. Road pricing is akin in principle to pricing practices in other infrastructure sectors, for instance, charging higher rates for airline travel or electricity use in peak hours.

As highway congestion increases throughout the United States, it not only impacts travel time and costs for travelers, but also freight transportation, which in turn impacts local and regional economies and the costs for goods and services. By pricing travel to more accurately account for its full costs, travelers make more informed decisions, having a positive impact on both personal travel and goods movement. Road pricing strategies thus help to reduce congestion and vehicle emissions in the following ways:

Despite notable successes in implementing road pricing, the adoption of promising strategies has been somewhat slow. This is in part due to public opposition to paying for using roads, the newness of the concept in the context of transportation finance, and equity concerns regarding potential adverse effects on low-income people and local businesses, especially where there is a lack of transportation alternatives to driving. Road pricing programs around the world demonstrate the importance of conducting focused and intensive public engagement effort that precedes and accompanies implementation of the programs.

Environmental Justice Concerns Related to Road Pricing Projects

Consideration of equity issues-such as who bears the burden of road pricing charges, who benefits from improved mobility, and how the revenues are used-is critical to ensure that road pricing programs effectively achieve environmental justice. Because some "free" roads or roads without pricing may cut through disadvantaged or minority communities, environmental justice issues may also arise with respect to the external effects of road pricing programs such as traffic diversion, higher congestion, and increased pollution in these communities. If vulnerable populations are located at the periphery of pricing zones, quality of life in these areas could suffer due to increased traffic from travelers trying to park their cars to avoid driving into the pricing zone. Finally, social exclusion can be an issue if low-income drivers experience barriers to using pricing projects by low-income drivers, such as lack of access to the technology or equipment that users must have to participate in the program.

Four dimensions of equity in relation to road pricing related to road pricing

Minority and low-income populations are usually more affected by the negative impacts of congestion-related travel delays and reduced reliability because they are more likely to use buses that face roadway congestion caused primarily by automobiles. By providing incentives to reduce driving, road pricing can help reduce delays and thus mitigate the effects of congestion for these populations. Minority and low-income populations are also more likely to be employed in blue-collar or otherwise inflexible jobs where delays in getting to work could mean lost income. By offering more reliable trips, road pricing provides improved travel choices to these populations.

While road pricing has the potential to meet the needs of disadvantaged communities, pricing strategies also have the potential to violate environmental justice principles if not implemented with thorough consideration of equity impacts. The perceived "cost" of a toll or congestion charge in proportion to income is higher for a low-income traveler. In the absence of alternative free routes that could be used by these travelers, concerns regarding monetary egalitarianism could arise because low-income people may continue to be stuck in traffic while the wealthy are able to pay for and use the priced roads or lanes. For this reason, high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, implemented in several regions by introducing pricing on former high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, sometimes encounter criticism as "Lexus Lanes" that cater to the wealthy and impose unfair burdens on the poor. In spite of these income equity issues, road pricing has been shown to compare favorably with traditional transportation taxation such as gasoline and sales taxes that are considered more regressive for low-income populations.[57]

In addition to the charge itself, low-income populations can sometimes be excluded from accessing the technology required to use priced roads. This occurs because of the need for drivers to own transponders that are typically purchased in advance. Transponders must also be linked to reliable bank or credit card accounts that can be used to deduct charges; at least 20 percent of U.S. households do not have credit cards and 10 percent do not have bank accounts.[58] Toll discounts are also typically offered to people who use transponders as opposed to those who pay in cash at toll booths.

Some forms of road pricing, such as area-wide pricing or cordon pricing, involve charging drivers fees for entering and driving within a congested "charging zone," typically the downtown area of a city. Such plans have been implemented in London and Stockholm and were recently proposed in New York City and San Francisco. This type of pricing scheme, however, also raises environmental justice concerns about geographic equity regarding where people live and work. If low-income populations live in areas that are not well-served by transit and need to commute to jobs in the charging zone, they might face an unfair burden from the charge. Another geographic equity issue arises with respect to urban and rural populations when charges are assessed on the basis of distance traveled. For instance, a pilot program to implement "mileage fees" in Portland, Oregon, raised these concerns because the travel behavior of rural populations is distinct from urban populations in that they usually drive longer distances and would thus be charged a greater amount with a mileage fee.

