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
Twelfth Part of a Webinar Series on Overcoming the Challenges of Congestion Pricing.
Good afternoon or good morning to those of you to the West. Welcome to 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 Public Acceptability of Congestion Pricing. 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 two presenters - John Swanson, Principal Transportation Planner for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Transportation Planning Board, and Rob Fellows, Toll Planning and Policy Manager for the Washington State Department of Transportation.
Today's webinar will last 90 minutes. If you think of a question during the presentation, please 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. I will send out a notice when they are available.
We will now go ahead and get started. Our first presenter will be John Swanson, Principal Transportation Planner for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Transportation Planning Board. John, you can go ahead.
Thank you very much, Jennifer. This is a great opportunity. I really appreciate the chance to talk to folks around the country and also to get your input and hear your questions, or read your questions, regarding a study that we are in the middle of. Initially I was somewhat reluctant to do this presentation, because we are still starting to process some of the data that we received for a study that we have done on public acceptability of congestion pricing. But, I think this is a good chance for me to share with you where we are and tell you how we have conducted the study, which I think is interesting in itself. Also to find out, what you are interested in and what different people would like to know, regarding the data that we have received.
Let me start by giving you a very brief overview of our region and where we are coming from. This is the national capital region with DC at its heart. It goes all the way up to the Pennsylvania border. It's a very complex region with two states, and the District of Columbia, but also - the good news and the bad news - we are growing rapidly. We expect 30% increase in population by 2040. And nearly 40% increase in jobs. We are growing jobs faster than people, which means more and more congestion as folks have to drive in from outside the region.
We are building, really, on a very positive legacy. We have a tradition of some very progressive planning. We are now enjoying the benefits of investments that people in the past made for us - a great metro system, a good road system. Increasingly, I focus on pedestrian-oriented activity centers, transit-oriented development (we have a lot of great examples of that).
We really have a lot to build on here that we are quite proud of. In addition to that, we have a long-standing interest in pricing. This is reflected in some policy principles that were developed a few years ago for the federal reauthorization, which never happened. But, basically they said that pricing strategies are something that should the pursued. Looking at pricing strategies that would use technologies for all mode of travel; varying rates by time of day, type of vehicle, level of emissions, specific infrastructure segments used. It's a concept that our board and our elected officials are familiar with.
I should mention to you that I work for the transportation planning Board here at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. We are the MPO for the Washington metropolitan region. Our board includes, primarily, elected officials, folks who really are interested in questions about public acceptability and the political side of things. We have, over the last 20 years, had a lot of discussions internally about some of the technical questions related to congestion pricing. This is something that our board was being briefed on back in the 90s. We held a major conference in 2003. We have gotten grants from the Value Pricing Pilot Program, looking at modeling a network of variably priced lanes. But, increasingly, our board members and elected officials have come back to the political science questions. We are pretty good at the hard science. We are not as good at the soft science of political acceptability.
We have gotten some projects moving forward in this region. Here is a list of some toll projects currently underway: the intercounty connector (ICC) in Maryland, two HOT lanes projects in Virginia. But, something that is not on this map that you are seeing, which is an important part of our story, is that last year, the 395 HOT lane project inside the Beltway was deleted from our plan. They will not be building that. That is, in part, because some of these questions related to public acceptability weren't answered. There were also serious concerns related to local traffic diversion. Really, we did feel like the time was right to dive into some of these more complicated questions - What do people want? What are they willing to accept?
At the same time, the Brookings Institution came up with a paper, a few years ago. This was authored by Alice Rivlin, Benjamin Orr. Most of us know Alice Rivlin as a prominent national figure, a budget expert, former Clinton cabinet member, director of OMB and the Congressional Budget Office. She is also a really active, local leader here in the Washington metropolitan area. A few years ago, she came up with this proposal, along with colleague Benjamin Orr, to essentially implement a variably priced the VMTC, proposing the replacement of state gas taxes with regional road use pricing. A system that would use GPS transponders to categorize different kinds of travel conducted by drivers - different places and different times of day would be charged different levels. It was a bold proposal. It did not go, but it raised and got some attention.
We have been working on pricing from a technical perspective. The Brookings folks had been looking at it from a wider, bolder implementation perspective. Really, for both of us, the question really does come down to public acceptability. We were encouraged by the folks at the Federal Highway Administration, the Value Pricing Pilot Program, to jointly submit an application for a research project, which we did a few years ago, to study public acceptability. We engaged, as our lead consultant for this project, a firm called America Speaks, which is an organization that is a nonprofit that really has a stellar reputation for bringing citizens together and helping citizens work through difficult problems in a process they call deliberative forums. America speaks has tended to be more of a public engagement and public empowerment organization. They did not have as much experience with public opinion research, which is essentially what our project was. That made it interesting for everyone to go into this new territory. This was a research problem, it's pretty straightforward.
Throughout this project, we framed it in this perspective of these twin challenges. Transportation revenues are decreasing and congestion is increasing. We have a potential solution in congestion pricing. It is a tool that could partially solve these twin challenges. But, we assume, that public support for congestion pricing is low. So, the research question was really as people learn more about congestion pricing, if they of a chance to really hear about the pros and cons and also about the status quo and how untenable it is in so many ways, will their attitudes about it change? Really, we are thinking about this period of education, as a proxy for what a public opinion campaign might do, or what an extended citizen discussion over a period of months or years might do. We did it in a period of 4.5 hours over five forums. Secondly, upon which factors, which costs and which benefits, does public acceptance hinge? What matters to people? How strongly do they feel about these factors? What are the tipping points? What are the deal breakers and the must-have that cause people to change their minds or not change their minds?
