Guardrails on Priced Lanes: Protecting Vulnerable Populations While Promoting Efficiency through Congestion Road Pricing

Research Team: Michael Manville (lead) and Gregory Pierce

University: UCLA

Problem Statement: Congestion road pricing is the most promising tool that planners and policymakers have for combatting highway congestion and related problems including vehicle crashes and air pollution. But congestion pricing also raises concerns about fairness. While pricing can improve efficiency — by charging more for roads in times when more people want to use them — low-income drivers’ risk being severely burdened if roads are tolled. And because people of color are disproportionately low-income, tolls risk becoming a regressive burden that is uneven along racial lines. Governments across California are considering congestion pricing in various forms, and all are wrestling with the associated equity implications.

Project Description: This project will examine the fairness implications of congestion pricing and propose policy mechanisms to mitigate potentially unfair outcomes. The project will first identify the broad contours of travel by vulnerable populations in California’s major metropolitan areas. It will then examine particular forms of congestion pricing, and evaluate how they might affect equity. Finally, and most importantly, it will draw on models used by public utilities to illustrate ways to implement congestion pricing while still protecting low-income travelers, for instance, though revenue distribution to vulnerable populations.

Status: In Progress

Budget: $77,927

Project Partner(s): California Department of Transportation