Virtual Busways on Toll Lanes?

Dave Brook forwarded this interesting piece from the San Fancisco Chronicle on merging tolls with bus rapid transit. While the idea is up for consideration in the Bay Area, it apparently is going to be tried in Houston.

The basic idea is to put toll lanes alongside regular lanes, and control usage of the toll lanes, reserving capacity for buses.

The question that occurs to me is what happens if the toll lanes congest? The Houston project says it will adjust pricing to prevent this. That makes me wonder if we could explore the idea of dynamically priced toll lanes? Traffic cameras would figure out the level of usage and prices at the toll both would dynamically go up the closer to the congestion point the usage got.


6 responses to “Virtual Busways on Toll Lanes?”

  1. Probably wouldn’t need cameras equipped with enough artificial intelligence to count cars — just those magnetic loops in the pavement, or those drive-over cables that count traffic.

    On another note, dynamic pricing only works over the long-term. Or, more accurately, it can only work over the short-term if there’s some mechanism to tell people the prices before they start their trip.

    It’s all fine and good to suddenly jack up the toll by 50 cents, but if I don’t discover it until I hit the entrance, I’m not turning around and going home until later.

  2. Dynamic pricing is currently used on a number of southern California tollways. The traffic is monitored and prices change every six minutes. These prices are then shown on reader boards. Most toll roadways there have parallel, non-tolled roadways or lanes so the driver chooses between time and money.

    A new, elevated roadway in the works in San Diego (held up by pylons in the existing roadways median) will have dynamically priced variable tolling that is planned to be higher priced for trucks during rush hour and higher for private vehicles during off peak hours.

    Busways on toll lanes may work for longer commutes (Clark County into Portland?) but busways also have promise as low cost high capacity transit a la Curitiba. We need to ask whether we can wait 20 years to have light rail on Barbur, 217, TV Highway, etc or whether bus rapid transit might take over existing road lanes, at least during rush hour, on these routes, either as permanent option or to build ridership until light rail can be built.

  3. Let’s get a pilot project…dynamic tolling or just the ordinary kind…on the I-5 Columbia River bridge. Proceeds can go into an earmarked fund for future transportation investments in the corridor…to be determined. This is how the existing bridges were paid for.
    In the meantime we can level the playing field with transit ($105 per month) and vanpools and reduce non-essential trips (i.e. non-freight) across the River.

  4. There are socio-economic and political ramifications to consider for special toll lanes… they may mark the removal of yet another public commons.

    There will be people who for some economic reason must drive (whether to go to a job where transit does not easily connect, or to visit a relative who needs home-care) in a corridor on a daily basis, but who will not be able to afford to pay daily to drive in the special uncongested lane. It could lead to a two-tier society where wealthy drivers have smooth roads free of congestion, and everyone else must tough it out.

    I’m not saying there are absolutely no merits to such a pricing scheme, but ask yourself this:

    1. Would you support a library with access to the latest periodicals and hard cover books reserved for members who pay a 2nd tier higher fee?
    2. Would you support a public park where the nicer playground equipment was reserved for those willing to pay “congestion pricing” for their children on busy summer weekends?
    3. Would you support a public swimming pool facility where the nicer pool with the diving board and the water slide was only available for X children and only if their parents paid a fee?

    Personally, I would say “no” to those circumstances. But then again, our publicly subsidized performing arts facilities charge more money for better seats, and no one objects to that, right?

    And in the private sector, I’d gladly pay extra to go to a movie theatre that didn’t show annoying commercials before the film, nobody sat directly in front of me, and the movie started on time… but even the free market can’t provide that, apparently.

    – Bob R.

  5. All modes can work together to complement each other. People at REASON foundation and other groups try to pitch their cheap mode over all others, trying to prey on voter fear of Governemnt out of control to use it to their advantage. BRT Busways can feed into Light Rail and used for LRT as ridership builds up. There is a reason why Curitiba has worked for so long, and that can never be duplicated here. Anti-Smart Growth forces would unite against it, as land-use patterns are tightly linked to the busway operations.

  6. I like the BRT option as a lead-in for LRT. Eugene has stated that this is one of the reasons for building BRT now.

    That said, one other reason BRT won’t be a viable long-term strategy as it has been in Curitiba is the difference in labor costs. What makes Curitiba work so well is the high frequency of the buses. This is balanced with the lower capacity of buses compared to that of trains. It takes a LOT of bus drivers to make Curitiba’s system work. Those drivers aren’t making the same level of wages that TriMet’s ATU drivers do. Funding for operating transit systems are much more difficult to come by than funds to build systems. LRT, with it’s higher capacity per unit, probably makes more sense in the long haul even though the up front costs are far greater than BRT.

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