Intelligent pricing: new knowledge leads to win-win strategies
Paying for using the road is a topic known to cause a major controversy. The idea of tollgates on freeways raises a fierce opposition and so far politicians have hesitated to opt for this flexible control mechanism in the road transport system. Yet, in theory pricing seems appealing, especially if you choose for more intelligent pricing strategies. On the one hand the road authority might achieve its goals by increasing revenues or improving the network’s throughput. On the other hand road users will have to adapt their behaviour in order to cope with road pricing measures. Question then is what the net effects are. And, to make things more complicated, not all road users are the same: some are more sensitive for costs, travel times or travel time reliability than others. Research by TU Delft, Goudappel Coffeng and TNO focused on travel behaviour, methods to determine optimal pricing, and methods to develop more reliable road networks. It demonstrated that, in contrast to the common understanding in the media, intelligent pricing strategies can lead to a win-win situation. Car commuters were asked for their preferences given various pricing strategies and expectations for travel time reliability. Based on these findings, the impact of road pricing on route choice, departure time choice, and mode choice has been analysed and framed in a mathematical forecasting and traffic simulation model.
Results of these models and large scale case studies clearly showed that time-dependent pricing proves to be beneficial for road authorities, a finding which is interestingly rather independent of the objective they want to realise. In cases with higher prices during the morning rush hour,
travellers adapt mostly their departure time choice. They tend to depart early to reduce the price they pay. The benefits they receive are shorter travel times and a better travel time reliability. The explanation for this result is rather simple. If every road user would try to reach a major destination more or less at the same time, which is what is happening every morning, it is obvious there would be a major queue. However, if only a small group (say 5 to 10%) would be willing to adapt their behaviour (e.g., change departure time, route, or switch to public transport), the queue itself and therefore the delay as well would reduce drastically. And that is exactly what intelligent pricing strategies can achieve.
A practical example is the concept Spitsmijden (peak avoidance). The idea of rewarding people if they are willing to avoid the peak has already been applied in practice. The projects in Rotterdam, Arnhem-Nijmegen, Utrecht, and several smaller projects with temporary roadworks on bridges, attracted enough participants to substantially reduce congestion. Another option could be that car drivers are rewarded with a lower insurance premium if they opt for using safer roads. Again a possible win-win situation: higher traffic safety and lower insurance costs. And there are more options to be developed in the future!