Are you being served? Reserving your space on the roadway

By Mary Ebeling

For transportation professionals focusing on improving automobile commute times, the idea of enabling a driver to reserve space on a roadway at specific times may seem too good to be true—and it may be.  Such a scheme may be too complicated to implement—at least right now.

While researchers assert that much of the technology needed to achieve such a goal already exists, some of these new tools have yet to be fully tested or accepted by the motoring public. While advances in ITS such as “intersection managers,” pay-as-you-drive, open road tolling/EZPass, and variable rate congestion pricing make lane reservations a realistic possibility, the general public has taken issue with some of these strategies. Expanding road tolling and pay-as-you-drive have been met with particular skepticism.

If one accepts that we are close to having the technological ability to implement a policy of pricing roads using a reservation system, the next question becomes, “Should we?” Already questions have been raised about the fairness of allowing access to quick, comfortable options to those willing to pay for a premier experience, while others are stuck on deteriorating highways and public transit. Is reserving a space on a particular road going too far?

The equity and access questions could be addressed by implementing a road reservation program that leaves some lanes free, much like existing HOT lane systems.  Given the complications in launching a reservation scheme, this type of system-wide dynamic road pricing is likely a few years off. And, if current trends in VMT reduction continue, the significant investment required to implement such a program might be unnecessary for managing automobile congestion.

Mary Ebeling is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.