On Monday, Virgina began imposing flexible tolls on the I-66 stretch between the Beltway and Washington, DC. I-66 is one of the most congested roads in the nation during rush hour and the goal of these tolls was to have drivers look for alternative routes so that the interstate remained relatively free-flowing for those who needed to get into the city quicker.
Lo and behold, it worked:
Traffic moved smoothly throughout the morning, and WTOP’s traffic center reported that the number of drivers on I-66 declined compared to typical Monday morning volume.
“There were no delays inside the Beltway; that’s the point of congestion pricing — to keep the carpools and paying solo drivers moving. As demand goes up, the price does too,” said WTOP’s traffic reporter Dave Dildine.
VDOT reported that the average speed on I-66 during the morning rush hour was 57 mph, up from 37 mph at the same time a year ago.
The George Washington Parkway absorbed the brunt of the traffic, with Virginia Route 123 and U.S. 50 picking up extra drivers as well.
As price rises, quantity demanded falls as people seek substitutes. Those who are willing to pay the higher price are those who value the resource most highly.
There has been a backlash, of course. No one wants to pay a $40 toll one-way. There have already been calls to cap the tolls. How does the state respond?
“If we don’t get the tolling right, all we’re going to do is clog up those lanes again, and so that’s why the algorithm is multifaceted. It may change, we’ll study it. But in terms of moving traffic, it looks like it’s doing its job,” [Virginia Transportation Secretary] Aubrey Layne said.
“I know all the publicity is ‘Oh, $40,’ but the whole idea is for the person to make a rational decision. ‘Is it worth [it for] me to pay this to use it or is another method better?’ If you start limiting that, you impact the entire network,” Layne said of requests to cap tolls or make other dramatic changes.
Price goes up, quantity demanded falls. You put a price ceiling on the market, you “impact the entire network.”
Good to see some Econ 101 knowledge on the part of the Transportation Secretary.