Out of Control Policy Blog

Schadenfreude or Speed

Two recent stories out of Texas tell a tale of the quintessential mobility issue currently facing commuters and transportation officials nationwide: should precious transpo dollars be spent on mass transit or toll lanes?

The first story, in the Star-Telegram, reports that "two-thirds of Fort Worth residents support expansion of mass transit, but in the county, fewer than 1 percent use it." Sounds like a case of the I-like-public-transit-but-it's-just-not-for-me disease, a common condition among well-meaning commuters who believe public transit is a cure-all to traffic ... that they themselves would prefer to avoid.

You can't blame them though; as the Telegram story explains, "The system just doesn't work for most people. Service is limited and infrequent, and most people say they can get places quicker by driving."

So what to do?

A piece in the Dallas Morning News reports on the novel idea of introducing toll lanes to reduce congestion. Apparently, the Texas Transportation Institute and the Texas Department of Transportation has created an online survey to gauge motorists' opinions on the concept of "managed lanes." (the 15-minute survey is at www.dallastravelsurvey.org)


Toll lanes are exactly the cure to the above -just-not-for-me mass transit folks, who believe the mere act of spending tons of cash can alleviate congestion. Indeed, instead of spending millions (if not billions) on Jetsons-in-the-sky mass transit projects, transportation departments should be putting that money towards developing High Occupancy Toll lanes (HOT Lanes). As Matt MacGregor of the state Transportation Department explains, it's the predictable travel times of these types of toll lanes that are most appealing in increasing transportation expediency on a large scale. "Without a pricing component, you really don't have a way to deliver mobility," he said.

So, the choice is ours: either we continue to throw money at mass transit because it seems like the right thing to do (for everyone else), or we take that money and develop a network of HOT lanes and other market-based transportation plans that avoid the trappings of government waste.

In other words, this means, we either continue to watch our tax dollars go down the drain like shadenfreude-sick motorists slowing to watch a car accident, or we actually do something useful and take control of our own destiny...er, mobility (sorry, this wasn't meant to sound like a Tony Robbins- motivation speech).

In the end, the choice should be clear when given the option between shadenfreude and speed ...

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