Monday, May 21, 2007

Cheap fixes for traffic congestion

The LA Times recently ran an article on "quick and inexpensive" ways to reduce traffic congestion. There are some good ideas in here that are just as applicable to Houston:
  1. Open up transit to competition by ending the govt-sanctioned monopoly, allowing competition like jitneys - an idea I've advocated for Houston before, and one that is particularly applicable to commuter services on an express lane network.
  2. Raise parking meter rates so people spend less time cruising around looking for a space. The "optimal" rate is considered to be one that keeps the street parking about 85% occupied.
  3. A better bus network, including some faster dedicated (or semi-dedicated lanes) and connecting shuttles.
  4. Synchronized lights, minimze left-turning at rush hours, and street conversions to one-way (I think the Galleria/Uptown area could really use this last one - maybe Post Oak should be one-way northbound, looping southbound on the 610 feeder?).
  5. Convert HOV lanes to congestion-priced toll lanes to get better utilization.
  6. Cut bus fares. Maybe even make them free. Fares typically cover less than 20% of costs (the rest are paid by sales tax subsidies). Free fares not only increase ridership, but vastly simplify and speed up the buses since fares don't have to be collected or enforced.
  7. Extend congestion pricing to all freeways (radical, but could be extremely effective).
A really good set of suggestions. Houston seems to be on track with 3, 4, and 5. 2 is less relevant to us, but could be helpful. 1, 6, and 7 are more "out there" - but well worth investigating.

Labels: , , ,


At 11:34 PM, May 21, 2007, Blogger John said...

Seattle has a downtown zone where transit is free during business daytime hours.

It would be interesting to see what would happen if some of the commuter buses were free for a month.

At 1:47 AM, May 22, 2007, Blogger Ian Rees said...

Actually, Houston's original transit system was privately owned. Houston Electric Co.

This is a good resource:

And yes, Houston did have jitneys for a long time. And, this is interesting, a quick code search suggests they are still legal and can be operated.

I found this part of the code amusing:

(a) It shall be the duty of every jitney driver to be hygienically clean, well groomed, neat, and suitably dressed in compliance with all applicable requirements of this section at all times while a jitney is in his or her custody.
(b) Drivers shall be clean-shaven, and facial hair shall be neatly trimmed. If a beard or moustache is worn, it shall be well groomed and neatly trimmed at all times in order not to present a ragged appearance.
(c) The term "suitably dressed" shall be interpreted to mean the driver shall wear slacks or trousers, a shirt with collar or blouse with or without a tie, a dress or suit, shoes, and, if desired, appropriate outer garments.
(d) Clothing that is not considered appropriate and is not permitted, when the driver is in charge of a jitney includes: T-shirts, underwear (as an outer garment), tank tops, body shirts, swimwear, jogging suits, or similar types of attire when worn as an outer garment, shorts or trunks (jogging or bathing), or sandals.

At 11:40 AM, May 22, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Darn that city government controlling every aspect of our Jitney Drivers' lives! I support Jitney Drivers' Unkempt Mustache Rights!

Would you guys consider the airport shuttle vans basically a jitney service? That seems like a pretty well functioning private transit solution in Houston.

On a different note, some good research has been done right here in Texas at UT-Austin and at TTI at A&M on the feasibility of a credit based congestion pricing scheme across an entire urban area. There are still kinks to work out, but I think this is the true congestion solving tolling scheme of our future. (along with other things that actually reduce congestion like density, effective transit, and telecommuting)

HOT lanes only provide the option of avoiding congestion, but I don't think that they will reduce congestion system wide at all. And they might actually encourage more further out development, leading to more congestion on the non-HOT lanes.

Credit Based Congestion Pricing can also solve the equity issues that HOT cannot, basically by giving every citizen some sort of base level of credit for driving some reasonable amount without charge. (that in a way stands for their previous investment in roads via taxes) That way you basically have the option of paying for it if you need to drive an excessive amount.

Also an interesting stretch is that transit and road travel can be in one integrated credit based system.

Here's one of the TTI studies:

At 11:43 AM, May 22, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That link didn't copy into the comment, so here's another attempt (to the TTI article about Credit-Based Congestion Pricing)

At 3:28 PM, May 22, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

That credit-based congestion pricing is a very cool concept! I had not heard of it before. It makes a lot of sense. Thanks for the link.

As far as jitneys go, I think, to truly have an impact, they need to receive the same per-passenger-mile subsidy that Metro gets

At 11:00 PM, May 22, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

we used to have free trolleys in downtown, they got rid of them about the same time the train started up. Which was stupid cause it really would have increased the cachement area of the stations in downtown.

