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Road Pricing: Resources

USDOT Resources: Overcoming the Challenges of Congestion Pricing 2011 FHWA Webinar Series

Patrick DeCorla-Souza, Tolling and Pricing Program Manager, FHWA
Lee Munnich, Humphrey Institute, University of Minnesota
Kenneth Buckeye, Minnesota Department of Transportation
John Doan, SRF Consulting

Office of Innovative Program Delivery
Federal Highway Administration

First Part of a Webinar Series on Overcoming the Challenges of Congestion Pricing.

Session 1: Congestion Pricing Projects in the San Francisco Bay Area: I-680 Express Lanes and Bay Bridge Time-of-Day Pricing - Transcript

Moderator:

  • Jennifer Symoun

Presenters:

  • Linda Lee, Bay Area Toll Authority
  • Karen Frick, University of California Transportation Center
  • Ray Akkawi, Alameda County Transportation Commission

Jennifer Symoun

Good afternoon or good morning to those of you to the West. Welcome to the first webinar in the Overcoming the Challenges of Congestion Pricing webinar series. My name is Jennifer Symoun and I will moderate today's webinar, which will focus on Congestion Pricing Projects in the San Francisco Bay Area: I-680 and the Bay Bridge. Please be advised that today's seminar is being recorded.

Before I go any further, I do want to let those of you who are calling into the teleconference for the audio know that you need to mute your computer speakers or else you will be hearing your audio over the computer as well.

Today we'll have three presenters, Linda Lee of the Bay Area Toll Authority and Karen Frick of the University of California Transportation Center, who will both be presenting about the Bay Bridge Congestion Pricing efforts, and Ray Akkawi of the Alameda County Transportation Commission, who will be presenting about the I-680 congestion pricing efforts.

Today's webinar will last 90 minutes. We will start with the presentation about the Bay Bridge congestion pricing, then take about 10 minutes for questions for Linda and Karen, then move on to the I-680 congestion pricing and take 10 minutes for questions for Ray. We'll conclude with a brief presentation from the FHWA Tolling and Pricing Program. If during the presentations you think of a question, you can type it into the chat area. Please make sure you send your question to "Everyone" and indicate which presenter your question is for. Presenters will be unable to answer your questions during their presentations, but I will start off the question and answer session with the questions typed into the chat box. If we are unable to get through all of the questions in the time allotted we will get written responses from the presenters and send them out with the follow up information.

The PowerPoint presentations used today are available for download from the file download box in the lower right corner of your screen. I would also like to remind you that this session is being recorded. The recording, presentations, and a transcript will be posted to the Tolling and Pricing web site within the next few weeks and I will send out a notice when they are available.

We'll now go ahead and get started with our first presentation on the Bay Bridge congestion pricing initiative. Our presenters will be Linda Lee of the Bay Area Toll Authority and Karen Frick of the University of California Transportation Center.

Linda Lee is a Project Manager at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC)/Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA) and has been with the agency for the past 12 years. Some of her responsibilities are in the areas of electronic toll collection (FasTrak), toll plaza traffic operations, and toll collection budgeting. Prior to coming to MTC/BATA, Linda was a consultant for a Civil Engineering and Transportation Planning firm in Oakland, California. She has a B.S degree in Civil Engineering from UC Berkeley.

Karen Trapenberg Frick is assistant director of the University of California Transportation Center. She also is a lecturer at UC Berkeley and teaches graduate and undergraduate classes in transportation policy and planning. She holds a Ph.D. in city planning from UC Berkeley and a Masters in planning from UCLA. Prior to her university position, Karen was a transportation planner at the San Francisco Bay Area's Metropolitan Transportation Commission, where she worked on a wide range of activities including transport funding, congestion pricing, legislative analysis, and the agency's Transportation for Livable Communities program.

As part of the implementation of Congestion Pricing on the Bay Bridge, BATA hired UCB to conduct an independent evaluation to assess the impacts of Congestion Pricing on the Bay Bridge, as well as the impacts of carpool tolling on all bridges in the Bay Area

As a reminder, if you have questions during the presentation please type them into the chat box and they will be addressed following the presentation. You can begin when you are ready.

Linda Lee

This is Linda Lee. I will get us started. Just by way of background, some information about the Bay Area Toll Authority. This was created in 1997 by the state legislature for the purpose of administering toll revenue collected on the seven state owned bridges in the Bay Area. In 1998, BATA began operations under the metropolitan transportation planning commission which is the region transportation planning, financing and coordinating agency. Also, BATA has the authority to increase the tolls for the completion of the Toll Bridge Seismic Retrofit Program. BATA also operate the electronic toll collection system in the Bay Area, FasTrak, and the California Department of Transportation owns, operates and maintains the toll bridges. Caltrans is also responsible for collecting cash tolls.

The Bay area, this is a map which is made up of nine counties and within this area we have eight toll bridges. Seven of the eight are state owned toll bridges which are listed here on the left. And then the eighth bridge, that is the Golden Gate Bridge and that is owned by the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District. The Bay Bridge is highlighted in yellow and it connects Oakland in the east with San Francisco to the west. This is actually an image of what our new eastern span is going to look like. It's been under construction under the past several years and it is expected to be open to traffic in the fall of 2013.

So, these are some details about the Bay Bridge. It was opened to traffic in 1936 and it is about over 8 miles in length and it has five lanes in each direction. It carries about 125,000 vehicles per day in the westbound direction which represents about one third of the combined traffic of all of our bridges. This diagram here illustrates the toll plaza configuration. It has 20 toll lanes, four of which are carpool lanes and two carpool lanes are located on the south side of the toll plaza, and two carpool lanes are located on the north side.

