University of Wisconsin–Madison
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Analyzing the Impact of Highway Tolls on Low-Income Persons: An Application to the Puget Sound Region of Washington State

Tolls are an increasingly popular policy tool for achieving functionality, affordability and environmental responsiveness in urban transportation systems. Alongside their benefits, tolls’ impacts on equity require scrutiny. Prior studies of road users find that tolls are regressively distributed, costing low-income households a higher percentage of their income than wealthier households. Using data from the Puget Sound metropolitan region in Washington State, we advance the literature by 1.) using Geographic Information Systems methods to map commuting routes, and then 2.) simulating the effects of possible toll regimes on different universes of households, including those who use tolled facilities as well as those who do not. By omitting the many low-income households without workers or who commute using public transportation or untolled routes, prior studies overstate tolls’ regressivity. We find that tolls are regressive but the degree of regressivity is sensitive to the set of households included in the analysis.


Inequality & Mobility, Inequality & Mobility General