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Tolling Points

95/495 Express Lanes Win Public Hearts and Minds

By: 
Bill Cramer

The majority of drivers in the Washington, DC area now use the 95 and 495 Express Lanes in suburban Virginia, and more than three-quarters of those customers say they rely on the lanes to cut their commute times, according to Transurban North America’s State of the Lanes 2018 report.

The survey results add up to a stunningly positive endorsement of one of the highest-profile managed lane networks in the United States.

“We’ve had a chance to watch the 95/495 Express Lanes success story take shape in our own back yard, and it’s really been a great moment for anyone who understands the power of user-financed mobility,” said IBTTA Executive Director and CEO Patrick Jones, who uses the lanes.

“The lanes are a success. They’re working exactly the way they should. And that makes them a simple, straightforward vision of what the future of transportation should be.”

Something Drivers Can Agree On

Traffic congestion is a big, long-standing irritant in the Washington, DC area, and the tension has led to more than a few notable disagreements over the years. “When it comes to transportation issues, finding consensus among Metropolitan D.C. area drivers isn’t always easy,” Transurban notes. But along the express lanes, “there are several areas where drivers in the region agree,” judging by the 1,732 local residents who participated in the survey.

• A clear majority, 58%, consider traffic a serious problem.

• The group ranked congestion a higher regional priority than housing (47%), the cost of living (47%), or health care costs (41%).

• After years of steady growth in Transurban’s customer base in the region, 52% of drivers now say they use the lanes.

• While only 5% of subscribers are daily customers, the Washington Post reports, nearly three in 10 say they use the lanes at least once a month.

• 85% of the lanes’ most frequent customers agree that the network brings personal and regional benefits to the DC area.

When You Absolutely Have to Get There

Tolling agencies have always been about offering customers a wider range of mobility choices, and the Transurban figures bear out that philosophy in real life. The survey responses show people using general purpose lanes when their travel isn’t urgent. But when they absolutely have to get where they’re going on time—when it’s worth paying for a more reliable, predictable trip—the express lanes are there to help them out.

“Whether they’re headed to work, running errands, or embarking on the next family road trip, Express Lanes drivers see time savings as a major value-add,” Transurban notes. “Not only are they busy people; they recognize that less time behind the wheel means more time for the activities and the people they love.”

“These are our neighbors,” adds Marketing Director Elisa Bell. “They are busy professionals who have kids and are trying to get to work on time.”

The demographics of the express lanes’ frequent users tell a more detailed story.

“As a group, frequent toll payers are more likely to rush home to children under the age of 18 at the end of the day,” the agency reports. “The majority are under the age of 45 and rely on convenience services such as meal-prep or grocery delivery to get through their busy week. Amazon boxes are regularly found on their doorstep, and most don’t mind paying a fee for convenience services or tolls. In fact, some are landing jobs at companies that fund or reimburse their tolls for business travel and daily commuting.”

“Despite HOT lanes' disparaging nickname of ‘Lexus lanes,’ most 495 and 95 express users are not affluent,” the Washington Post notes. “About 60% of the frequent users said they have household incomes of less than $100,000, and a similar share have a bachelor’s degree or higher.”

All of which makes the 95/495 Express Lanes a sign of things to come as different variants on the managed lanes concept gain traction across the United States.

For a snapshot of 95/495’s success, check out the #LovetheLanes hashtag on Facebook and Twitter.