At 11:50 AM, May 23, 2007, Blogger Wally said...

Living in Spring and working in the Galleria area has made riding Metro an imposibility. I rode and thoroughly enjoyed Metro for years but bailed upon the reconstruction of Spur 529. The price was right but the hour and half in the evening was brutal. I tried it again briefly last year, but the time lost and the overcrowding on the buses made it miserable. That said, I'd suggest the following:
1)-Jitney's; no comment; 2)-Parking meters? Who uses them? 3)-Better bus system: Critical path item, particularly with dedicated lanes and more express cross-town type buses with expansion of the Park n' Ride system. I lived for years in Rome, Italy and I can assure you, they know the better way to run buses/trolleys and dedicated lanes is the way to go. 4) Synchronized Lights? Check into that and you may find as I did in talking to a Policeman friend of mine that that is no way "cheap". It's an interesting idea though. 5)HOV conversion to HOT lanes? A definite must. 6) Free fares? Maybe, I dunno, it would free things up. 7)"credit-based congestion pricing": Interesting idea: what your doing with that is essentially rationing, through economics, mobility. I don't know quite why, but that really burns me up. That's a typical liberal answer to solve a number of onerous problems like global warming, air polution, etc. It's social engineering by any other name. And yet, it's seeminly so un American; the poor, the lower and some even of the middle income groups, (particularly those with children), would be forced off the roads and onto the disease ridden buses. The wealthy in their gas guzzling Hummers and Escalades breeze by on the now, half empty freeways. Well, it's not much to my liking but it'll probably become a reality before long. I've got a somewhat less painful suggestion to make however........ban the 18 Wheelers during rush hour!

At 1:20 PM, May 23, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

#6 has always been my pet idea. And it could be combined with legal jitneys very effectively, I think. Have a free transit "backbone" that connects up major centers in the core, a free or cheap (just enough to keep bums from living on buses) public local bus network to serve the transit dependent, and let private operators serve everything else. I doubt they should need any more subsidy than the backbone plus HOV lanes plus free or cheap park-and-ride lots.

Right now there is an institutional conflict between a transit agency and jitneys since the agency knows that jitneys will just take over whatever routes can be profitable and leave everything else unserved, essentially "stealing" their revenue and adding no new service overall. I say embrace that, (financially) separate the mission of serving transit choosers from that of serving the transit dependent, and judge transit agencies by how much mobility they provide per dollar of overall subsidy. I think both categories would benefit overall.


At 7:24 PM, May 23, 2007, Blogger Unknown said...

quickly, about the comment that credit based congestion pricing is rationing, the point is that you have a market for these credits, but that each person gets some allotment that represents what they have already been forced to pay into the transportation system. Beyond that though, it isn't a rationing system. If you want to drive more, you buy credits in the market.

At 7:09 AM, May 24, 2007, Blogger Wally said...

Jay, I understand the market component and technically you're's the "feel" of the system that leads to the rationing idea. For those with little money, it's going to work like a rationing system. The argument that anything that's "free" will ultimately be used up to capacity and beyond is one I agree with but when you've built an infrastructure that practically dictates automobile use it seems somehow unfair to suddenly charge people for the use of the system they had no control over the design of. Maybe what we're all staring down the barrel of is the fact that this is going to resemble trying to turn around a battleship with an oar.

Good news however; co-worker vacationed last week in Chicago and returned proclaiming that overall, Houston is a breeze to navigate compared to Chicago. All in all, we've got it pretty good here and I've noticed significant improvement since my and other employers apparently took the Mayor to heart and permitted flex time.

At 5:02 PM, June 10, 2007, Blogger Andrew Eisenberg said...

Congestion pricing would only work if other options are provided. Without other options, people will be forced to use the freeway and forced to pay more money and have no way around it.

The other options that I am talking about are lower prices for off-peak travel, encouragement to work from home some days per week, better express bus systems (with queue jumper lanes to enter the freeway and dedicated lanes on the freeway), and viable side streets that are an alternative to the freeway for shorter distances.

At 6:54 PM, July 10, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Higher meter rates will lead to more driving around. When I can't find a free space in downtown Houston I will just drive further to find one as I did during the superbowl festivities downtown in 2004. So higher meter rates in my opinion will mean more driving to find cheaper or free rates.

At 8:15 PM, July 10, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Studies from other cities show that higher meter rates keep more spaces free, so people drive around less.

At 7:20 PM, August 10, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

all those ideas suck like a hoover vac i pay enough in taxes and gas. build better FREEways with no bottle knecks


Post a Comment

<< Home