Again, the technique that we used is something called deliberative forums. It's something that America Speaks has really specialized in. They have done a lot of work in DC, in big sessions of, at times, over 1000 people. They are mega focus groups. They are places where people can learn, talk, offer feedback, hear what other people are saying, and learn some more. It's very much an iterative process. I will talk in a little bit more about the fact that we really have some qualitative and quantitative data from this research. Both polling questions and scribe notes. This is a chance for ideas to percolate, for relative strength and weakness of different proposals, to get fully aired and discussed. To allow people to change the minds, over time, as they are given more context about the challenges we are facing.
We sampled the region through five deliberative forums. We did two in Maryland, two in Virginia, and one in DC. We tried to reach all corners of the region. Each forum lasted about 4.5 hours. Because these were long and it was hard to find representative sampling of volunteers, we realized we needed to pay participants, so we did that. We focused on making sure we had a good cross-section of the region. We spent a lot of time developing a demographic profile for each session and making sure we got the right people. We know that our board members and elected officials want to know that we talked to regular folks.
In the sessions, we explained to the forums participants in a straightforward way, talking about the twin problems and congestion pricing being a potential solution, but at the end, making it clear that we wanted to ask them if they think the potential benefits of these different solutions and different approaches to congestion pricing will be worth the cost. Let's talk about it.
Here is the opening slide. We presented information and try to find the right balance between technical information and information that would be engaging. We made sure we provided a really solid baseline about the challenges that we face - severe congestion, funding shortfalls. We were looking at providing information that would highlight the causes of problems, like congestion, that we all see, but also talking about unseen problems. As we all know, and we learned in these forums for sure, folks really don't know much about the gas taxes. They don't know when they were last increased, there is a lot of information that people do not know.
We then moved into describing three separate scenarios. We realized, upfront, that the concept of congestion pricing is really a package of concepts. We needed to talk about three different approaches. Not necessarily pit these approaches against each other, but make sure the costs and benefits were fully explained.
The first is a scenario that is based upon some past analysis that we've done of a variably priced lane network. Basically asking the question, what if all major highways in the region had at least one toll lane with free-flowing traffic? This scenario had extensive emphasis on bus rapid transit. In most cases, it provided a choice of non-tolled lanes, free lanes. In some cases, we talked about taking existing lanes and tolling them, and we also made it clear that in some cases we might add lanes as well.
The second scenario was based upon the Brookings proposal that I mentioned earlier. It is essentially a variably priced VMT fee. Instead of paying gas taxes, drivers paid per mile fees calculated by GPS. This is a bold proposal. It was the least popular, as you can all imagine. It's something people have a hard time even imagining. It seemed science-fiction. Looking at the scribe notes, it's really clear that people had a hard time getting their head around it. This would toll all roads at different rates. It would be varied based upon level of congestion and time of day. It would replace the gas tax, which was a key factor, but not necessarily a factor that made it more popular, interestingly. This would provide a wide range of funding for a number of different transportation improvements.
And finally, we threw out a scenario which is based on the London system. Actually, we used details that were roughly analogous to what is being proposed and discussed in San Francisco. It is a priced zone. Saying basically what if drivers had to pay to enter one of these zones. We talked about central DC, but also looked at places that are urbanizing, Tyson's corner and Silver Spring. Essentially looking at places that are already working as urban areas and asking what if we could make these places, which are already pretty good, even better through congestion pricing. It would be a flat fee. It would only apply the fee during peak periods. The money, the revenues, would be used to fund circulation improvements inside of these zones.
We have a wide variety of data sources, a combination of qualitative and quantitative data. Keypad poll questions, discussion notes, and paper surveys. Small groups discussed the benefits and costs after hearing presentations. Scribes recorded those discussions, and those notes were fed back to a theme team which summarized the comments into bullet points, which were then presented back to participants at regular moments throughout the sessions.
We have some really good quantitative data, through polling questions that were asked to throughout the day. We used keypad polling devices. This is the slide that explained how the keypads were to be used. These are the categories of comments that we received, that we are just now in the process of working through: the perceptions of the status quo; general receptivity to congestion pricing, which we basically asked about how reasonable it seems to them; perceptions of effectiveness - is this going to work and how does that affect your support or not for it; attitudes toward the three different scenarios - again, we didn't want to pit them against each other because they are so different, but looking at how attitudes were different among the three; and finally, the influence of key factors on levels of support, including things like effectiveness, equity concerns, fairness, privacy, use of revenues. This last point, I think is the most interesting. It's also the one that is the hardest to analyze, as we look through the discussion notes, so I do not have a lot of preliminary findings for you on that today. Stay tuned for the report in the future.
Here is an example of a polling question from one of the forums. We asked the same question at the beginning and the end. This was probably the most dramatic shift over the course of the forums - should gas taxes be raised? At the beginning of the forums, we had a huge number of people that disagreed. At the end of the forums, it was a real switch. That is not necessarily what we were looking for. We were not trying to get folks to agree to gas tax increase. In fact, may be a reflection on how unappealing many people do find congestion pricing to be.
I will share some poll results with you. These are purely descriptive findings. We are currently in the process of doing some statistical analysis that will look at correlations between different factors, including demographic factors, where people live, how they travel, what their preferences are. Just to give you a flavor of some of the things that folks told us, I will share some things with you. More people think congestion is a critical problem than think funding is a critical problem. At the end of the four of 54% of participants strongly agreed that funding was a critical problem, but 82% agreed congestion was a critical problem. From the beginning to the end of the forum, there was a major increase in support for gas tax increases. At the beginning of the forms, 21% of participants that gas taxes should be raised, by the end, 57% thought they should be raised. That was the biggest shift over the course of the forum.
