The Bus Transit Lane Concept Could Provide Real Answers to Funding Woes

Thursday, August 01, 2013

The Atlantic Cities recently covered some awesome forays into transportation innovation happening in Tampa, Florida. Idaho could stand to have a conversation about the "BTL" concept.

The concept was put forth as a way to get transit authorities and highway authorities working together for the benefit of all. Traditionally, these two entities have been silo'd in separate spheres.

The BTL is a designated expressway corridor that gives first priority to transit buses. Once the buses are moving, the space will be sold to other drivers. For those who want to zip past traffic congestion, a small toll is a small price to pay.

This approach is smart because it solves the severe funding problems that most transit systems face. It instead creates a system that not only generates its own revenue, but eventually makes a profit as well.

Federal grans would pay for the construction of the corridor, but toll revenue from cars sharing the lanes would cover the cost of operating and maintaining the transit service. Such a system addresses the low farebox recovery rate of American buses--typical bus fares only cover about a third of the costs--potentially removing the need for tax payer subsidies. Simply put, transit would foot the initial bill and cars would take over from there.

Don't imagine that there would be nothing in this for drivers. Every car in the BTL is one less car turning the still-free freeway into a parking lot every morning. The tolls are voluntary, so they're not harming anyone. 

People who need transit could still get it while freeing up tax dollars for other projects in subsequent years. Buses would move faster, increasing ridership and decreasing emissions.

But is such a Win-Win-Win really feasible? Preliminary reports say that it is

  • Revenue projections show that 100% of transit costs would be covered by the BTL system.
  • A 65-mile route would produce a 30 year net revenue of $1.5 billion. 
  • There were three proposed routes. The lowest ROI for any route was 151%. The highest was 617%.
  • 90% of corridor capacity would actually remain open to cars, even if buses ran the corridor once every minute.
  • The least profitable route produced a 375% in ridership. The most profitable route produced an 1826% increase in ridership.

This is exactly the kind of thinking we need to adopt: smart solutions that make transportation work for all of our citizens and that actually create profitable assets rather than costly liabilities. 

Will Transit Information Come to Apple Maps?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Mobile maps have a lot of power to make transit a more attractive option for commuters. If people can get accurate information about their transit system on their smart phones then they are far more likely to trust and use those systems.

That's why Apple's announcement that it has purchased Hop Stop is such good news. Though Apple will neither confirm nor deny the reason for the purchase it seems likely that it would at least offer the tech giant the ability to offer this much-needed information to iPhone users.

Hop Stop looks up transit directions, maps, schedules, and nearby stations through its website as well as its Android and iOS apps. The company provides his data for 300 different cities and also offers city guides to its visitors. It would only make sense that Apple would buy the company to include this kind of information in its own Maps app, particularly as it would bring Apple maps just a little bit closer in competition to Google Maps, which already provides public transit information [in many cities].

Of course, in order for this to be truly good news, Apple has to fix the app itself, as it has been known to direct users to strange places. Google Maps could also stand to catch up by offering transit information in every city (they do not). 

It's also possible that Apple really does have another reason for the purchase. 

Still, any sign that transportation information is being treated like a priority is a positive one, and we look forward to seeing what happens next.

74% of Americans Favor Public Transportation Investments

Thursday, June 13, 2013

RTandS.com recently ran a story indicating that 74% of American citizens support using tax dollars to increase the country's public transportation infrastructure. This indicates that most Americans recognize the benefits of getting more cars off of the road.

"The results of the poll were released today during a nationwide transportation conference taking place at a center city hotel.

Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell...told the transportation leaders that our transportation infrastructure once led the world with innovation, but it's all falling apart now."

Rendell goes on to say, quite sensibly, that public transportation is an investment. Developing the infrastructure isn't "spending" money, but putting that money to work for the country.

RTandS.com reports that the figure rises to nearly 88% when people begin talking about the concept of providing access to opportunities.

