Policy Study

Shuttle Vans

The Overlooked Transit Alternative


Many urban areas are seeking to increase the extent to which individuals choose to make trips via transit rather than single-occupant vehicles (SOVs). In doing so they are seeking to address both traffic congestion and air quality. Getting more people to shift from SOVs to higher-occupancy vehicles such as carpools, taxis, vanpools, buses, and rail transit ought-other things being equal-to reduce the number of vehicles on the road system, thereby reducing congestion. And the reduction in sheer vehicle numbers ought to reduce the emissions generated by transportation (unless the higheroccupancy vehicles were dramatically dirtier than the SOVs they displace, which is unlikely to be the case).

In greater Los Angeles, the Regional Mobility Plan of the Southern California Association of Governments is premised on reducing auto emissions by shifting significant numbers of commuters out of SOVs and into transit. Specifically, it calls for 2.3 million of the 12 million home-to-work trips expected each day in the year 2010 to be made by transit. Yet recent projections indicate that the currently planned rail and bus transit system will actually attract only 0.7 million of those trips in 2010.

Conventional transit seems unable to attract large numbers of people from their cars. This is not because people have an irrational “love affair with their automobile.” Rather, it is because conventional transit, while well-suited for the dense, centralized land-use patterns of 19th-century cities such as New York and Philadelphia, is poorly suited to the quite different geography of most 20th century cities, including Los Angeles. To be successful in this kind of environment, transit must be reinvented to offer more of the amenities that people get from automobile commuting. This paper explores how to accomplish that goal.