Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Tollway Charging Reduces Use

At the beginning of the year, the State of Illinois tollway authority doubled the price of tolls on state tollways for vehicles not using automated, pre-paid transponders (I-PASS). These tollways are primarily situated on the urban and exurban fringe of Chicago and act as major carriers of suburban traffic.

Today's Chicago Tribune reports that February's tollway truck traffic was down 9.6% from a year earlier and passenger traffic decreased 3.2%.

By raising tolls for people paying by cash, the tollway authority is trying to encourage people to switch to the I-PASS which, they argue, decreases congestion and minimizes the impact on air quality. Vehicles equipped with an I-PASS can pass through the toll plazas without significantly reducing their speed, diminishing long queues.

The decrease in tollway traffic as an indicator of reduced congestion should be looked at skeptically, however. Much of the reduction can be attributed to vehicles using alternative, non-toll routes that simply displace traffic flows.

While the I-PASS program may be increasing revenue for the tollway system, it is doing very little to address regional mobility issues. It is creating congestion problems for cash-strapped municipalities who now have to contend with increased traffic flows and it is rather inequitable for those citizens who need to travel throughout the region but can't afford to loan the tollway authority money--which is essentially what the pre-paid I-PASS program demands from consumers.

(Linked to Outside the Beltway)