Policy Study

Enhanced Transit and Managed Arterials: A Win-Win Combination

Enhanced bus is more flexible than fixed-rail transit, and can offer comparable service levels when operated either on exclusive rights of way or on virtually exclusive rights of way that are kept uncongested by variable pricing.

During the last four decades, dozens of U.S. metro areas have sought to improve their transit systems, aiming to reduce the long-term downtrend in ridership that occurred following World War II. While a handful of very large metro areas built heavy rail systems during the 1960s and 1970s (e.g., Atlanta, Baltimore, Miami, San Francisco, Washington, D.C.), most of the new rail transit added since then has been either light rail or commuter rail. The latter systems had lower capital costs than heavy rail (if they were implemented on existing railroad tracks), making federal, state, and local transit capital funding dollars go further. Transit agencies generally intended to boost “choice” ridership by investing in rail transit, moving beyond the de- facto mission of their bus systems as the provider of transportation for generally lower-income, transit-dependent riders.

Unfortunately, in many cases the addition of rail transit has failed to increase a metro area’s overall transit usage. Commuting data from the 2013 American Community Survey show that work-trip mode shares for transit and driving alone in 23 metro areas that opened new rail transit service since 1970 have changed very little. Transit’s market share decreased in 12 and increased in only 10 of these metro areas. The average of those with reduced transit share was a 1.2% decrease, while the average increase of the other 10 was 0.6%. Moreover, the drive-alone percentage increased in 18 of the 23, while decreasing in only four. Thus, the rail transit investments to date have generally failed to “get people out of their cars,” as planners had hoped.

One possible reason for rail’s modest impact is that the cost of building and operating the rail lines reduced the funding available for operating and maintaining the bus system (or led to bus fare increases, as occurred in Los Angeles). Many transit agencies understandably reconfigured a number of their bus routes to feed the mostly radially oriented rail lines, which reduced the grid-like configuration of the bus system and hence its utility for some of its transit-dependent riders.

Conventional bus transit systems can be divided into two different models: radial (focused on serving the central business district) and multi-destination. Florida State University researchers Jeffrey Brown and Gregory Thompson assembled a database on transit systems from 45 metro areas with between one million and five million people. They found that the radial model was significantly less productive than the multi-destination model.

Their follow-up case study compared the multi-destination grid model of Broward County, FL (Fort Lauderdale) with the radial system of Tarrant County, TX (Fort Worth). They found that Broward County Transit’s grid system delivered four times as much service, with higher productivity for each mile of service.

Another factor in the decline of transit’s mode share in many metro areas has been the continued suburbanization of both housing and jobs. For several decades now, the largest fraction of commuting trips has been suburb-to-suburb, rather than the traditional suburb-to-CBD (central business district) pattern.2 Yet most rail lines that have been implemented have served radial corridors, and many bus routes are reconfigured, as noted above, to feed those radial rail lines. This makes the transit system less conducive to serving a large fraction of work trips effectively.

In 2012 the Brookings Institution analyzed data from 371 transit providers in America’s 100 largest metro areas.3 It found that only 27% of jobs could be reached via transit (one-way) within 90 minutes. For reference, the average nationwide (one-way) commuting time, mostly via car, is 26 minutes.

Economist David Levinson did a comparable study of access to jobs via auto commuting in the largest 51 metro areas. As of 2010, in 61% of those metro areas, people could reach 100% of the jobs by car (one-way) within 30 minutes or less.4 Within 40 minutes, 100% of jobs could be reached in 76% of those metro areas, and within 60 minutes 100% of jobs could be reached in all 51 metro areas. The roadway system is ubiquitous, connecting every origin with every destination. By its nature, the transit system cannot be ubiquitous in this way. But a radial transit system is a poorer fit than a grid-type system.

The question before us is this: Can we figure out ways to increase transit use cost-effectively via enhanced bus service and uncongested guideways?