There is a lack of confidence in the public sector's ability to improve transportation even if enough money were available. We asked people whether they agreed with it or not - "If the government had more money to spend, I am confident we would have a better transportation system." 39% of participants disagreed or strongly disagreed with that. Interestingly, and this is glass half-full glass half-empty, congestion pricing was seen as reasonable by a sizable number of people. At the end of the forum, 45% of participants thought, as a general concept, it seemed like a reasonable way to deal with the transportation problems. Of course, you could flip that on its head, and I think it was about 30% or 40% that did not think was reasonable.
This is perhaps something that we need to probe further, but congestion pricing is perceived to be an effective tool for raising money, rather than for reducing congestion. For all three scenarios, people believed that it would be more effective for dealing with our funding problems than for dealing with congestion. Interestingly, if people believed that one of the scenarios was somewhat more effect in reducing congestion, that made the more likely to support that scenario.
This is also not surprising, but it is a confirmation of something you probably suspected, scenario one, the priced lane network, got the most support. It was seen as the most effective of all the scenarios.
The variable VMT fee, scenario two, is a very hard sell. We knew that would be the case, and that was really born out. Even after lengthy discussions about it, only one in 10 people had any level of support for this scenario. They really did not see it as particularly effective in dealing with congestion, which is ironically precisely what it would be designed to do.
This was a surprise - people were evenly divided in the support for a priced zone system. We need to probe this finding a bit further. This is something that would only apply to limited places in the region. But it did resonate with about half of the participants.
These are some very preliminary takeaways. The data really do seem to suggest the following - and we need to probe this further, and we need to illustrate these points with the scribe notes - but, first of all, there are doubts about congestive pricing's effectiveness of relieving congestion. People did not see how this would work, and did not necessarily understand the principles of demand management through pricing. Their assumption is that the government needs for money, and this is a device to get more money. Congestion pricing is seen to be primarily a tool for raising money. That seems to be what folks continued to come back to. There is an acceptance, with education (and again, education being four hours of sitting through a forum), that transportation funding is actually a big problem, a bigger problem than people originally thought. But that doesn't necessarily mean that congestion pricing is going to be the solution for them. Finally - this is a finding which validates what we know about human nature - there is a real gravitation toward options that feel incremental and familiar. People are more comfortable supporting solutions that are familiar, like the gas tax or highway toll, or incremental, like a priced lane highway network in which drivers would have the continuing option of using non-tolled lanes.
In conclusion, I really do want to emphasize that we are still in the middle of this analysis. We have not produced any reports on this yet. Our board will be the first to hear and receive the final reports. I think, though, that the really important thing to know is that we are doing some additional quantitative analysis, but the real value in this is going to come from some of the scribe notes, the illustrations and understanding of what were those deal-breakers and tipping points that caused people to shift or solidify their opinions. The report will be completed this summer. I invite any questions, now or later. I guess it will turn it back to Jennifer, at this point.
Thank you, John. We are going to continue with our next presentation and take questions after that. Our next presenter will be Rob Fellows, Toll Planning and Policy Manager for the Washington State Department of Transportation. Rob, you can go ahead.
I have been asked to tell you about the Awareness and Acceptance of Pricing project, which was a joint effort of the Washington State Department of Transportation and the Puget Sound Regional Council, which is the MPO here in the Puget Sound area. It was funded by a grant from FHWA's Value Pricing Program. The timing of this program was a pivotal period for tolling in Washington. When the grant was awarded, Washington was ready to implement its first new toll facility in decades, struggling with the role of tolling to finance several large projects. The Transportation Commissioner had just completed a comprehensive study of tolling options, and the PSRC was beginning work to update its Transportation Plan 2040. Shortly after this project began, we were awarded a slot in the open partnership program, which propelled us toward a more rapid implementation of tolling across Lake Washington than we had considered previously.
Before I start, I should tell you that I came into this project midstream. A lot of my involvement was following the birdseeds far enough to capture what was most important to the project, in order to create the final report.
I want to give you a brief outline of what I will cover. I will spend a couple of minutes talking about the timeline that this fits into, in terms of tolling in Washington State. I want to give you an overview of the activities of the project. And then I want to walk through what is actually in the final report. That was hoping to be giving you a portal into all of the information that was generated as part of the project, and is available on our webpage. I will give you this address at the end as well.
Just for context, these are the three tolling projects that are in Washington State right now. The Tacoma Narrows Bridge was a project in the 1990s. It was originally a public/private partnership that got bought out by the state. Finally, it opened in July of 2007. The bottom of these two bridges is a new one that was built in what had been a dramatic recurring congestion location, that's pretty much free flow today. The SR 167 HOT lanes were our foray into HOT lanes. The dynamically priced lanes are celebrating its fourth year today, as a matter of fact. And then the SR 520 Evergreen Point Floating Bridge, which we will discuss a little bit more later on, was the subject of the urban partnership. It's a floating bridge. It needs some replacement. We have three floating bridges in Washington, two of them have become sunk costs at one time or another, so we want to avoid this one also becoming a sunk cost in the negative sense. Tolls finance about $1 billion of this $4+ billion project. It's about half funded now, and the part that is on the side that you cannot see below the picture on the West side, is still remaining to be funded.
I want to walk you through where this project fits in the historical timeline. The little gray bar is the period where this project was active. You can see that in the '90s we began the Narrows Bridge project. In the early 2000s, the state bought out the private investor. We had a lot of activity by the legislature to fund some fairly large projects that were on the books here in the early 2000s, and they passed a fairly substantial gas tax increase. And we were looking for the balance of these projects to be paid for with the regional initiative. That regional initiative failed, and that turned a lot of the attention again to tolling. We had PSRC working on their travel choices demonstration, which was worthy of a complete other presentation sometime. It was looking at different tolling, congestion pricing implementation. Then we applied for the Value Pricing Awareness and Acceptance project in 2006. Transportation Commission had done a comprehensive look at tolling. It was a period where we were really feeling that we were getting our way into tolling and needed to figure out how to get our way around in it.