There are three major interstates that come into the toll plaza. We have 880, 580, and 80. There can be up to five FasTrak lanes down in the middle depending upon the time of day.

As you can see, this complicated configuration combined with the high traffic demand is a recipe for congestion which is why this bridge is the subject of many congestion pricing studies in the past. And Karen had the privilege of working on one such study several years ago and she will talk about that briefly.

Karen Frick

This is Karen Frick with UC Berkeley. Back in the early 90s I worked with several staff here trying to implement congestion pricing on the Bay Bridge and I am pleased to say that 15 years later we now have it implemented. We received the first federal congestion pricing demonstration grant to study and hopefully implement congestion pricing and we did a year-long study. At the end we proposed a three dollar toll in the peak periods. At the time the poll was only one dollar. With that, we were going to raise about $22 million in revenue if we had state legislative approval to implement this toll increase and unfortunately we did not receive that approval from the state legislature.

This did not happen largely because they were not interested in increasing the tolls; it was perceived as a tax. Otherwise we look into calling it a user fee and we look at different types of discounts during the day to offset the toll increase and it did not work. Much like in the Congress, it was very difficult to have anything pass that looked like a tax. Have we had approval through the state legislature, the Federal Highway Administration would have provided an additional $23 million to implement the toll increase. I am pleased to be here now to be evaluating the proposal or the implementation of this project and I will pass this back to Linda.

Linda Lee

As Karen said, fast forward 15 years later and we are at 2010. There is a need for a toll increase in 2010. The major reasons for this toll increase are to fund a seismic retrofit of both the Antioch and Dumbarton bridges which are the two newest bridges. There was some seismic evaluations conducted several years ago that discovered some vulnerabilities in those bridges. They also wanted to help offset the increased cost of debt financing, and to counter revenue decreases cost by a decline into low-paying traffic over the past several years. That has affected our ability to collect the toll revenues we were expecting. By our calculations we need to collect $160 million in net new annual revenue.

We looked at three different options for our toll revenues and as you can see, on these three options that would each generate about the same amount of money which is about $165 million. Quickly going through the different options, our current toll rates, it was four dollars for autos and carpools crossed the bridge for free and trucks were charged about two dollars per axle. Option number one would raise the auto tolls for about one dollar on all the bridges and here we would start charging carpools about three dollars, and in the truck toll rate would go to six dollars per axle. Option number two is similar to option number one is except we would not charge carpools but in order to make up for the toll revenue difference we would have to charge trucks $10 per axle. And finally, option number three is similar to option number one for all of the bridges except the Bay Bridge would implement congestion pricing at six dollars for the peak and four dollars for the non-peak, and five dollars during the weekend timeframe.

So why charge a carpool toll? Our research of many toll facilities in the country found that except for HOT lanes and also the Golden Gate Bridge, we were one of the only toll agencies that were not charging for carpools. Here, we just listed a few of the facilities that we did research on, the New York facility, they charge a carpool toll. The transportation corridor agencies down in Southern California charge a toll. In addition to this is the argument that carpoolers, while they do help the environment by removing vehicles off the roadway, they do still contribute to the wear and tear of the facility and they should also pay their fair share of the seismic safety of the bridges.

Why congestion pricing on the Bay Bridge? This aerial here pretty much says it all. This is a typical peak timeframe. It is a heavily traveled corridor in the Bay area and motorists experience about a 25 or 35 minute delay in the peak hour of the morning. It has great transit options including the Bay Area Rapid Transit or BART which is our commuter rail system. We have bus and ferry service as well and there are good carpool access is approaching the bridge. The excess demand that we see during the beginning of the peak timeframe creates congestion out the entire peak timeframe. If we could just reduce or change the behavior of just a small percentage of drivers, we can see significant improvement in the congestion.

We were asked during our planning phase what about the other bridges? We have eight bridges as mentioned earlier. This graph illustrates the maximum delay of all of our bridges. The green bar represents the delay for cash paying vehicles and the yellow bar represents the delay for FasTrak vehicles. You can see the only bridge that really experiences significant delay is the Bay Bridge. All the other bridges are seeing less than a five minute delay. I do want to note that after we implemented congestion pricing on the Bay Bridge, officials around Dumbarton and San Matteo expressed interest in also implementing congestion pricing on their bridges, but as you can see here that is not likely to happen because those bridges don't have a lot of congestion.

We took a look at several different options for congestion pricing. The one option I discussed earlier was this one here which was a six dollar peak toll and a four dollar nonpeak toll. We looked at other options ranging from seven dollars in the peak and as high as $10 in the peak. For the nonpeak toll, the four dollars was the constant. We did take into consideration both mode splits as well as time of day shifting. So mode and time of day shifting and as you can see here, our first proposal was the 6/4 option which we could see a 23% reduction in delay or six minutes of time-saving.

The other options range from 32% up to 53% reduction. I do want to mention that to achieve this 23% reduction under the 6/4 scenario, all we would have to do is reduce the number of vehicles by less than 5%. That is about 1,400 vehicles. We solicited public comment, including four public hearings that we held in late 2009. We also received public comments via letters and e-mails and we also conducted a web survey. We got over 1,100 comments. Of which almost 800 comments came through the web survey. According to the results of that survey about 63% opposed charging tolls to carpoolers, 60% supported congestion pricing on the Bay Bridge, and 50% supported higher tolls for trucks.

