Aug 23, 2008
Published in: New Geography, Jan. 8, 2010, p. 1-8
Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2009
In Los Angeles traffic congestion is broadly dispersed, the pattern is particularly intense between downtown Los Angeles and the Westside. California lacks the resources to engage in extensive road building and repairs which are short-term remedies at best. To achieve lasting traffic relief, it will be necessary to manage the demand for travel through pricing reforms (e.g., congestion tolls) that increase the cost of driving and parking in the busiest corridors and areas during peak travel hours. Other measures--better transit service, ridesharing programs, traffic signal synchronization, and the like--can complement pricing, but are not on their own sufficient to stem current and projected future traffic congestion. This article discusses the rationale for pricing strategies as an option for reducing traffic congestion. Only pricing resist the effects of triple convergence. By increasing the cost of driving or parking in the busiest areas or corridors during the busiest times of day, pricing measures manage the demand for peak-hour travel, in turn reducing congestion. Once traffic flow improves, the prices remain in place, thus deterring excessive convergence on the newly freed capacity. Pricing strategies offer two additional benefits: it generates revenue to support needed transportation investments, and it enables more efficient use of existing road capacity, because roads on which traffic flows smoothly can carry far more vehicles per lane per hour than roads snarled in stop-and-go congestion. It is useful to think of pricing as a means of managing peak-hour travel demand rather than reducing it. In Los Angeles pricing is especially compelling due to the specific interactions between population density and travel behavior. There is a confluence of three density-related factors that combine to explain the severity of congestion in Los Angeles: (1) congestion is likely to rise with increased population density; (2) Los Angeles is much denser than its peers at the regional level; and (3) Los Angeles exhibits a surprisingly high level of per-capita VMT relative to its density. The third of these underscores the importance of pricing strategies as a means of managing the demand for automotive travel in Los Angeles.