These are the four major activities that were funded by this grant. The first was a series of what we call regional coordination activities. This was pretty much run by a group of staff at three different agencies (Metro, the bus provider in King County; Puget Sound Regional Council; and the Washington State Department of Transportation) working together to get ready to advise the legislature that it was going to face some difficult questions about tolling as they grappled with this idea about the urban partnership, which I will talk about in a few minutes. Then we had a toll implementation committee after that first legislative session that was formed to inform the public about 520, gather their comments about proposals on 520, and add some more confidence to the legislature as they considered whether or not to authorize tolling on 520 at the following session.
Meanwhile, we had the PSRC working on their Transportation 2040 plan. In the early stages, they convened with a group called the pricing task force, and that group was to develop and analyze regional pricing alternatives with the notion that we would integrate pricing, in congestion pricing and different tolling options, into the consideration of the regional plan alternatives. And then we did some closeout activities, final surveys, and the final report.
Here are the four products that we created. The Pricing Acceptance Public Opinion Analysis was really a look at what had been done previously, nationally and in other cities. We had focus group research. We had some development of commonly raised questions and issues, and then prepared a briefing for the House Transportation Committee, and I will address each of those.
A lot of the slides in this presentation break my presentation rules about have about having too many words on the slide. I was struggling with how much to give you. What I wanted to show you is that there is a ton of information there. I will not speak to all of it, so maybe if you read quickly, you'll be able to see it, but I put the red marks to make it easier for me to skip through them.
For the national research, we had a consultant for the first phase of the work. They did this research. What they found was, obviously, educating the public was an important part of public acceptance in value pricing, communicating project benefits, providing data and facts to support the benefits statement, implementing incrementally so people can experience the benefits, emphasizing travel options, practicing transparent communications about the revenue uses, and coordinating messages between cooperating agencies, some of the same things that you heard earlier.
In the focus groups, they engaged King County drivers and transit riders. The focus was on congestion pricing. They found, surprisingly, that there was a fairly high awareness of different tolling strategies. They understood HOT lanes more than the understood full corridor tolling, when you're talking about congestion management. There was some skepticism about whether tolling all lanes would lead to congestion reduction. There were some barriers to public acceptance, philosophical beliefs and government mistrust particularly. And again, we heard that improved travel options are an important incentive.
The staff group was meeting, and the consultants that they were working with, in preparation for the presentation to legislators and others. They put together what they called the guiding principles about how we, as a partnership, would approach tolling here. This is verbatim what came out of that exercise. Provide measurable user benefits, clearly. I'm just skipping through, because I won't be able to cover everything, here. Consider geographic income and social equity and fairness. Establish a form for regional input into tolling. Look at privacy protection. Understand toll rate implementation for revenue and operations. Define and clarify how and when toll revenues could be used. This is just a sample of the types of things that were addressed.
Finally, a lot of this culminated in a legislative presentation, and here's the topics they addressed. Tolling was one of many different traffic management strategies. Different types of tolling, different objectives for tolling. Again, some of the national experience studies have been done in the Puget Sound Region and the guiding principles and other things that have come out of the regional coordination of this.
I want to turn to the urban partnership now, and what came out after that session of the legislature. WSDOT, PSRC and King County entered into the urban partnership. Before I get into this further, I will give you a vicinity map. At the bottom left of the map, you can see where the Tacoma Narrows Bridge is. It's quite apart from some of the others. In the southeast quadrant of the map is a 167 HOT lane. It's important to understand the context of the 520 bridge. The 520 bridge and I 90 bridge (both floating bridges), are the only ways to get across the 20-mile or 30-mile lake that is in between East King County and downtown Seattle. A lot of traffic is forced into these corridors that has nowhere else to go.
The things that the urban partnership looked at are the four Ts. Early tolling, meaning we would toll an existing bridge before constructing the new one. Variable tolling, meaning the tolls are different at different times of day, based on traffic. Technology - we installed active traffic management systems, the overhead signs that slow you down as you approach a bottleneck or tell you when there is a lane closure. Some transit - we had new buses and park-and-ride expansion as part of the project and telecommuting, focused on enhancing our existing commute trip reduction programs.
The next thing that happened is that the Legislature convened a toll implementation committee. This is after they had started the two-step process to consider toll authorization. The toll implementation committee was comprised of the transportation commission chair, the WSDOT secretary and the executive director of the MPO, a high-level group. They were charged with reporting to the legislation on different toll scenarios, traffic diversion and mitigation, traffic tolling technology. They were to go out and meet with the business community, mayors, city councils work sessions and open houses. Then they reported back to the Legislature and the governor on findings in January 2009.
The A&AP project, which I hope you don't mind me using the acronym, developed several activities as part of this outreach process. It developed the tolling and financial scenarios, quite a few of them. Modeling peer-review, there was a lot of attention to the diversion analysis and mitigation options. There was a discussion of impacts on low-income users, a technology assessment of open road tolling, and a whole variety of outreach, culminating in a report to the Legislature. This website is still active. We house it on the WSDOT site. You can still reach it at Build520.org that was the website that was used to gather outreach, and has an awful lot of materials on it that were generated at the time.
