September 28, 2005 (Los Angeles) — Cities can reduce traffic congestion and greatly improve mass transit service by turning existing carpool lanes into toll lanes that serve as the virtual equivalent of exclusive busways, according to a new study by the Reason Foundation, a free market think tank.
"It's time to rethink America's overemphasis on carpooling and revisit the advantages of buses," said Robert Poole, director of transportation studies at Reason Foundation and co-author of the report.
As governments struggle to find funding for highway and transit projects, exclusive busways are too costly, because most of their capacity goes unused. But by converting carpool lanes into toll lanes and setting aside a guaranteed percentage of the lanes' capacity for buses and vanpools, cities can create "virtual exclusive busways." Variable pricing would keep the lanes uncongested, so the buses could travel at the speed limit, just as if they were on an exclusive busway. Where new lanes are needed to create networks and region-wide bus service, toll revenues would cover the majority of construction costs, with the remainder coming from conventional highway funding sources.
"These lanes would offer the reliable, congestion-free performance of exclusive busways, without a huge cost to the transit agency. The majority of the capital expenditures would be paid for, willingly, by drivers choosing to pay variable tolls to bypass traffic jams," stated Poole, who has advised the last four presidential administrations on transportation issues.
The nation's first virtual exclusive busway is under construction on the Katy Freeway in Houston, where local transportation agencies have guaranteed up to 25 percent of the new lanes' capacity will be preserved for buses and three-person carpools.
The report questions the wisdom of carpool lanes, particularly two-person high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes. "Two-person carpool lanes are increasingly overrun by 'fampools' — a family that would be traveling together anyway, not co-workers who are sharing rides, as was intended by transportation planners," said Ted Balaker, co-author or the study and a policy analyst at Reason Foundation. "As carpooling's market share declines, it is time to make better use of those lanes."
The Reason study draws on the high-occupancy toll lanes in San Diego and Orange County, California, which have been a big hit with drivers in all income groups and have been able to keep traffic free flowing, even at rush hour, through the use of variable priced tolls.
Full Study Online
The full study, Virtual Exclusive Busways, can be found online at www.reason.org/ps337.pdf. A summary of the report is available at www.reason.org/ps337polsum.pdf. A compilation of Reason's transportation research is available at www.reason.org/transportation/index.shtml.
Reason Foundation is a nonprofit think tank dedicated to advancing free minds and free markets. Reason produces respected public policy research on a variety of issues and publishes the critically acclaimed monthly magazine, Reason.
Robert Poole, Director of Transportation Studies, Reason Foundation (310) 292-2386
Ted Balaker, Policy Analyst and Jacobs Fellow, Reason Foundation, (310) 391-2245 ext. 3014
Chris Mitchell, Media Relations, Reason Foundation, (310) 367-6109