VARIABLE PRICING:San Diego's I-15 HOT Lanes Mainstreamed

April 21, 1999

VARIABLE PRICING:San Diego’s I-15 HOT Lanes Mainstreamed

Originally published in issue 38 of Tollroads Newsletter, which came out in Apr 1999.


Subjects:HOT lanes mainstreamed

Facilities:CA I-15 HOT lanes


Locations:San Diego CA


“It is regarded as a successful project, politically. There seems to be support to continue it,” she said. Good management and good PR – see newsletter p15 – has built a solid loyal clientele. And the toll buy-in aspect has been managed in a way which doesn’t hurt the established HOV operation. Indeed to everyone’s surprise toll buy-in has helped HOV, increasing carpooling. And it has reduced the violations problem in the HOV lanes. Far from being a threat to HOV, as some of the HOV purists predicted, toll buy-in has helped HOV.

Local state representatives are sponsoring a bill (SB252) to continue the I-15 toll buy-in program on its own as a self-financing operation. So far however it has not been a great money-spinner. Revenues are about $1 million/yr and current expenses are $700k, says Kawada.

That’s not nearly as profitable as predicted in a traffic and revenue study. In the report “Operations Plan Full Implementation” Wilbur Smith Assoc estimated that I-15 FasTrak would earn $4m revenue over a 24-month period, ramping up in the first 10 months from 2,000 to 4,400 daily toll trips others) lanes. March 30 1998 was the historic day when the system switched to its unique system of dynamic pricing whereby a computer driven program assesses traffic flow and adjusts the toll rate every 6-minutes down to encourage more traffic and up to discourage traffic using the lanes. The actual toll is displayed on a changeable message sign ahead of the entry to the facility, but there are also published ceiling rates for different half hour blocks of time.

TERMINOLOGY: In San Diego the toll buy-in on I-15 is simply known as FasTrak and those involved, like Kawada, talk about it in terms of this marketing name. No mention of value or variable or dynamic pricing or toll buy-in or HOT lanes there in San Diego. We decline to call it FasTrak here because FasTrak is the California-wide moniker for ordinary electronic tolling as used on 91X and the toll roads in Orange County, and if Caltrans ever manages to get its act together there, on the Bay area bridges too. The justification for using the one marketing name is that the toll tags issued by the different agencies are interoperable, and the common name tells patrons they can use their same tag on a different facility. (Covered in TRnl#11 Jan 97 p3, TRnl#23 Jan 98 p3, TRnl#25 Mar 98 p1, TRnl#26 Apr 98 p1, TRnl#29 Jul 98 p9)

CORRECTION: In an earlier article (TR#11 Jan 97 p3) we wrote that I-15 toll revenue was expected to be $3m to $6m/yr. This was wrong. That figure was an estimate of how much the I-15 Value Pricing Project would earn for the full three-years of the demonstration period. The low end of $3m was the estimate if monthly permits were sold throughout the three-year period, assuming 1,000-1,100 monthly permits each month at $80 per permit. The $6m high end was WSA’s revenue numbers ($2m/yr) projected for a program that went with per trip e-tolling from the start.

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