The scenarios we examined were single point tolls versus segment tolls, meaning tolling larger segments of the freeways. We looked at tolling 520 only versus tolling both bridges. We looked at variable versus flat tolls. We looked at different exemptions. We looked at different toll rates. In each of those, we reported on the traffic volumes, performance, financial capacity and diversion impact. For a couple of the options, it was educational for people to see what kind of shifts actually occur when you put a toll on an existing bridge and what we forecasted they would. What you can see is not only shifts of mode, but shifts of time of day, which is what we are looking for from the variable toll rates, shifts to other routes, and then some that just changed their destination and don't cross the lake anymore.
Then, there is a whole series of things we looked at to manage those diversions. First to keep traffic on 520, that's what variable tolls are intending to do. Partly because the time you can divert easiest is the off peak periods when you have lots of capacity, so you want a lower rate then. Then mitigation measures were discussed - toll mitigation account, system-wide monitoring, transit improvements, and accelerate improvements on the highways.
There was some outreach to low income populations. Again, we widely publicized the open houses and websites and met with social service agencies. Research and outreach suggests that tolls have greater impact on low-income families, which is not surprising. The committee urged consideration of several steps to ease the burden. I want to emphasize, of course, we do a lot of the things that we recommend now as part of our good to go electronic tolling program. We have many different payment options, including the EBT cards that the social service agencies use. We partnered with regional retail outlets to sell the transponders, but not for replenishment yet at this point. We have increased transit service. We are translating tolling materials, educating service providers, considering transportation allowance. Transportation allowance for EBT card users is not something we have gone into, at this point.
The public outreach was significant. We had committee members and staff that went to a ton of different groups. We had 16,000 visitors on the website here, 7800 participants in a web survey, and 8000 written comments. 700 people attended at least one open house and 20 jurisdiction stakeholder groups provided input into the process. And then we had a phone survey of about 1200 randomly selected individuals.
You probably can't read this, it's pretty small. I will not try to cover all this. There was some difference in what a web survey reports and what a phone survey reports. I just want to call attention to a couple of these. By more than a 2:1 margin, support tolling to help fund the new 520 bridge. Again, 2:1 margin responded supported variable tolling and by a 2:1 margin supported tolling early if it resulted in lower tolls and finance costs, early meaning before construction. All of these are interesting. You may note, that the people on I 90 bridge were less excited about tolling the I 90 bridge than the rest of the people who answered. Some of these are not surprising. But, there was a fairly high level of support.
The Washington State Legislature ended up authorizing toll funds to be used on the 520 construction. This is partly because this major outreach effort and the involvement of some fairly high level folks increased confidence and made them feel more comfortable. This has become, I wouldn't say a standard since we haven't done a lot of these, but when the legislature thinks about tolling at this point, they tend to want to take the two-step effort of not authorizing tolling right away, but doing the outreach and more additional research and then coming back in a second session to consider whether to authorize tolls. We also got, in this time period, tolling framework legislation established that the goal of tolling in Washington state is both revenue and traffic management. It clarified the roles between the Legislature, which is the only one that can authorize tolls and define what toll revenues can be used on, the transportation that sets the toll rates and exemptions, and the DOT, which operates the toll systems.
The overall findings, generally people supported tolling, including early tolling on 520 bridge. Most people supported tolling both bridges. Although, significantly fewer I 90 users supported the concept. Those supporting tolls also supported variable tolling and electronic tolling.
I want to turn, now, to the third task, which was support for the pricing task force, which was a group convened by the Puget Sound Regional Council of local elected officials and opinion leaders. Their job was to work with other agencies, public and outside interest, to pose policy questions regarding roadway pricing, develop information on pricing's role on mobility, and meeting environmental and economic objectives. Then develop a set of objectives, criteria, measures, and roadway pricing alternatives to be evaluated with other transportation strategies. And finally, to make recommendations on a comprehensive set of roadway pricing strategies that should be included in Transportation 2040. The role we played in that was primarily logistical, supported development of meeting materials.
Here are the five alternatives that PSRC looked at in the Transportation 2040 analysis. There are different types of tolling, different intensities of tolling, along with different mixes of transportation investment from a demand and system management focus with limited traditional or tolling revenues. At one end, a fairly major construction including a two-lane HOT lane network around the whole region and a lot of tolling, down to the more heavy tolling alternatives four and five. Alternative 4 would've tolled pretty much all the freeway system and alternative five would have tolled a lot of the arterial system.
Interestingly, we had a long discussion about this. The pricing task force started to work in terms of identifying what the tolling elements should be. There were a whole lot of other committees that dealt with and took in this information and talked about it for quite a while. By the time they were done, they came to a preferred alternative that passed the General assembly with 98 percent support, which is pretty dramatic. It looked for incremental tolling expansion between 2010 and 2030. Between 2030 and 2040, we'd evolve toward the system shown in the gold route on the left, which would all be tolled - pretty much the full highway network.
The last couple of slides show additional evaluation and closeout. We conducted a survey of existing system users since we have started tolling on SR 16, Tacoma Narrows bridge, and 167 HOT lanes. We conducted some public opinion research into potential expressed tolling systems on I-5. Then we prepared a final project report.
This has way too many words on this side. We heard back from existing toll users again, this is a mix of TNB and HOT lane users. The folks who use the 167 HOT lane, whether in carpools or not, support tolling for both construction and traffic management. The folks who don't use the HOT lane, and most of the people in Tacoma Narrows Bridge tend to feel that the purpose is construction. The next one says of those whose opinions of tolling changed, and this is a strange subgroup, after opening the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, the peoples who have accounts, and 97 percent of the people who live in the adjacent community have accounts, which is pretty dramatic, but they became more positive towards tolling, at 70% of them. Folks without accounts were more negative. I should note that the people who don't have accounts pay a higher toll than people who do. Of those whose opinion changed about tolling after opening the HOT lanes, 70 percent of account holders and 47 percent of non-account holders and 55 percent of carpool users became more positive toward tolling. We did find that performance improved in all the lanes, not just the HOT lanes. About a third of TNB users increases their bridge use after tolling began, this is not surprising as we broke the bottleneck and there is more capacity. 59% said bridge use decreased due to subsequent rate hikes. Of 167 users who were affected by HOT lanes, about half reported less congestion and a greater feeling of safety. Over half of 167 users agreed that HOT lanes were beneficial and should be expanded to other Puget Sound highways.
