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120 Evaluation and Performance Measurement of Congestion Pricing Projects 5. Orange County Transportation Authority 91 Express Lanes The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) is a multimodal transportation agency serving Orange County, California. It provides countywide bus, paratransit, and Metrolink rail service and implements improvements to freeways and local roads. In addition it operates the United States' first HOT-lane facility, the 91 Express Lanes, which it purchased in January 2003 for $207.5 million from the California Private Transportation Company (CPTC), the private con- cession company that had built the lanes. The purpose of the change in ownership of the lanes was to remove a controversial clause in the private partner's concession agreement that prohib- ited local governments from expanding roadway capacity in the congested SR-91 corridor. OCTA was created in 1991 with the consolidation of seven separate transportation agencies. In 2009, it had annual revenues of approximately $391.2 million, $43.7 million of which were gen- erated by tolls on the 91 Express Lanes. OCTA is governed by an 18-member Board of Directors composed of five county supervisors, ten city members, two public members, and the Director of Caltrans District 12 (who is a non-voting member). OCTA uses the revenue generated by the lanes to pay the underlying debt it owes on the facil- ity, as well as the costs of operating and maintaining the lanes. OCTA is required by its bond covenants to maintain a debt coverage ratio of 1.3. Any additional revenues generated by the project are invested in other transportation improvements in the corridor. In addition to meet- ing the debt coverage requirements, OCTA's primary goal for the 91 Express Lanes is to manage the volume of traffic using the facility at a level that allows for travel speeds of 60-65 mph at all times. In addition to the 91 Express Lanes, there are three other toll facilities operating in Orange County, the San Joaquin Hills, Foothill, and Eastern Transportation Corridors, all of which use different fixed peak and off-peak toll rates for cash and FasTrak ETC transactions. These facilities are operated by the Transportation Corridors Agency of Orange County. 5.1. Overview of OCTA's Congestion Pricing Program The 91 Express Lanes is a four-lane express toll-lane facility in the median of SR-91, a heavily traveled eight-lane east-west freeway. SR-91 connects the SR-55 near Anaheim with Riverside County. The SR-91's location is the optimal setting for a HOT lane. The freeway connects rap- idly growing residential areas in Riverside and San Bernardino counties with major employment centers in Orange and Los Angeles counties. The corridor itself traverses a rugged and narrow canyon area and is the only route through it. The SR-91 is one of the most congested freeways in Southern California and carries more than 300,000 vehicles per day. This level is expected to increase to more than 425,000 vehicles per day by 2030. Despite these high demand levels, transit service on the SR-91 is limited, consisting of approximately ten round-trip express bus services. Vanpooling is also limited in the corridor. The HOT facility has no shoulders and is separated from the general-purpose lanes by tubu- lar markers. It provides one single point of access and egress. When it opened to service in 1995, the 91 Express Lanes was the first operating HOT-lane facility in the United States, the first high- way improvement to be built on a public-private partnership basis in California, and the first fully automated toll facility in the world, where all tolls were collected electronically. Tolls on the 91 Express Lanes vary by direction of travel, time of day, and day of week on a fixed schedule. HOV3 motorists are allowed to use the facility free of charge, with the exception of the P.M. peak period from 4:00 to 6:00 P.M. eastbound, when they are required to carry a transponder and pay 50 percent of the established toll. All other users must carry a transponder and pay the variably priced tolls to use the lanes at all times. Trucks are not allowed to use the lanes at any time.
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Congestion Pricing Case Studies 121 Because there is only one ingress and egress location on the 91 Express Lanes, toll collection is relatively uncomplicated. Tolls are collected at a single point in the middle of the corridor, where a maintenance and incident response facility is also located. The central location enables OCTA to respond to traffic incidents quickly, which is important because the 91 Express Lanes has no shoulders. The lanes are well maintained and are completely closed once every 3 weeks on Sunday mornings, when they are swept and any missing channelizer markers are replaced and cracks are sealed. 5.2. What Is Monitored? The full spectrum of OCTA's performance monitoring activities is provided in the accompa- nying Facility Performance Monitoring Summary Matrix for the 91 Express Lanes. The matrix is a comprehensive record of all current, known metrics used to monitor performance on the facility, organized by evaluation category. It also includes earlier monitoring and evaluation work performed by Cal Poly State University that examined the lanes from prior to inception through mid-1999. Provided in the matrix for each metric used are frequency of collection, purpose, a simple indication of importance, and particular characterizations of the metric that relate back to agency/facility goals or applications. An expanded version of the matrix providing sources of information and other notes is included in the Final Report for NCHRP 08-75 which is available on line. The matrix is intended to be a visual overview of OCTA's complete monitoring effort, easily comparable to other HOT lane facilities with similar matrix summaries. A more qualita- tive discussion of how these metrics are applied in practice and which ones are the most signifi- cant is provided below. Not all metrics noted in the matrix are discussed here. OCTA monitors several different performance parameters on the 91 Express