Modal equity relates to ensuring that users of all modes are treated fairly and transit riders are not disadvantaged either due to congestion effects prior to implementation of road pricing or after it. There are concerns that conversion of HOV lanes to HOT lanes-the form of road pricing most commonly seen in the United States-might negatively impact transit riders because of the potential increase in single-occupancy vehicle (SOV) traffic on the HOT lanes. If more SOV drivers choose to pay and use the HOT lanes, it could reduce the reliability of transit service in the lanes that were originally created to prevent exactly this impact on HOVs. As a mitigation strategy, revenue from road pricing programs can be invested in improving transit service and operations in pricing corridors or zones. In the case of road pricing, modal equity correlates closely with income equity because transit users in the United States are often from low-income and minority communities.

Distance-Based Road Pricing Pilot In Portland, OR A new, more sophisticated form of pricing was implemented on a trial basis in Portland, OR. Although seen as an innovative strategy for mitigating congestion, equity issues became evident due to differences in travel behavior of urban and rural travelers. Specifically, rural populations would be potentially disadvantaged by the policy because they drive longer distances and would pay higher tolls.

Solutions to Mitigate Environmental Justice Concerns

The equity impacts discussed above can and must be mitigated through careful design of pricing programs. This involves introducing features such as:

The most common forms of mitigating income-equity concerns with road pricing proposals to date are reinvestment of road pricing revenues in transit service expansion and use of exemptions or rebates to provide monetary compensation to low-income populations. Progressive schemes can be designed depending on how road pricing revenues are distributed and the presence of non-toll options (as with HOT lanes) for those who prefer to use them.

Finally, inviting participation from all communities and stakeholders potentially affected by a road pricing project and ensuring that people have full opportunity to participate in developing pricing plans is important to address environmental justice concerns and principles. Participation should be encouraged throughout the planning and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, and during project implementation and evaluation.

Trends in Road Pricing

Evolution of Road Pricing Programs in the United States

Although tolls were used extensively in the United States in the first five and a half decades of the 20th century, and helped build and operate some of the original toll roads centuries ago, fuel taxes ultimately became the preferred method of financing the roadway system because of the relationship between road use and fuel use.[59] Because vehicle ownership and driving are pervasive today, road pricing is opposed by members of the public who view roads as a public good, the use of which should not be taxed. However, the fuel tax is increasingly unable to keep up with growing transportation needs as travelers shift to more fuel-efficient vehicles and the costs of petroleum-based materials used for roadway construction continue to rise. Thus, growing costs create concerns about the future effectiveness of the gas tax as a source of revenue. One of the greatest challenges in coming years will be preserving, operating, and enhancing the Nation's transportation system in an era of limited funding, expanding needs, and increasing costs. Road pricing, therefore, offers a potential new option as a source of funding for local and regional transportation investments.

In addition to the need to address the challenges discussed above, implementation of road pricing is becoming more feasible due to development of new electronic technologies that ease the adoption of sophisticated pricing measures and eliminate the need for manual toll connection. Thus, the concept of road pricing has been moving from the realm of academic research and economic and policy analysis to actual, implemented projects implemented at the local and regional levels. The pilot testing of various road pricing approaches has also spurred greater understanding of potential benefits and impacts.

An important impetus to the growth of road pricing in the United States has been the Federal Value Pricing Pilot Program (VPPP). First authorized more than a decade ago as the Congestion Pricing Pilot Program under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991, VPPP has evolved over time and been re-authorized under the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century and the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users. As a pilot program, one of VPPP's goals is to encourage States, local governments, and other public entities to test innovative pricing approaches, demonstrate their potential, and assess their effectiveness.

DOT has recently given greater attention to innovative congestion management strategies as part of its new National Strategy to Reduce Congestion on American's Transportation Network. This major initiative, launched in May 2006, is designed to have measurable effects on traffic congestion across the Nation. Road pricing is a key element of this strategy and is being supported through Urban Partnership Agreements (UPAs). The strategy was followed by the Congestion Reduction Demonstration (CRD) program in 2007. Both initiatives were designed to address congestion problems, with particular emphasis on establishing partnerships with major urban areas to make significant reductions in roadway congestion by using congestion pricing as a key strategy. There are currently six urban partner cities-Miami, FL; Atlanta, GA; Minneapolis, MN; Seattle, WA; San Francisco, CA; and Los Angeles, CA. New York City was originally designated an urban partner but lost that status in April 2008 after it failed to obtain the State legislative authority needed to implement congestion pricing.

