Adeel Lari, Director, Innovative Finance (SLPP), Humphrey School of Public Affairs
Conversion of high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes to high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes has become a relatively common managed lanes technique now employed in cities across the United States. HOT lanes are created by developing a pricing system for existing HOV lanes that allow single occupancy vehicles to gain access to HOV lanes by paying a fee. Conversion of existing general purpose lanes to toll lanes or HOT lane operations, however, has not yet won public support as the perception persists that these "free" lanes have already been paid for and such conversions are a take-away. Focus groups were held in Minnesota to understand what policies, conditions, designs and operational characteristics could be considered that may satisfy concerns about general purpose lane adaptations to optional toll lanes or Flexible and Efficient Express (FEE) Lanes. FEE Lanes envision all users, except transit, paying a toll during peak-periods, with the lane reverting back to "free" operation outside of the peaks. Three configurations of FEE lanes were presented and a toll credit system was offered as a means to compensate users who may view the conversion as a take-away.
Participants liked what they have already seen working, which is one priced lane on I-394 MnPASS, but were also concerned about user safety and equity. The credit system, which attempts to address user equity, was a source of confusion for many focus group participants. Although some participants seemed to like the idea of getting the credits to use FEE lanes, there were numerous concerns about logistics of credit management and distribution. These findings highlight the need for increased education and marketing about road pricing options which can assist in building support for a variety of pricing options, such as FEE lanes.