This slide summarizes the congestion pricing program that was adopted by our commission. Again it was a six dollar peak toll and four dollars on nonpeak. The peak hours are from 5 AM to 10 AM and then from 3 PM to 7 PM. Congestion pricing was only applicable to two axle vehicles and not any of the multi-axle vehicles. Because this project was approved as a pilot, we agreed to conduct an annual evaluation of the program, looking at impacts on traffic, obtaining motorist's feedback, and also taking a look at some of the impacts on bridge operation. That, by the way, is why we hired the University of California Berkeley team.

This is a summary of the final toll schedule which went into effect on July 1. It included the congestion pricing on the Bay Bridge, raised the multi-axle toll rates, and we also settled on a $2.50 carpool toll as opposed to the original proposal of three dollars. The reason for that is this is basically a formula based toll. It's 50% of our base toll which is five dollars. The reason we did that is so if or when the base toll increases then the carpool toll would automatically increase as well.

An implementation activity that we did was installing of new signage including fixed the panel signs at the toll plaza and approaches and changeable message signs on the toll plaza. These display the time as well as the toll rate that is applicable during that timeframe. We also installed digital clocks inside the toll booth and they are facing the motorists and the reason we did that was because we wanted to eliminate the disagreement between the toll collectors and the motorists about what time it is and what rates to charge especially during the 10:00 or 7:00 when the toll rate changed. We also modified our existing toll collection system to accommodate time of day charging. We also had to install some tolling equipment in the carpool lane so we could start charging carpoolers using FasTrak.

I do want to mention that throughout this presentation I have been referring to it as a congestion pricing, but technically we implemented time of day charging pricing so that the toll rates would change depending upon the time of day and the toll table that we have defined in the system.

Just to take a look at some of the public outreach in information that we disseminated. We installed carpool toll banners, toll booth posters, and we had told collectors distribute these tollbooth handouts and all of the staffed lanes. We installed these posters in the lanes and talk about congestion pricing and the new toll rates. We did a lot of public outreach to some of the major employers, especially in San Francisco. We reached out to some of the casual carpool sites as well. We did many press releases, we sent out e-mail blasts to our FasTrak customers. So we did a lot of public outreach.

Just some lessons learned in some challenges. We had to work with an antiquated toll system which may fare table changes difficult. We did run into some issues with the wrong toll tables being implemented and as mentioned before we installed these clocks. They were useful but problematic at the same time. They did it eliminate potential arguments by motorists at time of rate change, but they also were problematic in that they created slowdowns and illegal parking in the shoulders by motorists waiting for the rate and time to change and I do have a picture of that later on in the presentation. We wanted to minimize motorists' confusion about what time this congestion pricing was in effect so we made it the same hours as the current carpool hours, even though the significant congestion was really only for a three hour time frame, as opposed to the full five hour carpool timeframe.

During the public outreach phase, we had a lot of public confusion related to what the purpose of the toll increase was for. Some thought it was to continue to maintain the bridges or pay for the new Bay Bridge and that was not the case. We had multiple messages related to multiple changes. We had the toll increase, we had the carpool toll, and we had congestion pricing on the Bay Bridge. There were quite a lot of messages being thrown out there. And then it was confusion about how to pay for your carpool toll and the need to get a FasTrak toll tag.

And finally, these are some preliminary findings at the end of 2010. At this point, we had about six months worth of data. I will just go through this. This slide is a comparison of bridge traffic on all of our bridges for a 2009 timeframe compared to the same timeframe during 2010. This is after the toll increase. There is a lot of information that I want you to focus down here. We are seeing on average a decrease of about 11,000 vehicles in the carpool lane on a daily basis which represents about 30% of the vehicles and those lanes. We are seeing an increase of about 5000 vehicles on a daily basis in the non-carpool lanes. The hunch is that these people on the carpool lanes are now moving over to transit, and also we think they might not see the value as forming a carpool anymore so they are driving across the bridge as a single occupant vehicle. Also maybe these people do not want to open up a FasTrak account so they are choosing to pay in the cash lane. Whatever the cases we have hired UC Berkeley to make sense of this new trend we are seeing.

This graphic here is a transit ridership on BART. This is the westbound direction into San Francisco and you will see here that the red line represents the post-toll increase. BART is seeing a slight increase in ridership. There is about 3600 passengers more in the morning peak timeframe and a small number in the evening the timeframe but overall they are seeing about a 4,600 passenger increase.

This is a comparison of the bridge traffic in the morning commute. It is September to December of 2010 versus the same timeframe in 2009 and our peak timeframe starts at 5 AM and it ends at 10 AM. You can see here there is a decrease during the peak period, and we can probably attribute that to both congestion pricing, but it can also be a result of the increase in unemployment.

But here, these areas that are circled are the hours before the peak period and the hour after the peak period, and this is clearly a result directly of congestion pricing. You can see that we are changing the behavior of motorists as they try to get there before the higher toll rates.

This graph here is travel delay in the morning peak this is what the delay is before the toll increase, or I am sorry, before the congestion pricing. It was about a 27 minute delay. After we implemented congestion pricing it dropped down to about a 23 minute delay which represents about a 15% decrease.

And then, these are just some observations we have made in terms of operation at the toll plazas. You cannot really see it here but people are slowing down as they get towards the toll plaza waiting for that toll rate to change from six dollars to four dollars. You can see here that they are parked in the shoulder waiting for the toll rate to change. We have a picture here of a CHP officer talking to someone here that is parked in the shoulder. We received a lot of this in the beginning, but it has decreased because of the CHP enforcement. I will turn this over to Karen and she will talk about the work they have done so far.

