Friday, 22 July 2011

California toll roads hit by decline in demand

The LA Times reports that usage of Orange County’s toll road/toll lane network has dropped, apparently due to people being less willing to pay for the time savings that the roads offer. Comparing 2007 to 2010, usage of the San Joaquin toll road declined by 19%, whereas usage of the Foothill and Eastern toll roads declined by 17%. The 91 Express Lanes also had a decline in usage, but has had usage partly recover as of late. The most recent attempt to change this has been a “raffle” with prizes of credit to toll accounts, to attract users.

Whilst people are being more prudent about whether to spend money on saving time, compared to other expenditure, it is also likely that the time savings offered have reduced, because with declining travel patterns, congestion on untolled roads will have declined making them more attractive. When the economy recovers, and employment picks up, congestion will increase, as will the disposable incomes of motorists, so it would be reasonable to expect some recovery in demand. However, as long as there are untolled alternatives, toll roads and lanes will always be seen as a “premium” product, which is easy to surrender when times are tight.

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