Open-Road Electronic Tolling Also Reduces Emissions

Lynne Kiesling

Today a post from Ben Casselman at the WSJ’s Environmental Capital highlights one of my favorite unintended benefits of open-road electronic tolling: by eliminating deceleration and acceleration to pay a cash toll, electronic tolling reduces emisssions, with one big caveat:

So does eliminating toll booths really cut down on emissions? The answer appears to be a qualified “yes.” A 1998 study in Orlando, Fla., found that installing an electronic toll collection system at the Holland East Toll Plaza there cut carbon monoxide emissions by 7.29% and hydrocarbon emissions by 7.19%. The reduction came even though the number of vehicles passing through the tolls during peak hours increased by 30%.

The downside: Nitrogen oxide emissions increased by 33.77%, apparently because cars were able to drive faster with the electronic tolls. (The Orlando road kept some cash lanes, so the impacts—positive and negative—would presumably be even greater in a totally cash-less system such as Dallas’.)

Casselman then draws what I think is the natural conclusion:

In theory, cashless tolls could pave the way for a more radical move: congestion pricing.

Yeah, bring it on!