The Price of a Trip Not Taken

The Eno Transportation Institute released a new policy brief on transportation demand programs called “They Pay Farmers Not to Grow Crops, Don’t They?” Putting a twist on the idea of using price to influence demand, the piece theorizes: “What if, instead of making everyone pay more, we paid a small number of people NOT to travel during peak periods?” The article then surveys four examples where travelers are paid to avoid rush hour travel.

Using price to influence demand is not a novel idea. Neither is subsidizing certain types of travel: the Clean Air Campaign’s Georgia Commute Options program is built around exactly this type of incentive.  But the Eno policy paper shows how inexpensive it can be to dampen, displace, or otherwise influence the rush hour demand on our roads.  According to the Eno paper, Washington DOT’s Trip Reduction Performance Program was able to avoid rush hour travel at less than $1 per trip.

Atlanta’s current regional plans don’t put much money behind transportation demand measures.  Only 4% of the funding in Plan 2040, metro Atlanta’s long-term transportation plan, is slated for TDM programs.

Plan 2040 RTP's Investment by Area

Plan 2040 RTP’s Investment by Area

Georgia’s Statewide Strategic Transportation Plan touts the merits of demand management but stops short of setting measurable targets, and GDOT’s Performance Dashboard  doesn’t track the State’s success in reducing trips.

The Eno policy paper highlights an important question: what if it is cheaper to pay drivers not to drive than to build the infrastructure to accommodate them?  TDM is not the solution to every problem but, as the Eno policy paper and other research suggests, it is a viable strategy and can be particularly cost-competitive in urbanized areas where the trips are many and new projects are exorbitantly expensive.

As Georgia begins revisiting the Statewide Strategic Transportation Plan and touts its “business case” for transportation investments, TDM strategies must take a greater role as a potentially cost-effective way to meet Georgia’s transportation needs. Comparing the cost of new capacity projects against the cost of avoiding that same demand will give us a clearer picture of a project’s cost and benefits, and probably save some tax dollars in the process.

 

Newest I-85 HOT Lane Numbers

As reported by various media outlets, the I-85 HOT lanes have now hit the $8 mark twice since Labor Day.  These new highs come shortly after SRTA’s most recent release of I-85 HOT lane data, which shows some interesting trends in price, use, and revenue.

Monthly High Toll Price

Monthly High Toll Prices

SRTA’s highest toll graph shows a steady month-to-month increase in peak toll prices, with morning tolls consistently exceed those in the evening.  This data differs from SRTA’s usual monthly reports, which contain each day’s average toll price.  The $8 tolls hit this week are a 15% increase over the highest toll price in this chart, meaning that peak tolls have increased more in the past two months than in the preceding seven.

SRTA also offers new information on how the lanes are performing compared to projections.

Traffic and REvenue Projections for I-85 HOT Lanes

Traffic and Revenue Projections

This second graph shows the HOT lanes’ actual performance in red and projected performance in blue. With respect to the number of vehicles using the lanes, the project has exceeded projections since it opened. With respect to revenue, the project under-performed expectations in 2012 but has exceeded them in FY2013. The revenue projections cited here are actually revised numbers; the project’s initial revenue projections suggested it could make over $6 million in its opening year.

It is also important to understand that revenue projections are not operating costs.  It cost SRTA $3.8 million to operate the HOT lanes in their first year, so the project was expected to lose money when it opened. If the operating costs have remained constant in year two, the project continues to operate at a loss.

Other assorted conclusions from the SRTA presentation:

  • 30% of drivers use the lanes 4 or more times per week;
  • 70% of drivers use the lanes less than 4 times per week;
  • Average trip length is 9 miles;
  • Average toll is $1.43;
  • 94% of drivers pay less than $5.00; and
  • 14% of drivers use the lanes toll free.

The SRTA presentation can be found here.

TOD Progress

In a recent letter to TOD stakeholders, MARTA provided an update on recent developments in station area developments.

The King Memorial Station request for qualifications/request for proposals (RFQ/RFP) has been successful. After issuing an RFQ on July 15, we received a number of qualified responses by the August 15 deadline. MARTA staff is currently evaluating those responses and is in the process of selecting a developer, or development team. A final recommendation will be presented to our Board of Directors for approval before the end of the year.

At Avondale Station, MARTA is partnering with the City of Decatur to develop the station’s seven‐acre, south parking lot consistent with the vision of the 2002 Livable Centers Initiative plan. To maximize our resources, the City of Decatur released an RFQ on August 22; a preproposal conference is scheduled for September 10 and responses are due September 19.

These proposals are part of the agency’s goal to have five new TOD projects underway in the next two years.

Related documents include MARTA’s recent  letter, the RFQ documents for the King Memorial Station, and the station area plans for King Memorial and Avondale Stations.

TIGER Trail

Atlanta Beltline Inc. announced that they have been awarded $18 million through U.S. DOT’s TIGER program to build an additional segment in Southwest Atlanta.

Created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program offers discretionary grants for transportation projects that “will have a significant impact on the Nation, a metropolitan area, or a region.” The Beltline award was made under the fifth round of grants; Atlanta obtained a previous grant under TIGER II to fund the downtown streetcar project. TIGER grants are awarded based on six selection criteria:

  • State of Good Repair: whether the project improves the condition of existing transportation facilities and systems, with particular emphasis on projects that minimize life-cycle costs and improve resiliency;
  • Economic Competitiveness: whether the project contributes to the economic competitiveness of the U.S. over the medium- to long-term by improving the national transportation system while creating and preserving jobs;
  • Livability: whether the project increases transportation choices and access to transportation services;
  • Environmental Sustainability: whether the project improves energy efficiency, reduces dependence on oil, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and benefits the environment;
  • Safety: whether the project improves the safety of U.S. transportation facilities and systems; and
  • Project Readiness: whether the project is ready to proceed rapidly upon receipt of a TIGER grant.

Given that the program is intended to stimulate economic recovery, the final criterion receives particular weight to ensure that the money is spent quickly.

The grant will fund less than half of the $43 million project cost. Up to $20 million in state, local, and private funding have been committed to the project, as have $5 million in federal formula funds.

Images of the area look strikingly similar to the “before” images of the Eastside Trail.

Overhead View of Southwest Trail Corridor Near Lee St SW

Southwest Beltline Corridor near Lee St SW

Southwest Beltline Corridor near Street

Southwest Beltline Corridor near Lawson Street

More details on the proposal can be found in ABI’s TIGER grant application. SELC’s letter analyzing the program criteria and supporting the application is here.