One day after the President George Bush Turnpike went to all-electronic toll collection, The Wall Street Journal's Environmental Capital blog takes note of one of the North Texas Tollway Authority's reasons for ditching the quarter-catchers: "Air Quality and Fuel Efficiency." As in: "Transitioning to all-ETC will eliminate the stopping, starting and idling associated with cash toll lanes. By promoting a continuous flow of traffic at consistent speeds, the NTTA promotes air quality in the region."
Ben Casselman wonders if that's true or just good spin.
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'.)