Research Rest-Stop │Incentivizing Congestion Relief

Worldwide, many cities have established a Congestion Pricing system where drivers are charged a fee to drive into the busiest areas of the city.  This program, although effective at reducing urban congestion, is very unpopular with drivers.  In fact, a congestion pricing proposal (that would charge cars $8) for New York City was turned down in 2008.

A professor of computer science at Stanford University, Dr. Balaji Prabhakr, has advanced a novel method to address urban congestion.  Dr. Prabhakr proposes that commuters be incentivized for traveling during off-peak times – a similar theory to congestion pricing, except that instead of penalizing commuters to drive during peak hours, commuters will be rewarded for driving during off-peak hours. 

Dr. Prabhkr’s most recent project is named Capri for Congestion and Parking Relief Incentives.  This project is based on similar studies and research done by Dr. Prabhkr, including a Singapore study that showed a decrease in congestion by 10%.  Everyday, students, faculty, and staff who have volunteered to join the project will be counted when they enter and exit the parking facilities at Stanford University.  Those who travel before and after rush-hour earn credits, which can be used to win cash prizes.

The effectiveness of using incentives compared to deterrents is still debated among transportation experts.  Some argue that incentives do not alter travel behavior enough and others argue that incentives, unlike congestion pricing, are beneficial because they are not mandatory programs. Dr. Prabhakar notes that both Congestion Pricing and Incentives are not mutually exclusive.  Both systems are tools for comprehensive congestion reduction.

It is unlikely that congestion pricing will be established in Philadelphia.  Could incentivizing off-peak travel benefit the city?  A congestion incentive zone in Center City and University City could certainly benefit all commuters.  Even if only 10% of commuters participated, during rush hour, a 10% reduction on the Schuykill Expressway would make a big difference.

Interested? Want to know more?

Click here for a recent New York Times article discussing congestion incentives.                                                                                                                         

Click here for information on the Capri program.                                              

Click here for other research by Dr. Balaji Prabhakar.

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