Would Surge Pricing Help Prevent Traffic Gridlock On Busy Roadways?

Image courtesy of Jeff Archer

A few months after Lyft’s last manifesto regarding the future of transportation, company executives are once again laying out a plan to tackle traffic issues. Specifically, congestion pricing aimed at preventing traffic jams in our cities’ busiest highways and byways.

Lyft President John Zimmer and co-founder Logan Green say in a new post on Medium that companies like theirs could work with the federal government to develop initiatives designed to “end traffic,” like congestion-priced roads.

It works sort of like surge pricing in the ride-hailing industry: the cost to drive on a road shifts during the day depending on traffic volume, with carpoolers getting complimentary access.

“Smart lanes will supercharge everyone’s commute by being active during peak hours and returning to regular (or ‘dumb’) lanes in off-peak hours,” the post explains. “The smart lanes will be 100% free for any vehicle with three or more people and have a market-based price for vehicles with fewer than three people.”

The executives say this model gives consumers a choice in how to move around more efficiently and can be implemented with very low-cost digital and physical infrastructure, adding that all funds generated by the smart lanes would then be invested back into local infrastructure projects.

Cities like London, Milan, and Singapore already use variations on this system with some success, and Stockholm reduced traffic by 22% in its city center, Lyft points out, but it hasn’t become more widespread due to the lack of a universal way for commuters to ride free. This system would change that, Zimmer and Green say.

“Pricing roads without a free option has an unfair and uneven effect across income levels,” the executives write. “Smart lanes that include free carpooling access solve the inequality of previous solutions and allow for widespread rollout and political support.”

To that end, Zimmer and Green claim that each day our country’s roads are submitted to more wear-and-tear, they become more expensive to fix.

“The good news is that political leaders on both sides of the aisle are signaling that they’re ready to focus on infrastructure,” they write. “And if we fund the improvements now through smart lane programs, we will generate long-term savings.”