Lanes. The most important of these is the number of vehicles on the facility. Traffic volumes are detected auto- matically for both paying and nonpaying vehicles, together with the time of travel, and tolls collected. This data is collected electronically by Cofiroute, the private-sector firm that oper- ates the 91 Express Lanes as a contractor to OCTA. Traffic and revenue data is available to OCTA in real time and Cofiroute provides OCTA with regular summaries reported for vari- ous timeframes. OCTA monitors safety conditions on the lanes closely. This includes incident data maintained by the California Highway Patrol (CHP), as well as real-time images from cameras located along the length of the facility. OCTA also tracks the number of service patrol trips to assist motorists, together with the response times to reach customers in need. Similarly, OCTA tracks enforcement data on the lanes, which is also reported by the CHP and identifies the types of infringement (toll evasion, vehicle occupancy, speeding, and others). As an agency with a small staff, OCTA relies on contractors to perform many daily services pro- vided to customers on the 91 Express Lanes. These include information on the customer service center, including the number of calls it receives, answer times, and the number of callers that hang up before reaching an agent. Performance data also reviews violation processing, collections of fines, and the amount of returned mail. 5.3. Other Essential Data Gathering Activities Shortly after taking over the ownership and operation of the 91 Express Lanes, OCTA imple- mented a new toll policy. At the time this change was made, OCTA engaged in an aggressive media effort to educate the public about the policy and that increased rates were not tied to revenue generation, but rather to maintain constant speed flows of 60 to 65 mph. Complaints decreased over time, but there was a resurgence, particularly in the press, when the peak toll rate
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122 Evaluation and Performance Measurement of Congestion Pricing Projects hit $10.00 in 2007. This level subsided during the economic downturn, but predictably the toll rate reduction did not receive the same level of media coverage. In 2010, peak-period traf- fic levels were rising again, resulting in an eastbound toll rate between 3:00 and 4:00 P.M. on Fridays of $10.25. OCTA's media relations personnel work with newspapers and others to manage the message and, according to OCTA staff, referring to customer satisfaction surveys, public response is gen- erally favorable because it is understood what is being paid for. Each year OCTA conducts cus- tomer surveys. This work follows the same model established by CPTC, with 400 to 500 customers asked to respond to the same set of questions. In 2007, OCTA decided to administer the survey biennially because the 91 Express Lanes were regarded favorably and the survey effort was per- ceived as expensive. The most recent Customer Satisfaction Survey for the 91 Express Lanes was conducted in Sep- tember 2009. Respondents were selected based on the number of weekly trips they made on the lanes. Interviews were conducted in person and were designed to assess the following six issues: · Changes in utilization patterns among users · Customer satisfaction · Customer expectations and perceptions of OCTA's management of the lanes · Customer attitudes regarding the benefits of the lanes, toll policies, and customer service · Customer awareness of existing communication programs and their effectiveness The survey found that satisfaction with the lanes has grown, while there has been a modest decrease in the frequency of use due to the current economic climate. Users of all income groups have a positive perception of the Express Lanes. 5.4. Why Performance Evaluation Takes Place and How Performance Monitoring Data Is Used Vehicle volumes are the operative performance metric used to manage the operation of the 91 Express Lanes. While the facility is managed to provide travel speeds of 60-65 mph at all times, speeds are not explicitly measured. Rather, they are inferred from the number of vehicles using the facility. If the number of vehicles across both lanes exceeds 3,200 per hour on any given day in any given direction of travel, then the toll rate for that specific period is increased. Maximum capacity is generally achieved on the lanes in the eastbound direction during the afternoon period between 3:00 and 6:00 to 7:00 P.M. when motorists working in Orange County return to their homes in Riverside County and beyond. The vehicle volume data comes from transaction data rather than loop detectors. The data is collected by Cofiroute and is essentially available in real time and can be summarized in a wide variety of timeframes. Directional traffic volumes of 3,128 vehicles or more are flagged for fur- ther review. Toll rates on the 91 Express Lanes are revisited at the end of each quarter. The vehi- cle volume data for the previous 12 weeks is examined to see if the 3,200 vehicles across both lanes, per hour, per direction benchmark was exceeded. If the average hourly volume for both lanes in any given day, hour, and direction of travel is greater than 3,200 vehicles, then the toll is increased by $0.75, and if the volume exceeds 3,300 vehicles per hour, then the toll is increased by $1.00. If an adjustment is made, the toll rate for that day, direction and hour is frozen for 6 months, and, even if the volume thresholds are exceeded in the following quarter, the toll rate is not changed. This policy is designed to give drivers time to adjust to the new toll rate and take it into account when making their travel decisions. The toll policy described above is articulated in the 91 Express Lanes Procedures Manual and has been in place since 2003. The only aspects that have required adjustment are the mechanics