Karen Frick

Again this is Karen Frick with UC Berkeley and I have been working with professors and very industrious graduate students who are putting together in an evaluation for BATA on the congestion pricing of the Bay Bridge. I will present some very preliminary findings primarily on a recruitment survey and focus groups we have done. We are also doing extensive traffic and operational analysis available this summer when we are done with the evaluation.

We conducted seven focus groups. For those of you who are not familiar with focus groups, we are bringing in people who travel in the Bay Bridge corridor for about an hour or hour and a half. There are 10 or 12 people sitting around a table talking us all their thoughts about the travel patterns just in general and in particular for this focus group on the Bay Bridge and congestion pricing. We did a recruitment survey to find out how they travel and what some of the perceptions are and so I will present information from the recruitment survey first and then some tidbits on the focus group.

First in the recruitment survey is what we found that 60% of the people that responded said that a car is a necessity for their travel on the Transbay Corridor and 40% do not. Twenty two percent said they could change their destination and 27% said they could change their time of day. These points are important to us because as Linda mentioned earlier we just need to reduce a small number of cars on the bridge to make an impact. We also found not surprisingly that 93% would love a fast, uncongested trip across the Bay. Interestingly, we found that 60% of the respondents would prefer predictable trips more than how fast the trip is. It is important to know people look for reliable trips.

Another surprising finding is that they have asked us for free parking or parking subsidized by their employer. They have found those places in the system where they can find a couple of spots in San Francisco and various neighborhoods where they can park for free or their employers have given a free parking. We also found that it did not really very too much by income category. All income levels people are finding free parking and this has important implications. If you have access to free parking a two dollar toll increase my might not affect your decision on driving.

I like to talk about our findings in the focus group. We held seven focus groups to date and will be holding a few more in the coming month or two. What we found from these focus groups is that our participants do not understand the purpose of the toll increase. They thought it was for a new Bay Bridge or just government raising tolls which is why we also found resigned acceptance and that was the general attitude. Not bitter outrage or anything like that but this is just the government raising tolls and grazing transit fares and this is just part of doing business.

Some reported changing the mode in which they traveled in some reported changing the time of day which has resulted in the spreading of the peak which Linda showed you earlier. We also found that some people do not know enough about FasTrak in terms of how to get it, what it costs and how to get it and some cited this as a reason for not carpooling.

We also held two special focus groups of the casual carpoolers. They are an interesting bunch. Casual carpooling is very predominant in Washington DC and also in Houston. These are people who pick up other people to drive across the Bay Bridge because previously they had access to free carpooling with the additional of the $2.50 carpool toll, were curious to see how the casual carpoolers felt about this whole increase. We found that it has affected established behaviors and this is still being worked out. Now there has to be interactions between the drivers of the casual carpool vehicles and the riders and there is some uncertainty over whether or not riders should be chipping in to pay part of the $2.50. There have been some occasional conflicts as the riders and the drivers try to figure out whether or not there should be payment.

Just to wrap up, some preliminary findings is that a bridge toll increase of one or two dollars is fairly small in terms of the total cost of the Transbay trips. We calculated this to be between $15 and $30 of a round-trip in terms of total cost. We are doing many more analyses depending upon impact in terms of economy, the changes in the gas prices which has affected travel patterns. Also we are looking to see how this affected the carpool traveling and we are very interested in continuing to look at the peak spreading occurring and how that is affecting the toll plaza operation.

And then, the last two points before I wrap up is that because of the free or subsidized parking, we believe this is affecting travel choices and we will be looking more to where that parking it. We did find in our focus groups that travelers to conduct extensive cost-benefit calculations and they can tell you down to ten cents how much each trip will cost them each day so clearly free parking is part of that equation. And finally casual carpool practices are evolving and particularly on payment etiquette whether to pay and how much. So from UC Berkeley we are very pleased to be working on this evaluation and we thank you for your attention and we are pleased to take questions now.

Jennifer Symoun

Thank you Linda and Karen. We'll take a few minutes for questions. We have a lot of great questions that have come in and unfortunately I do not think we can get through all of them, but the ones we do not get to it is I will be sending these to Linda and Karen and I will provide an e-mail response to the questions.

I will start off by going through and selecting the questions with the broadest interest. Are there any considerations for open road tolling or all electronic tolling?

Linda Lee

Yes, we do have some open road tolling lanes currently at two of our bridges with one being on the Bay Bridge, and one also on the Benicia-Martinez Bridge. There has been some interest in opening more of these toll lanes and also moving toward all electronic tolling. In fact, we are currently doing a pilot program for video tolling in the Bay Area which was the kind of like the next steppingstone to all electronic tolling. The Golden Gate Bridge is considering doing all electronic tolling probably within the next two or three years.

Jennifer Symoun

Our next question is: due to the economy are you finding that highway traffic is down regionally as well? In other words, are the price of gas and other factors are affecting Bridge travel?

Karen Frick

We have found that the traffic is down and we need to look at the current rates though. There have been a little bit of a change and that is what we are doing in our evaluation which is tracking the reduction in travel volumes and at the same time the simultaneous increase in gas prices. We'll have results this summer where we can then compare that to this whole increase as well in terms of impacting travel.

Jennifer Symoun

When the new bridge opens, will it be variably priced by the time of the day?

