Opportunity Houston and HOV tollingI usually assume my readers catch stories in the Chronicle (which is why I don't pass them along too often), but I want to make sure you catch a couple stories this morning. The first is the formal announcement of the Greater Houston Partnership's $40m Opportunity Houston campaign lead by Astros owner Drayton McLane, something I talked about a while back. They've raised $14m of the $40m and seem confident they can raise the rest. It's an ambitious program that could really take the Houston economy to the next level.
The second is the front-page article on Metro looking at tolling the HOV lanes for single-occupant vehicles, something I've been advocating for a while. Robin and I both get quoted. My advice to Metro would be along three lines:
The strategic plan promises an enormous return on investment — creating 600,000 new jobs and attracting $60 billion in capital investments. The plan also aims to generate $225 billion in foreign trade. ...
Targeted industries include aviation and aerospace, energy and petrochemical, medical and biotechnology, information technology and nanotechnology.
- If HOV/HOT lane expansion is considered (usually from one to two lanes), I think most spoke freeways in Houston would be better off with two lanes going one direction than one lane in each direction ("better off" meaning more demand and making more money). The contra-flow direction is rarely problematic on most Houston spoke freeways, the exception being the I10 Katy, but they already have a 4-lane tolled solution under construction for it. Two same-direction lanes would also allow passing, which is always helpful.
- Go all EZ-tag like the Westpark tollway. The buses and vanpools need to be free, but I think you need to charge for all other vehicles, including high-occupancy cars - otherwise you have to have human intervention counting which cars have enough people to avoid the tolls. Studies have shown that most HOV riders are related family members that would have ridden together anyway (spouses or parents with children), so they're not doing much to change behavior and really encourage carpooling - those riders are just getting a free perk. Tolling all cars is not only much simpler and makes more money, but it also encourages bigger carpools to split the fare among more riders. Right now, once you have your 2 or 3 riders, you're done, but if everybody pays the toll, you now have a strong incentive to fill that minivan/SUV if you can and make it as cheap as possible for each person. Reason's eminent transportation expert Bob Poole also advocates this approach.
- Do real-time pricing like San Diego if you can, where you sense traffic loads and adjust prices on the fly as needed. Otherwise, Mondays, Fridays, traffic accidents, and weather can all send people flocking to the HOV lane and overcrowding it. You just need an electronic sign at the lane entrances telling people how much they're going to be paying if they decide to hop in at that point.