A wide range of pricing approaches is being considered by transportation agencies at the State and local levels, and the approaches are eligible for funding under Federal programs such as VPPP, UPA, and CRD, including:

In the United States, the focus has been on conversion of HOV lanes to HOT lanes, and new-capacity HOT lane projects. In addition, some road pricing projects have introduced variable pricing on existing toll facilities and new express road segments. These forms of road pricing tend to raise fewer equity concerns by allowing drivers to choose the priced lanes for making time-sensitive trips, while retaining the option to use the parallel free lanes for other trips.

A few experimental road pricing projects have introduced pay-as-you-drive insurance charges and congestion charges varying by location and time. Finally, other strategies such as variable parking pricing have been implemented in the United States.

Overseas, downtown area-wide road pricing schemes have been implemented in London, Stockholm, and Singapore, and are under consideration in other cities and nations of the European Union. Several Norwegian cities have had regional cordon charges in place since the 1990s. Road pricing is also operational on several French Motorways. Singapore has implemented road pricing on its regional expressway network, while Germany and Austria have implemented truck pricing on their national road network. These projects have shown initial success in managing traffic more effectively, raising revenue for system investment, advancing greater travel reliability for roadway users, creating new travel options, and addressing some of the environmental concerns. However, in some cases such as the area-wide London Congestion Charging scheme, there has been continuing controversy about the environmental justice implications. Although transit services were significantly increased in the city and discounts were offered to residents of the zone, the adverse impacts on small businesses located in the Western Extension of the zone have led to a decision by the Mayor to abolish the charge in that location. In the United States, area-wide pricing was proposed in New York City in 2007 and San Francisco in 2008, with both proposals failing to move forward, partly due to equity concerns.

HOT Lanes on I-15 in San Diego

The I-15 FasTrak lanes represent one of the earliest examples of road pricing in the United States, where charges vary by the level of congestion. The project resulted in significant travel time savings and greater travel time reliability. As a result of FasTrak's longtime operation, there is substantial data available on long-term equity impacts. FasTrak has been used as a reference case to discuss equity impacts in almost all recent and ongoing HOT lane projects.

A survey conducted in 2001 showed support for FasTrak was high across all income groups, with the lowest income group expressing as much support as the highest income group (about 80 percent). Most I-15 users believed the project to be fair to travelers in both the main lanes and the express lanes. Also, there were very few differences in attitudes about the fairness of the lanes based on ethnicity or income. These concerns arose in the first year of the project, but they diminished with time with more use of the facility by people across income groups. However, half of respondents said tolling of SOV drivers was unfair double taxation (FasTrak customers less so than other corridor users) for roads that had already been paid for. To provide travel alternatives and mitigate potential equity issues, revenues from the project are partly being used for visible transit enhancements in the form of a new express bus service.

Equity Assessment of Road Pricing Programs

A region that is considering implementation of road pricing should undertake studies to measure and assess potential impacts on disadvantaged communities at an early stage in the planning process. Not only must this information be shared during communications with decision makers and the public, but it is also important for purposes of NEPA documentation during planning and environmental review. Also, lessons regarding the acceptability of road pricing strategies show that it is important to reference data on equity impacts of successful road pricing programs during public outreach.

Assessing the income equity (also termed vertical equity) of a road pricing scheme requires analysis at several different levels-primarily involving the likely economic and time impacts on households in disadvantaged communities. Economic impacts include the expenses incurred by a typical low-income household in paying the road user charges per year, the share of income spent on these charges, and how consumption of other goods and services might be affected by the loss of this income. Time impacts include the time savings for low-income households as a result of congestion charges or the increase in travel time they would face if they shifted to public transportation or to longer or more congested routes that do not have pricing. These economic and time impacts for low-income households must then be compared with those for middle and high-income households. To assess the environmental justice impact of road pricing programs in a holistic way, the differences between households at the same income level (or horizontal equity issues) must also be taken into account. Because people from low-income households do not all have similar travel behaviors, they often will be affected differently by road pricing programs. For example, low-income commuters who drive will be affected more than those who walk or bike to work.[60] Or, those with flexible work schedules who can alter their travel time will be affected less than those with more rigid work hours.