Linda Lee

No it will not. While the bridge itself will be new, the toll plaza will be the same. Is the question about whether the current congestion pricing is going to continue with the new bridge? Or is the question a different variable toll?

Jennifer Symoun

I believe it is are you going to continue the same as you are doing now with the new bridge or will there be any changes?

Linda Lee

Well, this is a pilot, so depending upon the results of the evaluation; we may do some tweaks to the current congestion pricing program. For example, we could take a look at what the true congestion hours are. It may not be a whole five hours and it could be a smaller window, maybe from 9 AM to 10 AM or from 6 to 9. We are not sure. The new bridge will not open until 2013 so we do have a few years to try to figure out whether we should stay with the current program or tweak it a little bit.

Jennifer Symoun

Thank you. The next question is was the decrease in the HOV lane volume anticipated and did the actual trend match projections?

Karen Frick

Well, it did not really match projections. We did not expect to see such a huge decrease in our HOV volume. This is a 30% reduction in the number of vehicles using the carpool lane which is slightly different than a 30% reduction in carpoolers. We think there were a lot of illegal carpoolers using the carpool lanes, people who are single occupant vehicles, using those lanes. We think that a lot of those vehicles are no longer driving in those lanes because maybe they think we are doing a better job at tracking and finding them. We believe that some of those people moved out, but no, we did not expect to see such a high decrease.

Jennifer Symoun

Okay. And how has truck traffic changed?

Karen Frick

Truck traffic has not changed at all. I did not mention this in the presentation but the toll increase for the truckers for the multi-axle vehicles was delayed for a year. July 1 of 2010, the truck rates stayed the same. It is this year, July 1 of 2011 where half of the toll increase for truckers will be implemented. The second half of the toll increase for the multi-axle vehicles will go into effect next July 1. In terms of truck traffic changing it has not over the past six to eight months.

Jennifer Symoun

Okay, thank you. Where did you measure travel time delayed near the toll booth, and how did you measure it?

Karen Frick

We measured it by collecting travel time data. There were three major interstates, and we collected travel time data from all three approaches at a point, the slide that we showed here in the presentation was back in Berkeley, I don't know if you're familiar with the area, but it was a little bit or quite a few miles upstream of the toll plaza. We started our data collection at that point and we collected multiple, multiple days of data.

Jennifer Symoun

Okay. We can probably take another question. What percentage of the toll goes to transit?

Linda Lee

Good question. I do not have that number off the top of my head. I would probably have to look into that and get back to you.

Jennifer Symoun

Okay. Do you have any plans to try and regain some of the carpool market share?

Linda Lee

I'm sorry, what was the question again?

Jennifer Symoun

Do you have any plans to try and regain some of the carpool market share?

Linda Lee

We do not have any plans yet until we figure out the reasons why they are disappearing.

Karen Frick

This is Karen. I think it's important to consider that there is much higher ridership on BART. We will be looking at how much of that is general BART growth as opposed to impact from the toll. Maybe even though people aren't carpooling, they will be filling empty seats on transit so that is the battle. We will be thinking about if it makes it to increase the carpool share or see if some of the folks are on transit. Some of the carpoolers maybe in the non-carpool lanes and it might not be worth their time to pick up the third person for whatever the reason and they might not want to have a FasTrak toll tag as well.

Jennifer Symoun

We have time for one more question. How did the change in traffic impact your revenue on the bridge?

Linda Lee

Actually, our revenues are tracking according to our estimates so surprisingly, we are tracking well.

Jennifer Symoun

Well thank you. I know we could not get to all of the questions. Linda and Karen feel free to type in answers if you want into the chat are, but we can also get answers afterwards and get them out to everybody. We are going to start our next presentation right now. Our next presentation will be about the I-680 Express Lane project and this will be given by Ray Akkawi of the Alameda County Transportation Commission. He started with Caltrans in 1989 and joined the CMA in 2006. He served as the project manager of the I-680 project and is now the operations manager. With that I will turn it over to you.

Ray Akkawi

Thank you. And just to let you know I have others with me today on the phone who support this project. The 680 Express Lane is located in the east area of the San Francisco Bay area. It is the north-south route connecting housing area with a job center in the Silicon Valley. There are 14 miles on the southbound stretch between Highway 84 and 237. This was Northern California's first HOT lane project. There was an existing HOV lane prior to the conversion of that lane to the Express Lane. It has been in existence since the year 2000 and because of the high demand, there was not enough capacity and there was a lot of congestion. We added an HOV lane using the existing pavement and decided to widen the freeway and provide an Express Lane.

Frank Furger

For those of you who are not familiar in this area, this is the gateway to the Silicon Valley. So, 680 Southbound went from not even being on the radar screen as far as congestion, to be number one in about two years. In the year 1998, there was a great demand to get some improvements to get all of these "dot-commers" to their business. That helped with the political support to get this project the HOV moving but also be HOT.

Ray Akkawi

We had legislation that allows the CMA and the Santa Clara BTA to convert them from an HOV to an Express Lane and for the 680 was the first one in our county. This slide shows the electronic toll system and the interface between the toll data center, CHP, Caltrans, operators, and roadside equipment. This will calculate the pricing. This requires a lot of coordination between all the different agencies, Caltrans, BATA, CHP, CMA and FHWA. Partnering is critical to this project and obviously we have Caltrans as the owner of the facility, we have the TMC which maintains the facility. We have BATA who collects the tolls. The Feds, they have the tolling authority and we have to provide them with the tolling agreement, the system plans, and concept of operations and keep them on board because it is an interstate. The CHP has to be educated, trained, and to educate the public on how the system works.

