Pricing as promotion: reverse tolls

Bicycle path only (Israel road sign)

Once when I was a teenager, I was pulled over by a police officer while I was riding my bike. It was very early on a June morning, before 5 a.m., and I was biking to my summer job on a landscaping crew. I didn’t get a ticket, but needed to convince the officer that I wasn’t an early morning bike thief.

Recently, officials in Lillestrom, Norway, were pulling over bike riders for another reason–to pay them a “reverse toll.”

As this article from Fast Company explains, officials wanted to promote the fact that people who commute by bike save the community money, about $15 per trip, over commuting by car. (People who were walking to work also received payment.)

Paying reverse tolls isn’t a permanent policy in Lillestrom or elsewhere in Norway. Payments were a one-time promotion to communicate the value of infrastructure projects that support healthy commute alternatives. By putting a positive and tangible value on alternative commuting, officials hope to increase voter support for ballot measures such as bike lanes.

We already do something close to reverse tolls when we charge smaller tolls for people using carpool lanes. In my Bay Area neighborhood, westbound carpoolers crossing the Bay Bridge pay less than half what solo drivers do, in addition to using the carpool lane to speed past the inevitable congestion at the toll plaza. Why not extend that philosophy to more of the behaviors we want to promote and encourage?

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