Commentary

The Origin of Managed Lanes

My colleague Bob Poole recently provided an excellent thumbnail summary of the origin of managed lanes on a list serve. Since the institutional history of these innovations is often lost, I thought it would be useful to reprint the explanation here:

“What we now refer to as “managed lanes” began as transitways, but experience soon showed that in all but one US corridor (the Lincoln Tunnel busway in NJ) there was far too little demand to fill an exclusive bus lane, even during peak periods. To make better use of this expensive pavement, they were gradually opened to vanpools and then carpools. After electronic toll collection made variable pricing feasible, they started being opened up to paying customers—and the private sector began offering to build and operate express toll lanes focused mostly or entirely on toll-paying customers. From the standpoint of sound transportation policy, a good case can be made that a combination of high person throughput, significant congestion relief, and much-needed revenue can be generated via an express-toll-lane policy that lets only super-HOV (bus and vanpool) vehicles use the lanes at no charge.”

Bob introduced the concept of what are now called managed lanes to the transportation policy community as part of his early work on modern tollways. The first policy study was “Private Tollways,” released in 1988 and another one in 1992, but the study that really got the ball rolling was “How to Enable Private Toll Road Development,” published in 1993.

Samuel R. Staley, Ph.D. is a senior research fellow at Reason Foundation and managing director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University in Tallahassee where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in urban planning, regulation, and urban economics. Prior to joining Florida State, Staley was director of urban growth and land-use policy for Reason Foundation where he helped establish its urban policy program in 1997.