In addition, assessments of the locations where disadvantaged communities primarily live and work and their travel patterns must be done to ensure that the road pricing scheme is not likely to result in spatial inequity.

Implementing agencies must ensure that the payment methods, deposits, and service fees required by transponder programs will not disproportionately affect access to priced facilities by disadvantaged people. Finally, an analysis must be done of the way in which the revenues of a road pricing scheme will be used, to determine whether low-income households will be helped or harmed.

Proposed HOV to HOT lane conversions on I-85 in Atlanta, I-10 and I-210 in Los Angeles, and SH 121 and other planned projects in Dallas.

The following projects demonstrate a common form of road pricing in the U.S.-HOV to HOT lane conversion-and all involve similar environmental justice (EJ) concerns. The HOT lanes in Atlanta and LA are being built with a grant from the U.S. DOT's Congestion Reduction Demonstration Initiative. In Atlanta, concerns about HOT lanes providing greater benefits to wealthier people are leading to a more stringent focus on the equity analysis and proposed transit improvements in the corridor so that all users will be able to benefit from transportation investments. In Dallas, in-depth EJ analysis was done for all HOT lane projects during the long range planning process, using job accessibility through transit and auto as measures and levels of congestion on roadways used mostly by protected class populations. In LA, EJ concerns are being addressed by emphasizing the multimodal aspect of the project that provides advantages to lower income groups through transit improvements. LA Metro is also constantly communicating with potentially affected EJ community groups and involving them in planning efforts. One of the ways the agency is doing this is by ensuring that all information about the project is provided in several languages for the minority populations in the area, usually through their daily newspapers.

This map of the Environmental Justice Regional Toll Analysis for the Dallas-Fort Worth Area illustrates the existing toll system, but with projected 2030 demographics and roadway networks.

Figure 23. Environmental Justice Regional Toll Analysis for the Dallas-Fort Worth Area

Source: North Central Texas Council of Governments, 2009.


The case studies presented in the next section point to some key challenges related to equity for disadvantaged populations that may be affected by road pricing programs. These include:

Case Studies

Case Study 1: Area-Wide Congestion Pricing Proposal (New York City, NY)


Traffic congestion has long been an issue for all vehicles traveling in New York City's Manhattan. Civic, business, environmental, and labor groups have all been concerned with the impact of congestion on the city. In 2007, the Mayor unveiled a congestion pricing scheme within a more comprehensive sustainability plan called PlaNYC. The proposal called for a congestion pricing strategy that would charge drivers a fee for entering a defined part of the city (a section of Manhattan) facing high congestion. This proposal was the first area-wide road pricing scheme for a major North American city. Public input on issues of simplicity of the scheme, equity, cost, use of revenues, and parking impacts led to modifications of the Mayor's plan. There was an extensive outreach and public education program to help the public, interested groups, and elected officials understand the benefits of congestion pricing transit improvements made with the pricing revenues.

Map illustrating proposed congestion pricing plan for New York City.

Figure 24. Proposed congestion pricing plan for New York City

Source: Transport Policy, 2010
Photo Credit: Bruce Schaller

While political discussions about the proposal were underway, NYCDOT and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which operates subway, bus, and commuter rail service in New York City and the surrounding suburbs, applied for funding from DOT's Urban Partnership Agreement Program to implement congestion pricing and use the revenue for complementary transit improvements. In August 2007, the program awarded $350 million to NYCDOT and MTA to implement the congestion pricing project by March 31, 2009, contingent on the Legislature granting pricing authority by April 2008.


Public support for a strategy to address the congestion issue pressured the Legislature to create the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission in July 2007. The commission was charged with evaluating both pricing and nonpricing approaches to address traffic congestion and make a recommendation to the Legislature by January 2008. Over the next several months, the commission held public hearings and considered alternatives and variations on the Mayor's proposed strategy, finally recommending a modified version of the area-wide pricing concept. Drivers on currently tolled bridges into the city would be required to pay only the difference between the congestion charge and the bridge toll. Opponents to congestion pricing often cited issues of geographic equity, such as the fact that New Jersey commuters would pay very little because the congestion charge would almost entirely offset the bridge tolls, while low-income commuters from Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx (outer boroughs of New York City) who had no other option but to drive into Manhattan for work would pay the full fee because they used the free bridges to enter Manhattan. Interregional equity and burdens on interstate commerce were other factors cited by opponents. NYCDOT tried to address concerns that congestion pricing would hurt low-income neighborhoods by stressing the transit improvements that would benefit from the congestion pricing plan. Further, the agency highlighted data that showed that low-income groups depend heavily on transit and typically do not drive into Manhattan. NYCDOT also emphasized that revenue from such a plan was to go into a fund specifically for transit improvements.

