Will HOT Lane Usage Decrease When Drivers Realize How Little Time They're Saving?

Perhaps it's not surprising to learn that HOT lane usage increases when prices increase. Higher prices, after all, signal congestion up ahead. What is surprising is the amount drivers are willing to pay to shave mere minutes off their commute.

A recent study of HOT lane usage in Minnesota along the I-394 and I-35 corridors by Michael Janson and David Levinson of the University of Minnesota [PDF] found that, counter-intuitively, rising toll costs actually attracted more commuters based on the assumption of "downstream congestion." But, writes Eric Jaffe, "the price of HOT lanes may not be a reliable signal of traffic levels at all."   

"For all the money spent on tolls during the period studied by Janson and Levinson, drivers only saved between 1 and 3 minutes on the MnPASS HOT lanes, which run for about 12 miles on I-394 and 16 on I-35," he points out.

"The disconnect between toll-cost and time-saved is pretty extreme. While the Minnesota Department of Transportation expects people to place the value of saving an hour of time at $15, the drivers studied by Janson and Levinson paid the equivalent of $60 to $120 an hour. And this situation isn't unique to Minnesota: in metro Seattle, on the SR-167 HOT lanes, drivers are paying on the order of $22 to save an hour, even though they express a willingness to pay only $9." 

"In other words, one reason HOT lane drivers might be willing to pay such high tolls is that they think they're saving more time in traffic than they actually are."

Full Story: HOT Lanes Are Even More Popular When They're Expensive

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