Then we get to a similar question about potential for I 5 express toll lane concepts. This is a project I'm working on, how we would implement expressed tolling concepts on I 5. It's something that has had zero public discussion. I would call this a baseline assessment. If you have not talked about this at all with anybody, how do people feel about it? And you find some very different results from what we've seen in these others. We found that in the focus groups people are unsure that express toll lanes would improve traffic. We heard from some people that they do want to pay to use existing highways. These are things that we would expect from a group that hasn't engaged in the discussion of tolling. We found that people did not want to support increasing carpool lane requirements from 2 persons to 3. In the survey, we found 43% unsupportive. Almost half support half support converting the reversible lane express lane to a toll lane. Over half would pay up to $2 to increase speed to 45 mph. We asked them what kind of things would make it sound better to them or make it sound better to others. Certainly, electronic tolling, making sure the funds would be spent in the I 5 corridor, what are the environmental benefits - those are the sorts of things that appeal to people. But they were not sure they believed any of them.
The final project report provides a narrative description of all of these things. It provides summaries of each of them. It's the same level, maybe a little more than I've given you in the slideshow. It provides direct Web links to each of the elements that I have described. Also there are quite a few more such as links to the pricing task force and all of the slideshows that were conducted during the process. It was not a research project. It did not develop generalized findings. There was no study committee that got to decide what we learned from all of this. I have a couple observations. First, this is the address to go to if you want to download it, it's on our website at wsdot.wa.gov.
I think there are some obvious questions about what it is presented to you. That we did not try to answer as part of the study, but I do want to offer a few personal observations that might answer some of them, such as why 520 was so acceptable to the people. We get the opposite response when we talked about I 5 express toll lanes. To me it comes down to these four issues. The first is promoting good projects and user value is what convinces people. If you go out and say "do you want to be tolled," it's sort of like asking if you want to be taxed. People want to know what it is you're going to do with the money. What is the benefit? You have to talk with the whole package. Particularly on 520, their success has to do with a decade of discussion about whether this project is needed and how it should be delivered. It has been a very intensive project, and over time people have become convinced that the new bridge is needed, and that is really what motivates them to start thinking about and engaging in the question of tolling. Do not start a conversation with the public without considering equity and identifying how revenues will be used. I mentioned the early public-private partnership experience, we had an unanimous agreement back in the 90s to do private public partnership here, and 5 out of those 6 project disappeared because, in my opinion, at the time we had not identified why some people should pay tolls in one corridor and other people get gas tax funded improvements in a different corridor. Then the I 5 tolling surveys showed a negative response to tolling. We did not address how the revenues would be used. We didn't really take the time to engage, other than just ask how people would feel cold going into it. There is a lot of work to be done if we want to advance that concept. It's the same type of work we did in other corridors. Implementation matters. Once you have a toll project, you like to think you have established credibility for the tolling, but you have to deliver. Is the toll agency credible, responsive, and transparent? Finally, I used to think you would get some success and move onto the next stage. My sense is that a strong policy support is helpful, past successes are helpful, but they don't relieve the need to create strong toll proposals and conduct active outreach all over again.
That is where I am leaving it. Any questions?
Thank you, Rob. We will now move on to the question and answer portion of the webinar. We will start off with the questions that were for John and keep going down.
John, the first question for you is, how much were forum participants compensated for the four hours?
They received $100 each. It was a significant expense and not something we did lightly. We realized it would be essential.
Why was there a shift in increasing gas tax between the start and the end of the research?
I think, as I mentioned several times, we are still analyzing. We have hundreds of pages of scribe notes from all these different table discussions. That is one of the questions we really want to answer. It was the most dramatic shift. I can offer some observations, based upon what I have read and what I assume. One is that I suppose we made a fairly strong case that we have a serious funding problem in this region and across the country. And several conversations that I have read the transcripts of indicate that people are comfortable with the gas tax. They know about it. It seems like the easiest short-term solution. We did make a pretty strong case that the gas tax revenues will decline in the future because of increased fuel efficiency. I suppose that resonated, but I don't think people are really thinking long-term. Another factor, though, could be, and some of our board members warned us about this at the very beginning, if you talk about congestion pricing, people are going to tell you that they hate the gas tax. But after hearing about these proposals, they might decide that they hate the gas tax a little less. It may just be that, in some cases, congestion pricing was unappealing or did not seem to be an adequate replacement or solution.
All right. Thank you. Another question - were congestion fees in dollars specified for each of the scenarios? The congestion fees and reactions to them would help understand why people think it's better for raising revenues than relieving congestion.
Yes. We did specify ranges. I have noticed, and we have observed, in the transcripts and the events themselves, that there was discussion about the actual cost. "That is too much." "Five dollars a day, I can't afford that." "$3 a day, maybe I can afford that." I think, the actual specificity probably did have some role there. I think it's probably true, just the fact that we talked about specific dollar amounts, led people to think that this is a revenue device, not necessarily congestion mitigation device.
Thank you. Next question came up during both presentations. Distrust of government carrying out programs seems to be one element you uncovered as resistance toward going forward with current policy but with more money. Will you be probing again on this point? If people are skeptical of government, then wouldn't all policies, especially new ones, be resisted?