In the end, while the City Council adopted a resolution to support the commission's recommended congestion pricing plan and the Senate was expected to adopt the plan, the State Assembly blocked the vote on the congestion pricing bill just as the April 2008 deadline for the Urban Partnership Agreement Program's condition for legislative approval passed. However, it is believed that the proposal might be revived in the future, given the continuing budget problems faced by MTA and the critical need for a new source of revenue to fund transit in the city.

Lessons Learned

Public involvement from the inception of the proposal helped fuel public support and provided insight for addressing equity issues with the outer boroughs and New Jersey commuters. The congestion pricing idea gained support from key constituencies, members of the general public, and some elected officials because of the vision and top-level leadership provided by City Hall, coupled with an extensive public outreach and education campaign and strong advocacy from the civic community. Equally important, the proposal was part of a far-reaching plan that tied transportation to broad sustainability goals, it was shaped by intensive public discussion, and the Federal Government would help fund expanded transit services. The Mayor's presence as an influential champion for the project helped push the proposal to the forefront of the city's considerations.

Case Study 2: I-394 HOT Lane Conversion (Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN)


With studies estimating $1 billion lost each year because of urban traffic congestion and predicting that congested freeway lanes would more than double in 25 years, Minnesota officials realized that congestion was an important issue to address.[61] After a task force funded by a value-pricing grant from the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute recommended that the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) convert an underutilized HOV lane to a HOT lane on an 11-mile corridor on I-394, the State Legislature passed legislation in 2003 to create the I-394 MnPASS Express Lanes. The lanes opened May 16, 2005, as Minnesota's first HOT lane project. The main objectives included greater corridor capacity and throughput, reduced congestion, creation of a new travel option for solo drivers willing to pay a toll, and improved transit service in the corridor. The goals were achieved through "dynamic pricing" (varying with congestion levels as often as every 3 minutes) while maintaining adequate speeds for transit and carpools. During development of the MnPASS lanes, MnDOT was careful to constantly communicate and engage with the public since it had learned from a prior failed attempt at road pricing that public perception can greatly impact a project's outcome. MnDOT hired a communications consultant and created a task force of government, business, and stakeholder representatives. The outreach process also led to changes to the project that helped increase public support.

The bar chart depicts Minnesota DOT's MnPass Poll Results: Opinion on Allowing Solo Drivers to Use Carpool Lanes, by Household Income. The table below the figure provides additional informaiton on the MnPass poll results.

Figure 25. Minnesota DOT's MnPass Poll Results

Source: Munnich and Buckeye, 2007

MnPass Poll Results: Opinion on Allowing Solo Drivers to Use Carpool Lanes, by Household Income

Lower-Income (N=156) Mid-Income (N=87) Higher-Income (N=307) Total (N=950)
Good Idea 64% 61% 71% 63%
Bad Idea 21% 26% 24% 25%
No Opinion 15% 13% 5% 12%

MnPass Express Lanes (HOT lanes) on I-394 in Minneapolis Showing Rates in Effect.

Figure 26. MnPass Express Lanes (HOT lanes) on I-394

Source: Minnesota DOT, 2010


The I-394 HOT lane project involved a long-running public outreach process. The first proposal in 1997 for HOT lanes failed because public perception was that only the wealthy would benefit. Advocates were able to change public opinion for the 2003 I-394 HOT proposal by emphasizing that all income groups value the time savings and greater reliability for certain trips due to implementing HOT lanes. This change in perception was due mostly to the realization that there was a lack of education or communication about HOT lanes. Post-implementation surveys found that drivers support having the option to pay to use the MnPASS lanes and do not find they unfairly target certain socioeconomic classes.