Robert Poole is director of transportation policy and Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow at Reason Foundation. Poole, an MIT-trained engineer, has advised the Ronald Reagan, the George H.W. Bush, the Clinton, and the George W. Bush administrations.

Surface Transportation

In the field of surface transportation, Poole has advised the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Transit Administration, the White House Office of Policy Development, National Economic Council, Government Accountability Office, and state DOTs in numerous states.

Poole's 1988 policy paper proposing privately financed toll lanes to relieve congestion directly inspired California's landmark private tollway law (AB 680), which authorized four pilot toll projects including the successful 91 Express Lanes in Orange County. More than 20 other states and the federal government have since enacted similar public-private partnership legislation. In 1993, Poole oversaw a study that coined the term HOT (high-occupancy toll) Lanes, a term which has become widely accepted since.

California Gov. Pete Wilson appointed Poole to the California's Commission on Transportation Investment and he also served on the Caltrans Privatization Advisory Steering Committee, where he helped oversee the implementation of AB 680.

From 2003 to 2005, he was a member of the Transportation Research Board's special committee on the long-term viability of the fuel tax for highway finance. In 2008 he served as a member of the Texas Study Committee on Private Participation in Toll Roads, appointed by Gov. Rick Perry. In 2009, he was a member of an Expert Review Panel for Washington State DOT, advising on a $1.5 billion toll mega-project. In 2010, he was a member of the transportation transition team for Florida's Governor-elect Rick Scott. He is a member of two TRB standing committees: Congestion Pricing and Managed Lanes.


Poole is a member of the Government Accountability Office's National Aviation Studies Advisory Panel and he has testified before the House and Senate's aviation subcommittees on numerous occasions. Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Poole consulted the White House Domestic Policy Council and the leadership of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.

He has also advised the Federal Aviation Administration, Office of the Secretary of Transportation, White House Office of Policy Development, National Performance Review, National Economic Council, and the National Civil Aviation Review Commission on aviation issues. Poole is a member of the Critical Infrastructure Council of the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation and of the Air Traffic Control Association.

Poole was among the first to propose the commercialization of the U.S. air traffic control system, and his work in this field has helped shape proposals for a U.S. air traffic control corporation. A version of his corporation concept was implemented in Canada in 1996 and was more recently endorsed by several former top FAA administrators.

Poole's studies also launched a national debate on airport privatization in the United States. He advised both the FAA and local officials during the 1989-90 controversy over the proposed privatization of Albany (NY) Airport. His policy research on this issue helped inspire Congress' 1996 enactment of the Airport Privatization Pilot Program and the privatization of Indianapolis' airport management under Mayor Steve Goldsmith.

General Background

Robert Poole co-founded the Reason Foundation with Manny Klausner and Tibor Machan in 1978, and served as its president and CEO from then until the end of 2000. He was a member of the Bush-Cheney transition team in 2000. Over the years, he has advised the Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush administrations on privatization and transportation policy.

Poole is credited as the first person to use the term "privatization" to refer to the contracting-out of public services and is the author of the first-ever book on privatization, Cutting Back City Hall, published by Universe Books in 1980. He is also editor of the books Instead of Regulation: Alternatives to Federal Regulatory Agencies (Lexington Books, 1981), Defending a Free Society (Lexington Books, 1984), and Unnatural Monopolies (Lexington Books, 1985). He also co-edited the book Free Minds & Free Markets: 25 Years of Reason (Pacific Research Institute, 1993).

Poole has written hundreds of articles, papers, and policy studies on privatization and transportation issues. His popular writings have appeared in national newspapers, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Forbes, and numerous other publications. He has also been a guest on network television programs such as Good Morning America, NBC's Nightly News, ABC's World News Tonight, and the CBS Evening News. Poole writes a monthly column on transportation issues for Public Works Financing.

Poole earned his B.S. and M.S. in mechanical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and did graduate work in operations research at New York University.