Posts Tagged 'BRT'

Capital Costs vs. Operational Costs: the general state of misdirected anger

Oakland Airport ConnectorRail projects are expensive. Take, for example, the San Francisco Bay Area: Despite the fact that BART is having budget difficulties they moving ahead with a $500 million 3.2-mile Oakland Airport connector, a $3.4 billion rail car fleet replacement and a $6 billion extension to Silicon Valley. MUNI, which is also in the midst of a budget crisis, is moving ahead with $1.58 billion 1.7-mile surface/subway expansion program. It should be no surprise then that the amount general outrage directed at this apparent disparity between these ‘elitist’ projects and the service cuts faced by the same agencies seeking these glamorous expansions is growing.

What is lacking in this debate however is that these rail projects have lower operating costs than the services they are meant to replace. For example BART has one of the highest fair box recovery ratios of transit system in the country! Furthermore these projects increase transit capacity, speed and reliability and thus are able to entice more people to switch modes.

Making a statement with transit

These projects also make a statement – they’re massive monuments to transportation. They’re immovable and permanent. This is important because people who are willing to give up their car need some reassurance that transit is there for them. Switching modes is perhaps one of the hardest and most life altering changes that a person can make; the automobile is almost an extension of a person. To give up one’s car, for many people, is to give up a part of oneself – a part of one’s identity. That void needs to be filled, and a bumpy, impermanent bus route just won’t do it – not even if you label it BRT.

Rail. It WorksNow, I know that there are people out there outraged that I am concerned about people who have cars when there are people out there who barely have access to, or who may no longer be able to afford the bus. There is no excuse for the transit services to be cut, especially when ridership is at such high levels and global warming is peaking its’ ugly head. Everyone should be outraged by this! However, the solution is not to attack the projects that put transit on the right track for the future. These projects will allow buses to be replaced by trains that cost less to operate and simultaneously allow for increased reliability and capacity. These projects are the way forward. We should support them.

No Good.

IMAGE CREDIT: BART; BART; Flickr by ‘Will aims to rage’ and ‘pbo31’; Charles Cushman

© Brian A. Tyler and Switching Modes, 2009.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this website’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brian Tyler and SwitchingModes.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Berkeley Professor says HOT lanes will lose money and infuriate drivers, but he overlooks his own findings

Pravin VariyaPravin Varaiya of UC Berkeley’s electrical engineering and computer sciences department claims that HOT lanes will loose money and infuriate drivers by making traffic worse. This is a blow to the San Francisco Bay Area MTC and this website which has vehemently supported the HOT lane proposal.

Yet, Varaiya’s assessment of HOT lanes is flawed. The East Bay Express says that,

He concludes that the new toll lanes will lose money for two main reasons. In less-congested areas, not enough people will use them. And on the Bay Area’s more-congested freeways, heavy demand from carpoolers won’t leave enough room for those single-occupancy vehicles that would pay the new toll.

The first flaw with this argument is that in less congested areas he is using current data, not future growth trends. Furthermore he completely neglects that these same areas generally do not have carpool lanes already in place. As such, they are part of the second phase of the HOT lane proposal that will build new lanes, but not for about a decade. The levels of congestion will almost certainly change by then.

The second flaw in Varaiya’s critique of HOT lanes is that he neglects to take into account that adjustments can be made. He says that in the areas were congestion is a problem carpool lanes require just two people in a car to use a carpool lane which makes them just about as congested as any other lane. He then points out that because of this there is limited space for toll paying single occupancy vehicles without causing congestion in the HOT lanes themselves. He neglects to mention that in this scenario the MTC will almost certainly change the requirement to three people per car to qualify as a carpool. This would reduce congestion in the HOT lane and simultaneously increase congestion on the other lanes, thus making the HOT lanes appealing to toll paying passengers.

It should be noted that Varaiya is basing his assessment of HOT lanes from previous studies that show carpool lanes are ineffective in reducing traffic and encouraging people to carpool. From these studies he also found that there is unused roadway capacity in many carpool lanes that could be used to reduce congestion on some freeways if these lanes were converted to ordinary freeway lanes (mixed flow lanes). In all probability Varaiya is right on this issue. Yet, this only supports the case for HOT lanes. Rather than simply granting the extra capacity over to all freeway users, why not sell it? This achieves a better result than simply turning the lane over to mixed flow use because when needed a HOT lane raises the toll to discourage drivers from using the HOT lane. Thus, a HOT lane is impervious to congestion. Because a lane that is full, but not congested, moves far more people then a congested roadway this means that since people using the HOT lane are taken from the mixed flow lanes, more people are taken out of the mixed flow lanes if a HOT lane is used than if that lane is simply converted over to a mixed flow lane.