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Congestion Pricing Case Studies 123 of implementing toll decreases, which occurred as volumes on the lanes decreased during the financial crisis. Changes in toll rates are communicated to OCTA's Board and the public 10 days in advance of implementation. The Board is not involved in the toll adjustment process, which has been an asset with regard to customer relations. OCTA uses the various pieces of data it collects on incident management, violations process- ing, and the customer service center to evaluate the performance of its contractors and take any corrective measures that may be warranted. Lastly, OCTA uses the information gained from its regular customer satisfaction surveys to hone its outreach efforts to its customer base. For example, while the September 2009 survey found that overall satisfaction scores were higher than in previous years and that more respondents indicated that they had no complaints, the results also suggested that the current economic environment is affecting the 91 Express Lanes: "The results indicate that customers are spending less on the 91 Express Lanes, using this toll road less often, and this purchase decision may have become a discretionary item rather than a routine purchase."3 As a result of this dynamic, the Customer Satisfaction Survey suggests that the downturn in utilization, ". . . may impact how OCTA promotes the 91 Express Lanes, toll charges, and the messages being sent to customers." In response to this, the firm preparing the report--Insights Worldwide Research--made the following suggestions to OCTA: · Build on the convenience factor of the 91 Express Lanes--this year respondents indicated that convenience is as important to them as free-flowing lanes. Promote the convenience of the lanes and the effect it has on the lives of 91 Express Lanes customers · Promote the fact that OCTA has reduced tolls on the 91 Express Lanes in these hard economic times · Capitalize on the trend toward e-mail and the desire of customers to have access to real-time traffic information on the 91 Express Lanes through text alerts. 5.5. What Additional Performance Metrics or Data Would Be Helpful to OCTA or Other Agencies Considering Congestion Pricing? The 91 Express Lanes was the first operating HOT-lane facility in the United States. As a trail blazer, it opened without the benefit of performance metrics or operational norms from other priced facilities. OCTA inherited the facility and its pricing and operational structures from CPTC, the private concession company that built the 91 Express Lanes. Upon assuming owner- ship, OCTA adapted the toll policy on the 91 Express Lanes to create an adjustment process that was "less political." The policy was developed internally by OCTA staff with the assistance of con- sultants. At the time there were no other comparable priced facilities with which to make com- parisons. OCTA staff believe that it would have been helpful to understand the policies of other comparable facilities at the time, but this was not possible. OCTA staff believe that it is not worth revisiting toll policies to make minor adjustments, given that such revisiting can raise larger concerns. For example, on the 91 Express Lanes, the after- noon peak encompasses the period from 3:00 to 7:00 P.M., eastbound. However, HOV3 vehicles are only required to pay the half-priced toll from 4:00 to 6:00 P.M. and at other times use the lanes at no cost. Although OCTA recognizes the rationale for extending tolls for HOV3 vehicles to the entire 3:00 to 7:00 P.M. peak period, there has not been much pressure to change this policy, so OCTA has left it as is rather than risk raising unforeseen issues. OCTA staff also stressed the importance of its customer service patrols and quick incident management given that the 3Insights Worldwide Research, 2009 91 Express Lanes Customer Satisfaction Survey, Orange County Transportation Authority, September 2009, p. 17.
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124 Evaluation and Performance Measurement of Congestion Pricing Projects Congestion Pricing Case Studies 125 Table 5-1. Orange County Transportation Authority 91 Express Lanes summary matrix.
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126 Evaluation and Performance Measurement of Congestion Pricing Projects 91 Express Lanes have no shoulders. Other HOT lanes also tend to have limited shoulders and, when this is the case, quick incident clearance is essential to maintaining reliable conditions on the HOT lanes. One final lesson learned from the 91 Express Lanes is the importance of regular, ongoing cus- tomer satisfaction surveys. The genesis for OCTA's emphasis on customer satisfaction stems from the fact that the 91 Express Lanes was the first priced highway facility to open in the United States and, with no prior knowledge of how the public would react to congestion pricing, sur- veys were essential. In addition, the 91 Express Lanes was developed by a private concession com- pany which knew firsthand how important customer satisfaction was from its 20-year experi- ence operating toll roads in Europe. As a result of this dynamic, CPTC established the precedent of conducting annual customer satisfaction surveys where 400 to 500 respondents were asked to respond to a set list of questions. Over time, the data compiled from this effort allowed CPTC and later OCTA to track changes in opinion and satisfaction among 91 Express Lane customers and make appropriate adjustments in response. OCTA has continued CPTC's customer satisfaction survey practices and continues to use the results of its survey efforts to adjust its outreach messages and practices to its customer base. It is important--if not essential--for an agency that charges customers as much as $10.25 to make a 10-mile trip to know how its customers feel about the service it provides. It is also interesting to note that the 2009 survey marks the first biennial publication year. The impetus behind this change is that OCTA does not want its customers to perceive its survey efforts as being excessive or overly expensive. It can also be argued that the change is possible because of the high level of satisfaction with the 91 Express Lanes. Other agencies operating priced facilities should benefit from OCTA's use of regular customer satisfaction surveys and its ability to standardize their results to facilitate meaningful comparisons and trend analyses.