What we have, here are a few points such as the tolling policy. We need to get Caltrans on board to agree on the hours of operation. Previously there was an HOV lane and they were very limited hours in the morning and afternoon operated as an HOV. Now we have to convert it so it can run twenty four seven as an Express Lane and that will create an impact on the general purpose lanes because now during an off-peak that was open to everybody and by doing twenty four seven, or at the end when we opened the Express Lane from five am to seven am, we needed Caltrans on board to agree for the extended hours for operation of the Express Lane.

We also had to follow the Caltrans design standards for the buffers. Is it a soft or hard buffer between the Express Lane and the general lane? They had to review the extension for ingress, egress, weaving lanes and weaving zones, so we had to get an agreement with Caltrans. They were concerned about accidents and safety, so that has impact also on our facility, especially deciding where we can have it.

I also want to note that changes happened to the striping and marking. All of these things need to be agreed upon prior to opening the facility. We'll talk about that later on. Coordination, open construction, this slide shows three contracts and we have an electronic tolling system integrated. We have implemented the Express Lane and we had to coordinate with them. Public outreach, we need everybody and especially Caltrans on the team to be sure that they understood how the city operates and also the public. Maintenance and operations, who has control of the message signs during an incident? We came up with how to manage an incident or an accident and maintaining the facility for Caltrans point of view, which is the pavement. How are they going to do that and will it affect our facility when they close the facility, will that affect revenue collection? All of these things we have to discuss and agree upon it before we are able to open the facility.

The next one is this CHP. Of course with public outreach, they do a good job. They do all of the press conferences. We give a message and explain to the public how the facility works and then how the officers will enforce it. We train them on handheld units to locate potential violators. We have to educate the officers, but also the officers educate the public. For maybe the first month, we told them not to give citations but to tell the public how the facility works and to make sure that they understood and so they don't violate the operation of the facility.

Now we are looking at BATA. The method that we used to collect the toll, we are using the FasTrak which is a BATA device. The drivers go under a reader and we look at their tag. Our system generates a file and it sends it to BATA customer service and they charge the account of the customer. They give us also a financial reporting and we do some reconciliation of what we sent to them and what we got back. As I say, they had to do an adjustment to their system to include our facility, our Express Lane, because at first they were doing only toll bridges. They had to go through some issues through their software and system.

Revenue adjustments: before we opened the facility and we started charging the customers, there were many invalid tags and we were not able to collect the revenue. Had we known about this previously, we could have done an algorithm or maybe consider that as a violator or non-revenue tag. We have to train the customer service to understand how the facility works. No matter how many times you discuss this, more scenarios happen in the field and we have to go back to the BATA customer service and we have to go back to tell them how to handle it.

Frank Furger

I will walk us through the public outreach. In addition to being the Operations Manager, Ray helps us with the advertising. This is a picture of his car that he drove around probably three months prior to the opening period and probably about three months afterwards. Advertising the 680 Express Lane and this is part of the campaign that we did.

The next slide shows some of our marketing activities and we had a pretty extensive marketing campaign in addition to wrapping Ray's car, we had radio spots, we had ads on the buses and in the newspapers promoting of the opening of the project. We also have some TV shots. Next slide please.

So, as part of our public outreach, we did a lot of work with the media. We tried to get the information out to the public several months before the opening. We highlighted the changes to the roadway, that there would be restricted access, double striped buffers, changes in hours of operation, and how the toll system would work. We also try to get information and message out through the community workshops and we had booths at the malls, county fairs, and other county functions. We also set up a website which allows people to post their questions and we respond to them via the website. We do a lot of outreach to the media. We started about three months before the opening, gave them a briefing, show them what the plans were and where we were at in construction, and what changes people would be see on the roadways. We started taking the press on tours. It was helpful to get them engaged and get the media output television or radio.

Lessons learned. It is important to set realistic expectations about the project. I think most of us that are doing this believe that Express Lanes are good ways to move traffic through the corridor and generate revenues, but it's important to get the message out that the opening day of the facility is not likely going to be the cash cow that people think it is and it will not be the perfect system on the first day or even the first week.

It will get there, but it will just take a few months to ramp up the entire system. I think the message needs to be conveyed there will likely be some confusion the first few days as drivers get used to the new facility. There will be a learning curve for the drivers and it may take a couple of weeks for them to get used to the new system. We had a little bit of confusion but first couple, probably about three or four days out there but by the next week, midweek of the next week, travel times were pretty much back to normal. I think it's also important that all the partners, especially elected officials are made aware that the first week of operation should not be used to measure the success of the project.

As I said, there is going to be confusion and may actually be more congestion because of the confusion. But it needs to be noted to the board members and to the public and we have made use of the press to get this message across, that there will be start up issues. The revenues and the number of trips during the first week will grow and they will ramp up after the first probably two or three months. But do not try to view the success of the project based on the first daily revenue or number of trips.

Some of the lessons learned during construction. Coordination of the civil and electronic toll system is critical and it is critical to have good staff in the field coordinating the work between the civil and the toll system contractors. More than likely they will need to work in the same area, probably a lot of night work, and I would have to share the same road closures or lane closures. So without the coordination and planning, productivity will suffer and the schedule will suffer. Finalizing utilities early is another critical issue that should be addressed.