So what alternative does Varaiya propose to ease congestion? He proposes signaling, specifically like that used on the Bay Bridge. However, the Bay Bridge signaling works because it can signal all drivers across the entire freeway, but this is not possible on most freeways. For a similar plan to be effective throughout the Bay Area every freeway would need signals on each freeway entrance and everywhere a freeway merges with another freeway. However, if signals where installed wherever freeways merge, this would create a backup on the freeway people are merging from – such a signaling system would not work. Yet, without this type of signaling system it is impossible to control the traffic flow on an interconnected freeway network. That is why signaling used only at on ramps does not eliminate freeway congestion, despite its’ extensive use in places such as LA.

Given the facts that Varaiya lays out, his assessment of the HOT lane proposal may be correct. However, he does not address the the fact that things can change. This makes his assessment of the HOT Lane proposal wrong. Furthermore, he completely neglects to mention how freeway lanes that do not become congested, such as HOT lanes, benefit transit and encourage people to switch modes.

The HOT Lane: San Francisco Bay Area MTC moves forward with congestion pricing

The MTC’s Plan
On Wednesday the MTC of the San Francisco Bay Area boldly added an 800 mile high-occupancy toll, or HOT lane, network to its 25-year regional plan. These new lanes act as High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) (a.k.a. carpool) lanes but when there is extra capacity it is sold using an electronic toll. Traffic always keeps moving in the HOT lane because the lane uses congestion pricing: as more users begin to use the lane the toll rate automatically rises to deter more cars from using the lane before the decelerating effects of congestion set in. The first phase of this $3.7 billion project will install FasTrak electronic toll collection sensors on the entire 400-mile HOV lane network already in place in the San Francisco Bay Area. This will effectively convert the HOV lanes to HOT lanes. Subsequent phases will widen freeways to makes space for new HOT lanes rather than convert mixed flow lanes to HOT lanes.


Good for Transit? – Yes.
Besides having a really a sleek acronym, HOT lanes are a rather attractive idea. The MTC claims that the funds raised from the tolls will help improve the HOV network (now be called the HOT lane network) and that this will reduce congestion and emissions, and provide “a reliable travel option for express bus and carpools.” While, the MTC is somewhat amiss to claim the plan will “reduce” emissions, these new lanes do help transit gain a strategic edge over the automobile: In a way these lanes act as a kind of transit-first guideway because even when there is congestion on the mixed-flow lanes, and people really want to use the HOT lanes, the prices of the HOT lane will rise deterring automobile drivers but never the buses that will be whisking by parked cars on the freeways.


This might sound great, but it’s not the primary way the HOT lane network will support transit. Why? Rail. Take a look at the MTC’s Regional Rail Plan released last September and compare it to the Regional Hot-Lane Network announced today – there are clear similarities: these rail corridors parallel and compliment the freeway system. This is no coincidence – these corridors were designed to work as a transportation system that breaks the funding divide between roads and transit: the MTC envisions the HOT lane networking partially funding their nearly $50 billion rail proposal (see page 25).


Building more freeways is not the right way forward, but it’s (somewhat) inevitable for the time being. At the very least HOT Lanes provide a way to recoup the costs of, and even earn a profit from, freeway expansions. Transportation projects can earn money – the bridges in the Bay area alone earn over $400 million per year. If the profits from HOV lanes are used to put transportation on the fast track then they’re an excellent idea.


What’s Next?

There are gaps in the MTC’s HOT lane network, mainly either in San Francisco or directly connected to it. This is due to the high cost and infeasibility of adding lanes to these roads and bridges. Thus, the only way to expedite any sort of HOT lane network on these sections of roadway is to convert existing mixed-use lanes to HOT lanes. This has been studied, but it isn’t being done because of the experience that Santa Monica had in ‘taking away’ mixed flow lanes for use as HOV lanes.


Although the conversion of lanes in Santa Monica initially failed to reduce congestion and lawsuits were filed, by the time the lanes were converted back to mixed flow lanes, the HOV lanes had begun to work – people had switched to carpooling and taking the bus, it just took time. While this website promotes transit, there’s nothing wrong with getting freeway traffic to flow again. Let’s hope the MTC’s project is a success because if it is it may open the door to converting mixed-flow lanes to HOT lanes. Not only could this create a huge windfall for transit it would help avoid the tragedy of the commons on our freeways – a situation where nobody can get anywhere at all.






© Brian A. Tyler and SwitchingModes.com, 2009.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this website’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brian Tyler and SwitchingModes.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



© Brian A. Tyler and SwitchingModes.com, 2009.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material and/or concepts without express and written permission from this websites’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brian Tyler and SwitchingModes.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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