Rob, you want to start on that?
Well, we didn't do particular probing into that much further. I could just venture my personal opinion on it. There is certainly an issue with new taxes and tolls of any sort. Whether or not the government is going to be credible to deliver the things they say. I think, really, what I tried to look at is how do you follow-through? How do you have the credibility, consistency, in your implementation? Obviously, there is always more to probe, but I don't think we went any further than that.
In our region, for one thing, I think there's a backdrop of general distrust of government and mistrust of competence of government. That is a general factor, right now. I think in this region, the irony is that the lack of funding has led to a real degradation in our transportation system. The primary evidence of that is our metro rail system, which is really consistently underfunded and has really started to show it, and that has really eroded public confidence in our transportation system. That probably plays a major role. What Rob was talking about, and what was discussed in our forums, is that people need to see success stories some incremental improvements. There is a practical reason to want to move slowly or incrementally and not jump into something like a VMT fee. There are too many unanswered questions. People do want to see this stuff first. Hopefully, that is an honest skepticism and is something that we can work with, as opposed to the knee-jerk - I don't think government can do anything right attitude, which is probably there, but I don't think it is necessarily counts for all of the distrust.
Thank you, both. John, another question for you. There is an increasing use of telecommuting. Did your study address the impact of technology?
Technology obviously purveyed this entire discussion. That was part of it. The use of technology or the role of technology in allowing people to work at home and reducing travel demand was something that was mentioned as part of the overview and the introduction. We did frame these forums by talking about our overarching regional vision, the desire to reduce travel demand and reduce driving on the road, and spoke about a variety of ways in which we could do that including telecommuting. So that was addressed. Except for being a backdrop, it didn't play a more prominent role. I do notice, again, in reading through the transcripts of the discussions, that it came up a number of times. Why are not there more opportunities for us to work at home? Why do you have to tax us and toll us, why can't you help us out? Those kinds of immediate and personal comments really came of consistently during the discussions. People spoke about what seems to be a sense of lack of control over their lives. They have rigid work hours; they feel that they really don't have any choice except to drive. Telecommuting would be one potential way to get around that. People did talk about it. They talked about it more than we intended them to.
Thank you. To what extent were participants made aware of pay as you drive insurance? Would they be more likely to support congestion pricing if pay as you drive insurance was effective for the majority of motorists.
I think one of these things, it's just a truism, is if you talk about things that people know and have experienced, if you can tell them that the concept of congestion pricing and demand management is with us already, and this is just taking his concepts and extending them, that made it easier for people to understand. We did talk in the introduction presentations about pay as you drive insurance. We did not incorporate pay as you drive insurance is any of our scenarios, specifically. But we did mention that as a feature of congestion pricing that is sort of already with us, and folks may have heard about it. Just the idea of making them comfortable with the concept, and that it is logical and make sense and has immediate impact in people lives. That does play a role. I will be interested in looking through our discussion notes, to see if it was actually brought up, discussed, or highlighted in any way that would be illuminating. I am not actually sure of that. It is something good to look out for.
Thank you. Rob, are the four products you mentioned available on the WSDOT Website?
Yes. The address that I gave you links you to the project report. I am not sure the links are directly available on the site, but they are all in that it in the final report document.
Okay. Thank you. Rob, to what degree was the relatively high public support attributable to the fact that you already had congestion pricing in the region on SR 167?
That is a good question. It really started about the same time as we were going about thinking about 520. It was within a fairly short timeframe. It did gain the public's attention because the HOT lane was something new that was happening. At the same time, the discussion about 520 had been going on for one decade already. And that was the subject of intense media attention and lots of public outreach, a very robust public outreach program, at that time. Including design workshops about mitigation measures and a ton of things that have been engaging people on the project. I think, whether or not people like the 520 project, over time, they have to realize that something needs to happen there. You cannot just let the bridge sink. You have to do something about it, before it runs out of steam. I think that was the motivator. People just do not engage in questions about what is the best way of tolling, until they've been convinced they actually need the project you are talking about or the funding that you are talking about.
Okay. Were there dollar amounts or overall goals set for the anticipated toll revenues? Was it anticipated or required that the bridge improvements be paid for by the tolls?
This was something that was probably a lot of back-and-forth between a lot of folks at the legislative level. There was certainly a point where we settled in on wanting about $1 billion or somewhere in that range. The Legislature did have an amount in mind and made it clear what amount they were looking at. So, it was clear from the beginning that we had about a $4.7 billion project. The tolls wouldn't be able to pay for the whole amount. So, really, there was some understanding about how high tolls would have to be to achieve that. If you had a single bridge or a two bridge solution, what is the capacity for bonding and those sorts of things. So we reported all that back, and it did lead to the selection of the preferred one.
Okay. Next question is - tolling solutions can seriously impact local roadways and state roadways that were never intended to carry toll evasion. Did you examine impact on those roles and, if so, what were the results?
We are still doing that. We just started tolling in December this last year. Now I have to note, there aren't a lot of local arterials that parallel 520 across Lake Washington. There are some local arterials that feed in on both sides. I think the full report on what has happened to all of those is probably still forthcoming. We have looked at I 90 and we have looked at 522, which goes from the north end of the lake, fairly intensively. We have seen increases in traffic on I-90, but mostly increases in the duration of congestion, rather than the severity of congestion. I was it's probably a little less than we anticipated might have occurred. The other thing to note is that we meet regularly with traffic engineers in the local jurisdictions to try to monitor the situation.
Okay. Next question is - I agree that the public wants to know what they are getting, particularly new construction, just as Transportation Bonds did in the past. Are you also telling people the cost of future maintenance and reconstruction?
