Sunday, October 22, 2006

How Dallas will do managed HOT lanes

Tonight is a quick pass-along from Bob Poole's Surface Transportation Innovations newsletter on two different approaches to running managed/high-occupancy-toll lanes, with the benefits of one over the other and Dallas' choice of the better one. I'm not sure what Houston's plan is (starting with the managed lanes down the middle of the new I-10), but we're both in Texas under TXDoT, so I'm assuming it will probably go in a similar direction.

What Kind of Managed Lanes?

On a number of occasions this year I have given a presentation before transportation groups contrasting two different models for priced managed lanes (whether called HOT lanes or something else. Model 1, as I call it, conceives of the lanes essentially as HOV lanes that sell any excess capacity to paying customers. Their purpose is to maximize ride-sharing, helping to meet the goal of reducing peak-period driving. Model 2, by contrast, conceives of the lanes as congestion-relievers, offering fast, reliable, trips to paying customers, and as incidentally assisting in various transit and ride-sharing goals (e.g., by letting buses and vanpools use the lanes at no charge). California’s two pioneering projects serve as role models. The I-15 HOT lanes in San Diego are a classic Model 1 project, with all net toll revenues dedicated to subsidizing commuter bus service in the corridor. The 91 Express Lanes in Orange County are a classic Model 2 project, offering half-price rates to HOV-3 vehicles but no other freebies.

The differences I summarized may not sound like much, but they make an enormous difference. Model 1 projects, because they give top priority to car-pooling, generally let as many HOV-2s as possible use the lanes, even to the point of excluding any paying customers. That’s just what happens in some of the HOT lane feasibility studies I’ve reviewed for several large metro areas recently: precisely at the busiest peak periods, when congestion relief is needed most and people are willing to pay the highest price, the lanes are shown as generating zero revenue, because demand for HOV-2s must be accommodated.

It’s this kind of nonsense that leads some to conclude that “HOT lanes can only generate enough revenue to pay for operating and maintenance costs, not for capital costs.” And because building a network of HOT lanes in a large congested urban area would be a multi-billion-dollar effort, it’s clear that as long as Model 1 prevails, we aren’t going to see anything like HOT networks get built. Whereas, we already know that the Model 2 approach in Orange County is paying the entire capital cost of those four new lanes, as will the Model 2 approach being planned for the Washington, DC-area Beltway HOT lanes.

I’m pleased to report that the Dallas/Fort Worth metro area has recently adopted a largely Model 2 approach. The North Central Texas Council of Governments developed the draft policy and engaged public and private-sector stakeholders in debate and discussion earlier this year (including a presentation by me in Ft. Worth). You can download the resulting “Managed Lane Policies” by going to www.nctcog.org/trans/committees and clicking first on Regional Transportation Council, then Toll Policies, and then Managed Lanes Policy. The same approach will be used for all managed lanes in the metro area. Each new managed lane will begin with a six-month introductory phase, during which it will operate with a fixed toll rate of up to 75 cents/mile, adjusted monthly. After those initial six months, the pricing will be dynamic (as in San Diego), at whatever rate is needed to manage traffic flow with a minimum average corridor speed of 50 mph. Transit vehicles will go free, and HOV-2s will get a 50% discount during peak hours but pay the full rate other times. The HOV discount will phase out after the region has demonstrated attainment of air-quality goals; at that point, the lanes will become pure Express Toll Lanes (i.e., Model 2).

Several other details are worth noting. Once the system goes to dynamic (market-based) pricing, drivers will receive rebates if the average speed drops below 35 mph. And there will be no discounts for “green” vehicles—a proper distinction between transportation finance policy and environmental/energy policy. It’s contemplated that many of these managed lanes will be developed and operated by the private sector under long-term partnership or concession agreements. The policy recognizes that the length of such agreements should permit developers to maximize their potential revenue. It also acknowledges that pricing will be essential to sustain the performance of the lanes, so that “tolls will remain on the managed lanes” after the PPP agreement terminates.

This is one of the best managed lanes policy statements I’ve seen. Other Metropolitan Planning Organizations that are looking into HOT lanes and HOT networks should take a careful look at this policy.

12 Comments:

At 10:33 AM, October 23, 2006, Blogger David said...

Interesting that judging the effectiveness is totally about money. What happens to transit and people doubling up in cars as you turn over those facilities to single-occupant vehicles driven by people with money? No congestion is relieved on the free lanes, transit becomes impossible, and people are encouraged to drive alone. What about looking at those facilities to see how efficient they become, how many people they move through them?

 
At 12:04 PM, October 23, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

The toll naturally creates an incentive for pooling up to split the cost. Studies have shown that most HOV car pooling would have happened anyway (usually a married couple or parent and child), so the HOV lanes are just a free perk for them rather than changing behavior. Transit and vanpools still use them for free, and high-speed is maintained.

 
At 1:51 PM, October 23, 2006, Anonymous Robin Holzer said...

Tory - Your suggestion that HOV users are often family groups who would ride together anyway sounds plausible to me. Can you point me to any sources? Robin

 
At 2:43 PM, October 23, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Perfect. Just found one.

http://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/
12hovsysconf/breakout3.htm

"Carpooling with an adult family member was the most frequently reported carpool arrangement for HOVs in the HOV lanes and the general-purpose lanes, as well as QuickRide participants. Carpooling with an adult family member was reported by between 35 percent and 48 percent of the respondents. Between 20 percent and 40 percent of the respondents reporting carpooling with a co-worker. Children accounted for between 20 to 28 percent of carpool partners."

