Ensure effective public and stakeholder outreach in order to garner support for HOT lanes.
Texas and California's experience with deploying High Occupancy Toll lanes.
Houston,Texas,United States; Orange County,California,United States; San Diego,California,United States
Since the implementation of HOT lanes requires an initial outlay of public funds and creates an additional highway toll, ensuring public support for HOT projects is crucial. Although as motorists, the public regularly experiences highway congestion, as taxpayers they require assurance that HOT lanes will alleviate congestion in a cost-effective and equitable manner. Equity concerns are particularly salient for both political decision makers and the public art large because HOT lanes are often perceived as a premium service available only to those who are more likely to afford it. Thus, a crucial task for transportation officials is to stress that HOT lanes can alleviate congestion for all motorists by diverting traffic from non-HOT lanes.
Recent experience with HOT lanes demonstrates some specific actions that agencies can take to maximize public support for HOT lanes:
- Educate the public about the potential future benefits of HOT lanes. HOT lanes' market oriented approach to allocating roadway space may be a new concept to the public, and education is needed to distinguish HOT facility user fees from ordinary tolls. Agencies should stress that HOT tolls purchase premium traffic service, reliable trip times and time savings.
- Educate the public about electronic toll collection (ECT) and variable user fees. The public must also be educated about how HOT lanes operate and how user fees are paid. Privacy concerns regarding ECT must be addressed. The public should be made aware that fees will vary depending on time of day or traffic levels and will be displayed on variable message signs prior to HOT lane entry.
- Collect usage data to alleviate concerns about equity. The four existing projects in California and Texas show that individuals in all income groups utilize HOT lanes. Detailed statistical analysis of the SR 91 Express Lanes in Orange County, CA showed that although higher income travelers use HOT lanes more frequently, lower income travelers also utilize the lanes and approximately three quarters of users at a given time are lower and middle-income travelers. HOT lanes are chosen by travelers of all income groups based on the value of a given trip. In addition, HOT lanes divert traffic from non-toll lanes and alleviate congestion for all motorists. Surveys in Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN, Lee County, FL and Seattle, WA show that once people are informed about HOT lanes, the majority support HOT projects and show a willingness to pay to use HOT lanes.
- Identify stakeholders and communicate with them on a regular basis. Create regular communication channels with all potential communities, associations, agencies, media and groups that may have interest in the HOT project. Use a variety of channels to distribute communication including e-mail lists, newsletters, public meetings, project websites and telephone information services. Some agencies also use citizen's advisory committees.
For example, stakeholders included in the planning process for the SR 91 HOT lanes included the County Board of Supervisors, FHWA, Environmental Defense, the Reason Foundation, the Orange County and Riverside Country Transportation Commissions, Caltrans, state legislators, local mayors and council representatives, and the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association. A project newsletter was produced throughout all the planning stages and kept the public informed.
- Communicate with elected officials early and often to ensure political support. Political support helps to build consensus for HOT lane projects and to address equity concerns. Conversely, the lack of political support can hamper the implementation of HOT projects. For example, in 2001, the Governor of Maryland spoke out against a proposed HOT project, which then failed to proceed beyond the initial study phase. In contrast, an elected official championed the I-15 San Diego HOT lanes though out the entire project. Elected officials should be consulted about the projects’ impact on public revenues and spending, financing scenarios, disposition of toll revenues, effect on constituents and competing transportation needs.
- Identify a vocal public figure(s) to champion the HOT project. Such a public figure can be an elected official, a community leader or private sector leader that effectively communicates a rational for supporting the project. Agencies should proactively seek project champions. For example, environmental groups may support HOT lane projects if they are shown to reduce vehicle emissions by alleviating congestion. Other potential supporters are rideshare agencies, transit agencies, taxi associations and employer groups. Some projects may require multiple champions to address different audiences or for different stages of the project.
- Maintain public outreach throughout all phases of the project. The California Private Transportation Company (CPTC), the private company that developed and operated the SR 91 HOT facility in Orange County, successfully maintained public communication through all phases of the project. Preliminary studies assessed traveler’s reaction to variable pricing in the early stages of planning. Initial public outreach was also combined with surveys that ascertained projected usage and willingness to pay for use of the lanes. Once the decision was made to launch the HOT project, project sponsors reached out to national media and public policy makers. A mix of media, including newsletters, radio, direct mail and signage along the SR 91 publicized the coming facility. Once the lanes opened, the facility operators have surveyed customers every year to determine customer satisfaction and to identify potential areas for improvement.
This experience suggests that well executed public outreach can increase the chance that an HOT lane project will succeed. An HOT project supported by the public and elected officials is more likely to be initiated, funded, and implemented as scheduled. A project with significant and continuous public outreach faces less risk of termination after funds have been spent on initial planning phases. Informing the public and involving all stakeholders in early stages of implementation will increase the chance that an HOT lane project succeeds and will lead to higher customer satisfaction. A publicly supported HOT lane is also more likely to be used by motorists, lead to higher customer satisfaction, alleviate more congestion and raise more revenue.
Average User Rating
congestion pricing, value pricing, variable road pricing, managed lanes, electronic toll collection, ETC, smart tags, EZ Pass, E-Z Pass, EZPass