9/6/2013Georgia: Report Finds Toll Lanes A Favorite Of The Rich
A study of Georgia High Occupancy Toll lanes found they are most often chosen by the wealthy.
Atlanta, Georgia's high occupancy toll (HOT) project on Interstate 85 has become a favorite way for the wealthy to travel, according to a report released last week by the Southern Environmental Law Center. The liberal activist group is concerned about the proliferation of tolling in the state, as plans are underway to impose tolls on three more area freeways in light of a state policy mandating tolls on all new highway lanes.
"Social equity concerns have been raised that the so-called 'Lexus Lanes' are used primarily by higher income drivers, but no one has examined data from Atlanta's High Occupancy Toll lanes to test this assertion," the group's report explains.
Researchers looked at four months' worth of toll road transaction data and calculated the number of drivers residing in high-income neighborhoods and how many in poorer parts of the city. It compared the transaction against Census Bureau data regarding the median income for each zip code identified in the 1.2 million transactions examined. Zip codes in the region range from a median income of $102,635 to $43,770.
"The analysis revealed a statistically significant correlation between median income and per capita HOT lane use for the zip codes examined," the researchers explained.
The report concedes that multiple income levels can live within the same zip code and suggests a more detailed analysis would map driver addresses against more granular Census block data. A more thorough examination would also consider variables such as distance to the lanes and likely destinations as factors in whether the lanes are used. The Southern Environmental Law Center is upset that the Federal Highway Administration promised such a study in 2010 but has never produced one.
The I-85 toll lanes, which opened in 2011, charge up to $7 per trip, depending on traffic levels. The SELC recommends limiting state funding of HOT lane projects.
"Equity concerns are lessened when the cost of a premium service is borne exclusively by those that elect to use it," the report states. "But the cost of constructing and maintaining managed lanes greatly exceeds the revenue generated by their tolls, and the remaining cost is paid for with public funds collected from all Georgia taxpayers. As a result, drivers who cannot afford to use the lanes or choose not to do so are nonetheless paying for these projects. Capping the availability of non-toll, public funding for future managed lane projects will make them more equitable by limiting the subsidization of users by non-users."
A copy of the report is available in a 550k PDF file at the source link below.