Long run changes in driver behavior due to variable tolls



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Texas A&M University


As many variable pricing projects are still in the implementation stage, long-run driver responses to the variable tolls are largely unknown. This research examined the long-run changes in driver behavior in an existing variable pricing project in Lee County, Florida. Using empirical evidence, it was found that over time the price elasticities of demand on the Lee County toll bridges have decreased from -0.42 to - 0.11 (Midpoint Memorial Bridge) and from -0.31 to -0.06 (Cape Coral Bridge) during the early morning discount period. The elasticities have decreased, but to a lesser extent, during the late morning and early afternoon discount periods. A discount period volume spreading ratio was also developed to analyze these changes. The results from this analysis confirmed the elasticity results. In addition to the empirical analysis of travel patterns discussed above, a telephone survey of drivers was conducted. The survey results indicated that certain driver characteristics such as higher frequency of trips, commute trip purpose, full-time employment status, more people in the household, higher education, and age between 25-34 years, were all indicators that the participant may increase his or her variable pricing usage over time. Other characteristics, including being retired and having a household income less than $16,000, were indicators that the driver may not increase variable pricing participation. Binary logit and semiparametric models were also developed to examine socio-economic and commute characteristics that may influence a driver increasing his or her participation in a variable pricing program. The results from these two variable toll bridges in Lee County indicated a decrease in variable toll price elasticity over time. However, these results may not be typical for variable pricing projects. Factors such as alternative routes, different traveler demographics, traffic congestion levels, and size of the toll discount may influence the results obtained from other variable pricing projects. However, the methodology developed in this research can be applied to other projects in order to determine those toll price elasticities of demand.