I recently talked to a couple transportation experts at UT about what the city could do to really reduce congestion. Both of them suggested the real game-changer would be congestion-based pricing.
Engineering Prof. Kara Kockelman, is a big proponent of credit-based congestion pricing. The idea is not only would tolls throughout the city charge drivers based on the congestion, but everybody would get a certain amount of transportation credits to use. So everybody would get, say, $30 a month that could be used to either pay the tolls or purchase transit. Once you’ve exhausted your credits, of course, the tolls would come out of your own pocket.
Dynamic pricing already exists on a lot of major roads, including the MoPac express lane here. But there are very few examples of congestion-based pricing across entire cities or regions. New York City’s plan to charge vehicles for driving in the most congested parts of Manhattan is a step in that direction, but I don’t believe the pricing will change based on traffic conditions.
What definitely has never been put in place is the credits model that Kockelman discussed. That’s a pretty radical idea that would face major political barriers. As Kockelman herself noted, one of the challenges comes from the overlapping political jurisdictions involved in a regional transportation system. Who gets access to the credits? Just Austinites? What about commuters from outside of town?
Anyway, interesting idea.