Cast a broad net in evaluating traveler behavior: Managed Lanes analysis finds evidence of "theory blindness" that can impact model accuracy.

The report, submitted to the TRB Annual Meeting, found that traveler behavior often conflicted with expected behavior.

January 2018
North Tarrant Parkway; Fort Worth; Texas; United States; Katy Expresswat; Houston; Texas; United States

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Lesson Learned

The authors note that the conventional transit industry model for managed lanes assumes that the inputs to traveler decisions are technically complex, for example historic congestion levels, trip purpose, and cost-benefit analysis. However, the results of the study indicate that the decisions made are so statistically noisy that, instead, the best predictor of future behavior is simply a traveler's previous behavior. As such, it can be said that most travelers are not choosing to take one lane or the other with each trip, but rather default to taking a specific lane absent some sort of particularly compelling external influence.

The authors suggest re-framing models of driver behavior to de-emphasize "optimization" of lane choice. Approximately ten percent of travelers choose to use the MLs even in situations where they were negatively efficient (i.e., they had both a toll and greater congestion than the GPLs), indicating that optimization of travel is not necessarily a critical priority for drivers. The authors note that decision fatigue may be an influence, and should be considered: infrequent travelers who are unfamiliar with the route may find it too difficult to determine whether the toll is "worth it," while frequent commuters may prefer to avoid the mental load of calculating which route to take each day.

Finally, the authors also suggest that further research be done to understand traveler choice, specifically to develop a cohort-centric approach to understanding and forecasting managed lane use over time. In particular, they note that conventional wisdom can result in "theory-induced blindness," in which analysts narrow in on a predetermined explanation at the expense of broader understanding.

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Unrevealed Preferences: Unexpected Traveler Response to Pricing on Managed Lanes

Author: Burris, M. and J. Brady

Published By: TRB

Source Date: January 2018

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Ned Schweikert


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Lesson ID: 2019-00909