Out of Control Policy Blog

Making Buses More Attractive to Commuters

The quality of most U.S. transit service is poor. As I argue in the Orange County Register one way to quickly and cost-effectively improve this service is by using express buses in high occupancy vehicle (HOV) or high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes on freeways and operating bus rapid transit (BRT) on priced lanes on arterials. 

One of transit’s biggest problems is an over-reliance on an expensive to build expensive to maintain rail system; the high costs of these systems cause transit operators to cut service which in turn reduces system usage which leads to further cuts.

Unlike rail, bus service benefits from sharing running ways with cars. The construction and maintenance costs are shared with drivers. And buses benefit by traveling in managed lanes, with occupancy restrictions and/or tolling that keeps the lane free-flowing 24 hours per day. Since quality BRT and express bus are less than 1/3 the cost of a bus line to build, a metro area can develop a bus-based transit network three times faster. Orange County needs to reduce congestion and improve mobility. Bus based networks provide the most feasible way to accomplish that goal. 

The entire Op-Ed is available here. The first part of the Op-Ed is below. 

Orange County has developed a solid transit network of more than 40 local bus routes and 10 intracounty and intercounty express bus routes. The bus service connects locations such as UC Irvine with Brea and links Orange County population centers such as Huntington Beach with outside job centers like downtown Los Angeles. 

However, current express bus service has a major limitation – buses get stuck in the same traffic congestion drivers face. To make transit more effective, Orange County should develop a network of express lanes on freeways and managed arterials on streets. 

On freeways, Orange County should expand its existing express bus service, which operates in the express lanes at 45 miles per hour or higher. While express lanes benefit drivers, their biggest beneficiaries may be transit users. 

Buses use these lanes, at no cost, to guarantee riders reliable trips and on-time arrival. The county should consider converting all of its existing carpool lanes into an express lane network by increasing carpool requirements and charging single-occupant drivers tolls to use the lanes. The county could also fill vital gaps in the existing high-occupancy vehicle lanes network by expanding them on I-5 and on the 73. 

On arterial streets, Orange County should develop bus-rapid transit service and a new type of roadway called a “managed arterial,” which would have several innovative features. 

First, managed arterials provide buses and drivers with vital timesaving options for bypassing busy intersections.

They usually feature bridges or tunnels that allow buses and drivers to continue at full speed by going over or under congested stoplights. Drivers choose whether or not to pay 10 cents to 50 cents to skip the lights and delays at these intersections, while buses use these queue jumpers for free. 

Second, managed arterials use smart, priority stoplights that are synced with buses to provide advanced green lights to them. This means buses do not have to stop and wait at less busy minor cross streets.

The entire Op-Ed is available here.

Baruch Feigenbaum is Transportation Policy Analyst


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