Truck-only toll lanes are not popular within the trucking industry as a way to pay for highway infrastructure. In fact, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) has made battling truck-only tolls a key priority on its 2021 political agenda.
But a recently released study by researchers at California State University Long Beach breaks new ground on the subject from the point of view of owner-operators. Its conclusion: Owner-operators who dray containers to and from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach would be willing to use truck-only toll lanes — within limits — if doing so can increase safety and reduce transit times.
The study, headed by Joseph Kim and conducted for the Mineta Transportation Institute, found that owner-operator truck drivers prefer to take truck-only toll lanes 75.27% of the time, on average, when choosing among various route options, particularly along the heavily congested I-710 and I-405 freeways in southern California.
“When I met with them, they mentioned their concern that nobody tends to consider their opinions on these things,” Kim, a professor at the university’s Department of Civil Engineering, told FreightWaves. “They also mentioned that they already have to bear the burden of the cost of a lot of regulations [as owner-operators]. Many also had a negative perception about truck-only toll lanes. But my main point was to hear from truckers working at the piers, and to allow those voices to be heard by the government agencies to see where we go next.”
The analysis, released in October, revealed that owner-operators will take truck-only toll lanes when they take routes used in four out of six route comparisons, and according to the three measures: value of time (VOT), value of reliability (VOR) and safety.
The routes used in four comparisons include the routes from Port of Long Beach to Compton on I-710, Port of Long Beach to Van Nuys on I-405, Port of Long Beach to Van Nuys on I-405, and Port of Los Angeles to San Diego on Interstate 5.
According to the study, the highest toll fee on any day that drivers are willing to pay when VOT is the main factor being compared is 32 cents per mile or $18.35 per hour. The highest toll fees associated with the safety and VOR factors are 22 cents per mile or $11.01 per hour, and 30 cents per mile or $8.94 per hour, respectively.
Participants in the study also deemed it unlikely that their clients would reimburse their toll fees. “Respondents alleged that most owner-operator truck drivers were already burdened with the increasing costs of regulations and cannot afford toll fees under the current pricing system,” the study noted.
From a policy perspective, owner-operators, like ATA, have resisted truck tolling to pay for infrastructure. In a letter to President-elect Joe Biden outlining the association’s policy positions for 2021, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) explained that it “consistently opposed” expanding tolling.
“Research has shown that tolling is an extremely wasteful method of funding our highways compared to fuel taxes,” OOIDA stated. “Additionally, toll roads consistently fail to meet revenue projections, creating unanticipated funding shortfalls, inevitable rate increases, and traffic diversion to non-tolled routes.”
But Kim believes his study will help produce a better understanding of the issue through the direct perspective of drivers in one of the most truck-congested areas of the country, and will help legislators and transportation agencies better understand the “utility and demand” for truck-only toll lanes.
“If we have more opportunity to study this area, I will propose contacting not only owner-operators but company drivers as well so we can have more ideas for making better-informed decisions.”
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