Unlocking Gridlock in Houston

The Houston Chronicle ran a piece on Sunday by local blogger Tory Gattis calling for a combination of (1) creating a network of managed lanes throughout the Houston metro area, and (2) opening up competitive express transit services to private competition:

Our current HOV network is empty and underutilized much of the day, overly focused on downtown (which has only 7 percent of area jobs), has limited entrances and exits, and only runs one direction at a time while the dispersed nature of Houston’s many job centers means several freeways are congested both directions morning and evening. We need to fill in gaps and augment the existing HOV lanes with a comprehensive network of Managed eXpress, or MaX, lanes that can link all our neighborhoods to all our job centers. This can be rapidly accomplished by converting the left lanes of freeways like the 610 Loop to EZ-tag toll lanes with congestion-based pricing. By adjusting pricing by time-of-day (free outside of rush hours), the lanes can move the maximum number of vehicles at maximum speed (which would actually reduce the number of cars in the remaining free lanes), while still being free to buses, van- and carpools. To get the best use out of this express lane network, Metro should open up express commuter transit services to private companies by providing a simple subsidy per passenger-mile (partially funded by the new MaX lane tolls). These private transit companies will offer more nonstop services from more neighborhoods to more job centers with more convenient schedules, increasing commuter transit usage and reducing solo drivers on the freeways…Some may even offer novel services like wireless Internet access, which could attract even more riders. They could also expand beyond the existing Park & Ride lots by, for instance, cutting deals with grocery stores to use their underutilized parking lots as mini Park & Ride/drop-off centers during workdays. (What grocery store wouldn’t want busloads of potential customers dropped off at their doorstep every evening?)

Read the whole thing here. A link to Gattis’ blog post on the article is here. For more on toll lanes and congestion pricing, look no further than Bob Poole’s excellent work in Reason’s Surface Transportation Resource Center. And in case you missed it, be sure to check out Bob’s recent radio appearance on NPR’s Talk of the Nation, in which he discusses HOT lanes and congestion pricing.