I think when you move forward you need to assume that there will be some sort of delay associated with the use of telecommunications or power and to just work that into your schedule and try to get them started early. We had trouble getting utility companies out there and we had changes in field conditions, so things will come up, so it's better to assume that and build some contingency into your schedule and try to get the utilities done early. The factory and systems testing is also important. Get the factory testing done early and be sure to document any problems that come up during the factory testing and address them prior to moving on. That way when you get out into the field you to get the systems testing done hopefully done early rather than later, started testing, even component by component, as it is installed, so you are ready when the whole system is up and running and you can do the systems test and move on from there.

Some of the preopening issues that should be addressed, if possible, stagger the opening. Because of our construction schedule and pushing up against the winter months, we really cannot stagger the opening. So on that Monday morning at 5 AM most of the media from the Bay area with their lights flashing, we uncovered signs and DMS and cameras for the first time, and it was the first time that striping was open, the modified access striping. That added to the confusion. So if you can stagger the opening especially if you are having a change in the striping or access, open that two weeks ahead of time. Strip the lanes and let people get used to that part by itself and they gradually uncover some of the other equipment out there, the signs or the DMS. You can put "test only" on the DMS. So when he comes opening day it will not be the first time people are seeing things and it may ease the confusion, but it also cuts down on people putting their foot on the brakes to look at the different lights and cameras and what is on these signs that have been covered up for three months.

Another option is to have a soft opening either on the weekend or if that is not possible have it on the off-season maybe in the summer when the traffic is not so bad. We opened on September 20 which is about the worst time for traffic congestion, but again, sometimes your schedule dictates when you have to open. Preopening data collection I think is an important thing. It's good to have accurate, recent traffic data prior to the opening and the data should be collected not just within your limits but both upstream and downstream of the facility. Once the facility is open there will be questions or comments about the facility impacting my community at this point or that point. It's good to have data that you can fall back on to say that over the course of the last year, here is our traffic pattern both within the corridor preopening, and either upstream or downstream. It'll also help you have that data a year in advance to know what the travel patterns are and to adjust your toll parameters for weeks or days with typically higher or lower traffic patterns.

One of the important things is to have a very strong contingency plan. We look at the components we were putting out there and try to have a contingency or backup plan for every single component that has the potential of failing. We had three corridor closed circuit TVs and they could have failed by not having power or by lack of communication. Our backup was we had a fairly cost effective alternate with the Earthcams portable cameras that would give us pictures of the corridor and it would also provide RPMS that would provide traffic data at the same time so we did have that redundancy, it was on a separate system. We had three additional cameras but also a backup if our primary failed.

For data collection, we had sensors in the roadway and we also had RTMS out there for speed and volume and again the Earthcam provided us not just the cameras but also with the RTMS on that system, it allowed us to collect redundant speed and volume data so that if it did go on or go down we had a backup and was also an independent check that the RTMS data we were getting when we first geared this up, was accurate.

One of our primary communication links was T-1 lined in a case those failed we had backups of both a cellular and wireless system within the corridor. Again, on communications, we had cellular modems for communication between toll zones. To ensure that we did not lose communication we had a redundant Wi-Fi network. And then, our plan and the way we are operating right now is a fully automated dynamic pricing. We knew going in this would take some adjustment initially. Our contingency was to actually have manual adjustments based on the people out in the field observing how things were flowing. If a certain work plan was not working the way we thought it would, our visual inspections out in the field would provide input to make those adjustments. And as a fallback we always knew that we could go to a fixed-rate plan and let traffic settle down and then move back into some sort of dynamic plan. And that is all that we have.

Jennifer Symoun

Thank you to all of you. We will now move on to some of the questions that have come in. Let's see here. How does CHP know who is violating the HOT lanes? Are there indicator lights at the toll zone and are all users required to use the transponder?

Ray Akkawi

We have a beacon light, a yellow and a green. If a SOV user goes under that reader and they use a FasTrak and its read, the light flashes green and so the CHP officer sees that green light that shows they have a valid tag. If the light flashes and yellow or amber, they know that this is a potential violator or it could be a carpool. They look to see if there is a potential violator.

Frank Furger

The last part of the answer is yes. If you want to use the Express Lane you have to have a FasTrak transponder.

Ray Akkawi

We are working with BATA to introduce switchable tags so that you can declare the occupancy of the vehicle. If it's single or if there are two or three you can switch the tag. It's still not in operation yet but it should be coming soon, maybe early next year.

Frank Furger

So we do not have an exact count on what our violation rate is, but we feel it's probably at least 15%. We actually have some counts done yesterday so we will have a better handle on it tomorrow or later today. One of the things we're going to try to do is implement some automated and force the options out there to supplement the CHP activities.

Jennifer Symoun

Okay. Are the costs of operating the lane covered by tolls?

Frank Furger

Not the first couple of years. As I mentioned in the expectations for revenue, there is a startup or ramp up that is typical of these facilities, and they will ramp up anywhere from about 20% in the first month to about 80 or 88% in the or after the first year. That is what is fully operational. And you don't really have that full revenue probably midway into the second year. We knew we had to supplement the cost and we do that through grants and also the cost for the first year and a half. By the time we get into that third year of operations, a third full year of operations, we believe that the carryover cash for the first few years of operations, and the anticipated revenue in the third year, that will be sufficient to cover the operations costs.

Jennifer Symoun

Thank you. Have you considered discounts for frequent users?

Frank Furger

We have not yet. We're just starting to do a little analysis on the frequent users. We did have a promotion where we allowed a $10 free toll for people who bought it at the beginning or two months prior to opening it and through the first two months. But those are things, once we get through a full year, we'll reevaluate our marketing and see if there are other options we might want to pursue.