 
At 6:25 PM, October 23, 2006, Anonymous Neal Meyer said...

Our freeways are in fact our most valuable transportation real estate, Metro's rhetoric about rail being the "transit backbone" not withstanding. In general cities everywhere would be much better off if they were to get rid of HOV lanes entirely and move towards converting those HOV lanes to toll lanes. I cannot count how many times I have been stuck in traffic on I-45 / 59, etc, while looking at empty unused HOV lanes. We could probably convert those HOV freeway lanes to HOT lanes and get one extra lane for vehicle traffic in each direction at relatively low cost. Those lanes would be available to all paying customers 24 hours a day, 7 days per week.

Also, your preceptions on HOV car pooling are absolutely correct. I know of several people who commute to my work via HOV lanes and they are all families commuting together.

 
At 10:12 AM, October 24, 2006, Blogger David said...

But the critical point here is that those HOV lanes were partially built for cars with more than one person, but primarily built (in Houston by Metro) for commuter transit service. To set up an HOT hierarchy that gradually squeezes transit out in the interest of making money and of providing Lexus Lanes for the wealthy is incredibly short-sighted. We now have very successful commuter transit. Take away Metro's right of way and that's history. All those people would have to begin to drive cars again.

 
At 10:58 AM, October 24, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

David: sorry for the confusion, but to clarify: transit still has a "virtual" reserved high-speed right-of-way in the HOT lanes. All busses and vanpools travel for free, and tolls are set to maintain a min of 50+ mph. What that means is that if they keep adding buses and vanpools, prices will rise to thin out the other traffic and maintain the high speeds. Transit does not suffer, and they never get squeezed out. Any "squeezing out" is of the cars.

More detail on the Katy "Virtual Exclusive Busway" here:
http://houstonstrategies.blogspot.com/2005/
12/thinking-about-metros-hov-lane.html

 
At 1:59 PM, October 24, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have not heard a peep about the location of the new university line rail on richmond in awhile. any idea what the next step or announcement is expected??

 
At 2:48 PM, October 24, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I've heard they're studying multiple alternatives, with no expectation of moving forward for several more months.

 
At 4:58 PM, October 24, 2006, Anonymous Tom said...

I disagree with the comment that providing toll lanes for Lexus drivers at the expense of car-poolers is the wrong direction. The goal should be lowering commute times (for everyone) and earning revenue to offset the cost of maintaining the freeway.

If the dynamic pricing is set up to get the speed at 50+, why not let as many cars on the HOT lane as possible. Single drivers pay the highest toll, 2 person cars get a discount, and 3+, including buses pay zero. Everyone comes out a winner. The free lanes should be faster in this scenario as well.

Once the speed starts to dip below 50, tolls go up. Some single and two people drivers might start realizing that they don’t want to pay that amount, so they choose to go with the free lanes.

It may not seem fair that Bill Gates might not care what it costs to drive his gas guzzler on the HOT lanes when John Smith can’t afford it. However, John Smith made the economic decision to live and work in different parts of the city. His choice was to spend his time/money in traffic. Letting the “wealthier” or late-for-a-meeting crowd use the empty areas of the HOT lane is a benefit for everyone. John Smith has one less car in the free lanes, Bill Gates get to work faster, and METRO receives a few dollars. And for the people who car-pool, they get a benefit of faster routes, and free or reduced tolls.

 
At 12:51 PM, October 27, 2006, Anonymous Jay Crossley said...

Considering just the concept that HOV lanes are used for carrying family members and thus written off above, I think this needs some more thought. The evidence you site is in no way a research paper is one point, so it would be nice to see a more in depth analysis before taking this as a conclusion. More importantly the interpretation seems questionable.

The note immediately above the one you point out says that 98% of carpoolers are commuting, which I take to mean their primary trip from home to work. If that is the case with these 35 to 48% who are carpooling with an adult family member, then I think it is untrue that this is a "perk" or that it would have happened anyway. How many married couples do you know who carpool to work? I would venture that outside of HOV use, that is not the norm and that these people are correctly making a decision to carpool based on the ability to use the HOV lane.

So the only group that doesn't "count" are the parents driving children, which is the same group that is used in the original post as justification for HOT lanes.


If we are interested in a free market solution to congestion system-wide, then we should be talking about congestion pricing the entire city, like in London. Here's one argument along those lines:
http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/?article=658

 
At 12:51 PM, October 27, 2006, Anonymous Jay Crossley said...

Considering just the concept that HOV lanes are used for carrying family members and thus written off above, I think this needs some more thought. The evidence you site is in no way a research paper is one point, so it would be nice to see a more in depth analysis before taking this as a conclusion. More importantly the interpretation seems questionable.

The note immediately above the one you point out says that 98% of carpoolers are commuting, which I take to mean their primary trip from home to work. If that is the case with these 35 to 48% who are carpooling with an adult family member, then I think it is untrue that this is a "perk" or that it would have happened anyway. How many married couples do you know who carpool to work? I would venture that outside of HOV use, that is not the norm and that these people are correctly making a decision to carpool based on the ability to use the HOV lane.

So the only group that doesn't "count" are the parents driving children, which is the same group that is used in the original post as justification for HOT lanes.


If we are interested in a free market solution to congestion system-wide, then we should be talking about congestion pricing the entire city, like in London. Here's one argument along those lines:
http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/?article=658

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home