Consumer response to road pricing: Operational and demographic effects
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The High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes on Atlanta, Georgia’s radial I-85 had long been providing sub-optimal throughput in the peak traffic hours, as the two-person occupancy requirement allowed the lanes to become heavily congested. The Georgia Department of Transportation converted 15.5 miles of HOV 2+ lanes to High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes, one in each direction on I-85. The lanes use dynamic value pricing to set toll levels based on the volume and average speed of traffic in the lanes. The goal of this research was to investigate the responses to toll lane pricing and the factors that appear to inform lane choice decisions, as well as examining values of travel time savings and toll price elasticity for users of the Express Lanes. This study of the metropolitan Atlanta I-85 Express Lanes operates at the microscopic level to examine the impact of demographic characteristics, congestion levels, and pricing on users’ decisions to use or not use the I-85 Express Lanes. The dissertation examined the value of travel time savings distributions across income segments. The differences in these distributions among lower, medium, and higher income households were marginal at best. The results did not indicate that higher income households had the highest value of travel time savings results, as may have been expected. The modeling work performed here provided a number of insights into toll lane use. The determinants of lane choice decision-making in the morning peak had notable differences from the determinants of the afternoon peak. The initial analysis involved models which were estimated across three different income segments to examine differences in decision making between low, medium, and higher income households. The results indicated that the parameters were largely consistent across the three segments. Further segmenting the households showed that lane choice determinants varied more within the ‘Higher’ income segment than across the original three-segment structure. In particular, the five-segment models illustrated lower elasticities with regard to corridor segment counts and toll levels for the highest-income households in the sample, as well as higher household income level elasticities for afternoon trips by that same cohort. The research was among the first in the available literature to use revealed preference lane use data for both the toll lane users and the unpriced general purpose lane users. The use of household level marketing data, rather than census or survey data, was another unique characteristic of this research. The analysis of value of travel time savings with a demographic component that looks at household income has not yet been seen in the literature; similarly, the findings regarding differing behavior among very high income households appear to be unseen in the existing literature. The results from this analysis, such as willingness-to-pay values for different population segments, will be useful inputs to the decisions surrounding future HOT implementations in the Atlanta region. The use of new data sources, the evaluation of those types of data sources, and the application of methods that have previously been unused in this field make up the primary contributions of this dissertation.