Transportation funding often pits transit users against motorists. Naturally, each group wants more dough to build somethingâ€“anythingâ€“that will help them avoid traffic congestion, which is increasing almost everywhere.
What to do?
In a new Reason study, Bob Poole and I suggest Virtual Exclusive Busways.
- The idea of the study is to build on what we've learned about the power of value pricing to manage traffic flow during peak-period conditions, keeping them free-flowing and offering higher vehicle throughput than congested regular lanes. Value-priced lanes can therefore provide a transit agency with the virtual equivalent of an exclusive busway. The idea is to contractually reserve a portion of the managed lane's capacity for transit vehicles (e.g., buses and vanpools) while the remaining capacity is sold to motorists at market prices.
A Virtual Exclusive Busway is vastly more cost-effective than building a conventional exclusive busway. In every metro area but New York , it would be very difficult in any corridor to fill enough buses to operate on 60-second headways (i.e., one per minute or 60 per hour). So a physical exclusive busway is an enormous waste of expensive concrete and right of way, since the vast majority of its capacity goes unused. But if that guideway is shared with paying customers, there is room for perhaps 1600 such cars per hour without in any way degrading the high-speed, free-flow characteristics of the traffic, thanks to value pricing.
We argue that VEB is a much better use of roadway space than carpool lanes. Even though agencies have built more and more carpool lanes, carpool commuting has actually been declining for over 20 years.
Carpooling doesn't peak during the morning and afternoon rush when it would do the most to reduce congestion. Rather it's most common during the evenings and on weekends. And these days, carpooling often fails to take cars off the road. Most carpooling is now "fampooling," so people who would be traveling together anyway are filling up carpool lanes.
The VEB concept offers something for everyone. Transit users get better service, motorists get an escape route from congestion, local governments get a new source of revenue, and even carpoolers get something. After all, with tolling there's still an incentive to carpool because, for example, commuters can share the cost of the toll.
Press release for Virtual Exclusive Busways: Improving Urban Transit while Relieving Congestion is here.
Study summary here.
Full study here.