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Can incentives cut congestion?


Image of gridlocked freewayWhether it's for public policy or parenting, it's the classic tactical dilemma: do you change behavior with the figurative carrot or stick?

A number of large cities including London, Florence, and Stockholm have used financial pain to fight congestion. Known as "congestion pricing," drivers pay a fee when entering a designated district with congestion problems. In London, congestion dropped by 30% and traffic volumes dropped by 16% in the program's first year. (Transport London reports that congestion has returned due to a number of public works projects).

Even though we all want to reduce traffic congestion, nobody likes to pay more for something, and that makes congestion pricing difficult to implement.

We wrote before about a program that reduced speeding by paying participants to drive the speed limit. Ars Technica posed a similar question: could you cut congestion by paying people not to drive during rush hour?

Stanford University is experimenting with this premise to address a notoriously congested commute onto campus.  The program, called CAPRI, enters drivers in a online social game where they could win up to $50 for driving to campus outside of peak (i.e., congested) periods.

A second phase of the project also rewards drivers to park in less congested parking lots to reduce pollution and congestion from drivers circling for a parking space.

The results are not yet in, but on the success of a similar program in Bangalore, India the US Department of Transportation has awarded Stanford $3 million for further study.

If you carpool, ride transit, bike or walk to work already: thank you! Your actions have helped keep Portland's air clean and its roads less congested. 



Add a Comment


jim karlock

August 1, 2012 at 1:57 PM

Why don't you guys increase road capacity instead of wasting money on toy trains, speed bumps, bike paths, transit supportive extended curbs and other crackpot ideas?

Why do you guys push transit when cars are far cheaper than transit and faster and the new ones use less energy. Do you guys know how to read Federal data on this?




August 1, 2012 at 3:16 PM

PBOT should not be in the business of "changing behavior", with carrots or sticks. For that matter, PBOT shouldn't be in the business of blogging.

PBOT should be in the business of developing and maintaining transportation. Give the people what they want. Good roads, bike paths, and mass transit (especially buses). But lets lay off the streetcar and light rail spending. Oh, and news flash -- we aren't San Francisco or London, and congestion pricing isn't going to fly here any time soon.

How much time does it take to write these blogs? Who writes them? Lets get you out on a road crew somewhere!


Dave A.

August 1, 2012 at 3:20 PM

What are you people smoking? Are you even remotely aware that similar size cities such as Sacramento and Las Vegas have 4 and 5 lane freeway systems - not the 1960s era relic that Portland is stuck with.



August 1, 2012 at 5:18 PM

Since when was it the job of our government to change our behavior?

Your job is to ACCOMMODATE our behavior. Period.



August 1, 2012 at 5:35 PM

Judging from your policies, it's very clear that you support increased congestion as an integral component of social engineering. As you stated in the first sentence of your tax-funded blog post, your goal is to "change behavior".

How about this: let's change YOUR behavior. We pay for your generous compensation packages; you don't pay for our compensation. In other words, you work for us; not the other way around.

Your belief to the contrary notwithstanding, you kids aren't smarter than the rabble you seek to control.

Take your idiocy to Cuba or Venezuela, and get out of our faces and out of our lives. We don't need you, and we really don't like you.



August 1, 2012 at 6:35 PM

The usual from Jim. He would have us widen roads, remove parking, and increase capacity on many of our arterials. Who cares what it costs, right? or how it might affect properties adjacent to the roads by removing parking or requiring property acquisition?

I for one welcome any alternatives to provide people with INCENTIVES for not using roads during the busiest hours. If you still want to drive your single occupancy car by yourself at 5:15 on I-84, have at it, just don't expect the rest of us to pay more so that you can make it home five minutes earlier.

You libertarians need to calm down. You can rabble on all you want about "social engineering," but at the end of the day PBOT has to figure out how to squeeze as much out of our roadways as possible with limited money.



August 1, 2012 at 7:36 PM

PBOT and the City need to stop with the social engineering, and start actually providing what people demand: higher capacity roads for VEHICLES. Stop with all the choo choo toy trains and worthless bike lanes.

On another note, PBOT obviously has way too many people on staff blogging and thinking up ridiculous, wasteful, and expensive ideas.


Annee von Borg, MSW, MPH

August 2, 2012 at 12:11 PM

It's kind of shocking how many people speak up to reject government incentives to change behavior. Do you think that citizens' current behavior has not already been shaped, changed, and/or reinforced by government incentives, subsidies, and other interventions? Government helped put is in our current global warming dilemma/obesity crisis by designing us into a car-centric society that keeps people imprisoned by roads, parking lots, and strip malls. We've become conditioned to this norm, but it doesn't have to be so. We can enjoy a healthier, more beautiful world with less traffic and more walk/bike-ability Government incentives that successfully discourage driving are a winner in my book.


jim karlock

August 3, 2012 at 3:16 AM

Annee von Borg, MSW, MPH--- Government helped put is in our current global warming dilemma/obesity crisis by designing us into a car-centric society
JK---Please provide ACTUAL evidence that man's CO2 is causing dangerous global warming.
BTW, we all know:

  1. Nature emits over 95% of the annual CO2 emissions.
  2. CO2 FOLLOWS temperature in Al Gore’s ice cores.
  3. Water vapor causes about twice as much greenhouse effect as CO2.
  4. Unusual weather is NOT evidence of its cause.
  5. Correlation is NOT evidence of causation.
  6. Climate correlates better with solar cycles than with CO2 and over centuries.
  7. Climate models are not evidence for a variety of reasons including the fact that they are considered poor by the top climate scientists in their emails.

Also please provide actual evidence that cars are the cause of obesity.



jim karlock

August 3, 2012 at 3:26 AM

Annee von Borg, MSW, MPH--Government helped put is in our current..crisis by designing us into a car-centric society
JK-----Just how is the “car-centric society” a bad thing? Cars provide a fast way to get from point A to point B, making us more productive or lowering our cost of living. Cars are faster than walking, biking or transit. That enriches all of us.

Annee von Borg, MSW, MPH– We can enjoy a .., more beautiful world
JK—How does that help a person just trying to get to work to earn money to feed his/her family?

Annee von Borg, MSW, MPH---We can enjoy a ... world with less traffic and more walk/bike-ability
JK---How does slower transpiration improve our standard of living?

Annee von Borg, MSW, MPH---Government incentives that successfully discourage driving are a winner in my book.
JK----Why is it you job to tell others how to live? Especially when if you succeed, people will be worse off?



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