By making use of carpools free, the MnPASS lanes have also preserved the option for people of all incomes to benefit from faster transit.[62] Evaluation surveys for I-394 found that the lanes were benefiting transit and there was not much effect on HOVs/carpools. Currently, 5 years since the opening of the MnPASS lanes, about 19,000 customers use the expanded MnPASS Express Lane network, a 97 percent increase compared to the year the lanes first opened and a 51 percent increase over the past year. Transit/HOV ridership on the Express Lanes network is up 10.5 percent during the last year compared to the year prior. Customer satisfaction with the lanes in terms of time savings and reliability is also high.

Lessons Learned

Constant monitoring of project impacts and communication of results to the public allows the project to address modal equity and prevent loss of accessibility and service to transit riders and carpoolers, due to the additional traffic in the lanes that used to benefit HOVs. The effect of HOT lanes on transit was a key public concern, which was alleviated through communication efforts to relay research findings of studies done in other areas, along with results after the project was implemented.

Supporters of the project pointed out that the congestion-reduction effects would benefit everyone in the corridor, not just those using the MnPASS lanes. They also noted that studies of the implemented project showed that congestion has been reduced along the entire corridor, improving traffic conditions for all travelers, regardless of income level. Changing public perception of the toll lanes as "Lexus Lanes" (benefiting the wealthy) requires lucid public communication on how revenues can be used to benefit all corridor users, not just a particular group. Speeds at or near the posted limits are successfully maintained by dynamic pricing that varies with demand. Time savings and greater reliability have resulted in strong support for the project.


The I-394 MnPASS team drew extensively on the experience of the I-15 project in San Diego in designing their project, as well as in providing information to the community task force and to citizens about how value pricing works. Similarly, the team drew on the experience of other HOT lane projects in designing an evaluation plan for the MnPASS project. Members of the project team continue to meet regularly with representatives of other value pricing projects through Transportation Research Board meetings and workshops, as well as through phone conferences and site visits to projects.


Some lessons can be learned from the road pricing programs currently in effect around the Nation. The case studies provide detailed examples of how key challenges were addressed.

Road pricing strategies are most effectively communicated and implemented as part of a package of complementary strategies. This includes strategies that focus on transit improvements, reducing vehicle-miles traveled and emissions, and a regional goal of sustainability.

Thorough analysis must be done to show that disadvantaged populations, including low-income and minority communities, will not be disproportionately burdened by a road pricing scheme and that the policy is the least discriminatory alternative. There are some reports from San Diego and Minneapolis that high-income travelers are more likely to own transponders, use HOT lanes, and benefit from faster trips than low-income travelers. However, with reinvestment of revenues in significantly improved transit services and other travel alternatives, these effects have been mitigated to some extent. In some instances, low-income drivers value the new, reliable travel option as much as high-income drivers. Data from the Twin Cities region show that while the MnPASS lanes in Minneapolis are actually used by a larger proportion of high-income drivers than low-income drivers, all drivers value the option of having higher speeds and reliability on the HOT lanes when needed.

Potential adverse impacts on low-income populations can be alleviated through introduction of discounts, rebates, and exemptions in road pricing programs. The revenues from road pricing can be redistributed for this purpose. For example, in London, residents of the pricing zone receive significant discounts, and rebates for low-income drivers are increasingly being used in HOT projects. Impacts on communities located at the periphery of pricing zones must also be considered. The area-wide pricing proposal in New York City included strategies to mitigate equity impacts and ensure that certain residents and businesses do not bear disproportionately higher economic burdens due to their locations.

Public communication and engagement of all segments of the population, especially vulnerable and potentially affected communities, must be a critical part of the planning process for road pricing programs. Before and during the planning stage, communication must include evidence from existing road pricing programs. After implementation, project impacts must be constantly monitored and communicated to the public. It is important to create awareness among the public and decisionmakers about the problem of congestion and its effects on productivity, health, and quality of life, as was done in New York City.

The technology used for road pricing must not exclude disadvantaged sections of the population. In some HOT lanes projects, transponders required to use the priced lanes have been provided free to drivers. However, other concerns, such as the requirement of advance payment of charges from bank and credit card accounts, might be problematic for low-income households; therefore, payment options (such as through cash) must also be established for those traveling infrequently on priced lanes.

Updated: 4/14/2016
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