I think we are certainly including maintenance and preservation type costs in our financial planning. A requirement of any kind of toll financing is that you have covered that. We have to address how we get to the net revenues and what kind of expenses come out of the tolls, first, to maintain the facilities and make sure there is still something floating there to drive across. To the extent that it is an important part of the public communication, I think that would be not the first thing that people engage with. One of the things I've noticed, you don't usually get four hours with anyone to convince them of this stuff, between all the other things they are paying attention to. It's a little hard to take people and sit them down and give them a graduate level course in transportation finance. Probably, the O&M costs and how those affect the net are things that most people do not pay much attention to. But they are certainly things addressed in our report.
Bill, if you have a follow-up, just type it in. The next question is for both of you. Do we have a quantitative measure of the point congestion is so bad that the public is willing to consider congestion pricing?
John Swanson and Rob Fellows
No. Maybe we just wait for that to happen, if that were the case.
Does things getting bad help you in terms of getting there, or does it convince you more and more that government can't do anything about congestion. I really think the fact is that one of the reasons the public doesn't have a very high expectation for us to succeed in controlling congestion, is because for so many years we have not had any pricing and we've basically had an unpriced environment that allows congestion. We talk a lot about congestion, but we don't really ever solve it, without really being able to bring pricing or some other more robust approach to it, that is my sense. I do not think people get motivated by how bad things are to trust you to do something about it more.
Also, the worse it gets, the less we actually can do about it. It's doing public involvement, it's about transportation. Generally, we are put in the position of telling people that these solutions at hand are actually just going to make things less worse. It's true with the funding situation as well. We are in such a hole, right now, that even if we have tremendous increases in funding, we are not going to be able to get to where we need to be. That is something that people usually do not want to hear or think about.
Thank you both. Rob, a question for you. What percentage of total project cost will be generated from tolling congestion pricing for the 520 project.
It will generate about 1 to 1.2 billion of the total. The total is about $4.65 billion. It's less than a quarter. Again, the bridge itself costs about 1 billion, so you could say it pays for the full cost of the bridge, roughly. I have not done the actual calculations. With the approaches on both sides getting to the bridge, a lot of reconstruction is needed. That is fairly expensive.
Okay. For both of you, did either of your surveys or focus groups target the trucking industry for their specific responses to toll roads. If so, were their response is different than the general population?
We did not do that on this particular project. Although WSDOT and PSRC did work together, to generate a freight background paper for the transportation 2040 report, which is on the website. But it was not part of this project.
For our project, we tried to target some initial research with the freight industry, and we just frankly had a hard time getting them there. We did talk with business leaders about tolling, and they were generally supportive of it. There are different voices within the freight industry, as well. There are questions about downtown delivery and then goods movement through the region and across the region. We tried to get those voices involved in framing the study. We did have people participate in our citizens groups who were tradespeople. We made a point of making sure that we had some of those folks involved, because we were told how important it was to get people who actually use the roads during the day for making appointments on time would be a really important factor. So we did some special outreach to get some of those people in the discussion groups. I don't know that we were able to isolate their particular interests or their input. But they were in the mix.
Okay. Thanks. John, can you provide us with the opportunities for demand management approaches you mentioned.
We have a variety of programs that look at demand management. Demand management is a concept that we pursue. I think I had mentioned telecommuting as an example of demand management. If that is the kind of thing that we are talking about?
Oh, demand management at the forums. What did we describe? I'm sorry, now I understand what you're referring to. In the set up at the forums, we did talk about the fact, generally, what is causing congestion. One of the factors is that people are driving a lot. They're driving at the same times of day and there are various techniques that we can use to reduce that demand. It can range from really fundamental issues like land-use, which we discussed very briefly, to short-term and more immediate programs like telecommuting. We did not get into a whole lot of detail on those things. It was mostly just framed in the overarching concept of the desire and the regional policy to promote reduction in driving.
Bill if there's anything further you want to know, type it in there. Rob, another question for you, can you say more on the "peer review" on the panel for 520. What was the purpose, the role, and the effectiveness, in hindsight?
We are just getting into toll planning, here. One of the questions is how much can we trust your estimates, your toll estimates. Because really, you're trying to figure out how tolls are going to affect people when you don't have anything in the region to calibrate it against. The peer review panel was to increase our comfort level with the modeling procedures we were using to look at other cities and other places that do toll modeling, and make sure the approaches that we were taking to that were appropriate. Everything was new, right? Technology was new. Especially the open road technology we were talking about where we didn't have tollbooths. That is brand-new here, and in many other places. A lot of this effort was trying to convince ourselves and convince the public and convince legislators that they understood what was going to happen. We tried to paint a picture and make sure that they were comfortable with the technical work we were producing in the financing work we were doing. That is available on the website, as well, if you want to look further into it. Again, go into the document and there are links within the document.
A follow-up to that, did the panel help with comfort?
Yes. We do that a lot. We look to outside experts from other parts of the country to come in and reassure everyone that we are not out on a limb all by ourselves. That we have talked to folks in the industry and are getting the best advice we can.
All right. Thank you. Let's see, it looks like one additional question coming in. We are almost out of time. But we have one more coming in. No. Someone giving a compliment that it was a nice presentation.
We will go ahead and end for today. John and Rob thank you both for the great presentations. We had a lot of good questions. Thank you everyone in attendance, as well. The next webinar will be in July. It is not yet open for registration. I will send out an e-mail once the topic is determined and registration is available. The recording and presentations from today will be posted online in the next two weeks or so. I will send an e-mail out to everyone who registered to let you know when they are available. What that, we will end for today. Thank you everybody. Have a good rest of the day.