Avoiding Traffic Congestion Externalities? The Value of Urgency
In Becker (1965) and neoclassical microeconomic theory the value of time is a constant fraction of the hourly wage. When taken to data, however, this value departs from theoretical predictions, and appears to vary with the amount of time saved. By observing drivers on freeways opting to enter toll lanes with high-frequency, time-varying prices that secure a minimum level-of-service, we uncover a new and fundamental aspect of preferences for travel time savings related to urgency. The presence of preferences for urgency, which reflect the fact that individuals often face discrete penalties for being late, allows us to reconcile the pattern observed in the data with neoclassical theory. Using a rich, repeated-transaction data and individual-level hedonic estimation, we show that the value of urgency accounts for 87 percent of total willingness-to-pay for time savings. As a result, ignoring the value of urgency in cost-benefit analysis severely underestimates the true value of time savings that projects deliver, as such omission will typically ignore non-trivial welfare gains to a potentially large number of individuals.