Jennifer Symoun

Tolls aside, in general, did all lanes operate better after the congestion pricing?

Frank Furger

After the initial confusion of the first week, the mixed flow lanes went back to where they were prior to the opening. That being said, Silicon Valley is seeing some increase in job growth finally and with that comes some additional congestion. So there are some pockets where we see some additional congestion that may not have been there a few years ago but I don't know that we can associate those areas as much related to the Express Lane. More so I think they are related to the growth in jobs and the congestion that goes along with that.

Jennifer Symoun

Okay. What is the average AM and PM peak period per mile rate charged?

Frank Furger

On the average, we are just under three dollars for 14 miles, between 7 AM and 10 AM. That tolls range in the morning from 5 AM to 10 AM and they range from one dollar up to the highest we have which is $7.50. But even with that $7.50 toll, the average for a three hour time frame is still right around $3.

Jennifer Symoun

Okay. What are the speeds in the Express Lane versus the general lanes?

Frank Furger

There is generally at least a 5 mile difference between the Express Lane and the general purpose lanes and sometimes more. At the northern end there is more congestion than at the southern end. The difference in the northern end tends to be a lot higher. We are averaging between 55 and 60 miles per hour in the Express Lane.

Jennifer Symoun

What automated enforcement are you looking at?

Frank Furger

We are looking at a combination of maybe some additional readers to indicate where people are getting in and getting out illegally. These would be successive readers so if we do not have a successive read, we know that they have illegally crossed in or out of the facility, as well as a video enforcement system.

Jennifer Symoun

Okay. Do the rental car companies provide transponders?

Frank Furger

I believe some of them have been incorporated in the license plate now. Some do, but not very many.

Jennifer Symoun

Okay. We have time for about one more question. Are there any additional thoughts or concerns for buffer separations such as swerving?

Ray Akkawi

The guidelines we got from Caltrans and we tried to adopt. Also, we have spoken with Caltrans about another alternative where they have a dashed line that allows people to weave in and out. So far, they are not advocating for the new standard. If we go to that standard, you will be able to add more entrances and exits. We got complaints from people that they cannot exit the facility to where they are going and they had to drive further south or to an exit at a prior exit. Hopefully Caltrans will agree to allow that new buffer which is a dashed line. The other thing is about a buffer. There was some talk about the wider the buffer, two or 4 feet or more, people could drive faster in the Express Lane and would it be safe if they only have a 2 foot buffer between them and the other lane. There is talk about making the buffer wider or like what they use in San Diego; on I-15 they have a solid buffer between the Express Lanes and the general lanes.

Frank Furger

One of the problems we heard from Caltrans with a wider four foot buffer is that motorcycles tend to use that as a lane and there is some concern about that. The buffers can be striped or they can be solid or they can be buffers with posts and they each have their pros and cons. There can be safety issues or maintenance issues with the posts. It's good to look at the various options and tailor it to the unique geometrics. Also the CHP was against the hard buffer. They like to be able to bring the vehicles across the buffer device. They want people to pull people over in GP which they cannot do with the hard buffer.

Jennifer Symoun

Thank you. I do want to make some time for a few final comments from the Federal Highway Administration. We will have to stop with the questions for now and I know there were a few we did not get to answer. I will work with presenters to get some answers to get out to everybody. Before we conclude, I want to turn it over to Angela Jacobs of the Federal Highway Administration Tolling and Pricing Team for concluding remarks.

Angela Jacobs

Thank you. I wanted to start by saying thank you to the speakers who participated today. In the past couple years through the Value Price Program, we have been doing a webinar series. Last year we did a webinar series on congestion pricing where we featured new and upcoming pricing projects as an opportunity for partners to share lessons learned that they experienced with getting their projects implemented. At this point, we are starting a new series that will represent the next phase of the Federal Highway's effort to support practitioners who are interested in getting these projects started.

It's called Congestion Pricing Benefits, Challenges, and Opportunities. It will be the first in a series of workshops that will be on April 14. It will be followed by a webinar on April 28, Institutional Issues in Congestion Pricing. There is a link here where you can register. Unfortunately that link is not up yet and we will have that up the next day or two. So when Jennifer sends out additional information, we will make sure that you will have a link so that you can register for future webinars.

Our thought is we will have one webinar per month. It will typically be the fourth Thursday of the month, but there are sometimes with just the scheduling and things will be different. The slide that you see right now will show you the potential topics we intend to focus on in the coming months. As you can see, our goal is to have one workshop on each month through the year. Registration will open one month prior to each webinar. In addition to that, we will be working on primers, brochures, fact sheets, and other materials to inform you about various congestion pricing related topics. For those of you which were able to attend TRB, I'm sure that you saw some of the items that we were preparing on different pricing subjects. As you can see, the Federal Highway Tolling and Pricing site, we have two of them, one through the Office of Operations and the other through the Office of Innovative Program Delivery. You can go to either one of those sites to get additional information. Thank you

Jennifer Symoun

One minor correction; the institutional webinar will be held on April 19. So the next two webinars will be on April 14 and April 19. As Angela mentioned, I will send out an e-mail to everyone in the next few days when registration is open for those. With that, thank you everybody for attending today and I will inform everyone when the recording and presentations are online. If you did not download the presentations on the bottom right hand corner of the screen, you can go to this website between now and the next webinar on the 14th and download the presentations. They will also be available through the Tolling and Pricing website. Thank you to everyone and thank you to all of our presenters and enjoy the rest of your day.