"However, public transportation scores its strongest support when discussing access to opportunities. When asked about the affordable transportation options for people, nearly 88 percent of respondents agreed that public transit expands opportunities and provides access to new jobs and careers, as well as to medical care, schools, and colleges."

There's no question that there is a pressing need to develop a 21st century infrastructure. Rising gas prices will virtually ensure that cars as we know them will eventually cease to be viable options. Car ownership is already on the decline due to a number of factors, including gas prices, concerns about the environment, and the ever-skyrocketing annual cost of ownership.

Having the infrastructure in place would make an incredible difference to both today's economy and tomorrow's economy.

The only real question is whether or not lawmakers will actually listen to their constituents, making the necessary investments that are required to create a viable, prosperous future.

The Rise of Multi-Modal

Monday, June 10, 2013
by: Vanassa Fry - District 4 Mobility Manager

As part of the US Department of Transportation’s Strategic Plan 2012-2016 former DOT Secretary Ray LaHood steered the nation towards a course of multimodal transportation that supports livable communities.  Not only does multimodal transportation offer safer, more convenient travel it also will help the US move away from our reliance on foreign oil.  Sounds like a good plan, right?  Well, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

For decades transportation modes have acted independently of one another in the way they’ve been managed and funded. Main Street could have a state highway bisecting it with only a few safe places to cross for the entire stretch through town.  A county’s road and bridge department rarely communicated with local public transportation entities and vice versa.  Now, with funding getting tighter for everyone and funders requesting collaboration on projects we’re seeing unusual partnerships form with successful outcomes.

Hailey, Idaho is one such success.  When the federal government released TIGER II funding Hailey partnered with Idaho Transportation Department, Mountain Rides Transportation Authority, Blaine County Recreation District, College of Southern Idaho and others to garner $3.5M in funds for the Woodside Boulevard Complete Streets Initiative.  Prior to the project, Woodside Boulevard, the thoroughfare through the densest part of town, offered little in the way of pedestrian and bicycle amenities, exposing riders and walkers to fast-moving traffic on the narrow street.  Drivers were challenged by the lack of traffic signals enabling access to the state highway.

Now sidewalks line both sides of the street, bike lanes allow riders to safely maneuver through the neighborhood, and cars and buses are able to make protected turns onto the state highway. This project and others across Idaho prove that Complete Streets projects are safer, promote economic vitality, are more convenient and offer transportation choices by not singling out one mode as more important than others.

Interested in learning more about how you can form collaborative relationships and pursue a Complete Streets project?  Contact your local mobility manager.  To learn more about other transportation options in Idaho visit I-way.org.  I-way can help you find an accessible and efficient transportation option to get you to your destination.

An Easy Way to Prevent Teenage Driving Deaths

Thursday, May 16, 2013

According to Sarah Goodyear of The Atlantic Cities magazine, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of teenage deaths in America. Putting a teen behind the wheel of a car also opens them up to a host of other secondary consequences--consequences that manifest primarily in the types of behavior that teen drivers display when they're plugged into "car culture."

These consequences include "physical inactivity, obesity, alcohol use, drug use, poorer grades and sexually transmitted diseases." In short, teens typically display exactly the sort of reckless, impulsive behavior that one might expect to see from them when they have the power to easily drive out from under the eyes of any adult.

Yet many teens don't have any option but to get behind the wheel of a car. Just like adults, teens often have jobs or other responsibilities to tackle--and parents don't always have time to play taxi.

So teens need, as the article described, the option to avoid driving altogether. This option saves lives while helping teens continue to receive access to transportation options that they need as they work towards their goals or enjoy their social lives.

These options encompass more than extended bus lines. There is a "total transportation management strategy" that needs to be worked out if we're going to reduce teenage driving deaths.

"This strategy encourages people to use more efficient and beneficial travel modes...through a holistic, integrated set of policies ranging from parking prices to transit improvements to traffic calming. This combined approach, according to its advocates, can shape the way people make travel choices over time. Having a bike-share system, for instance, combined with traffic-calmed streets, will make people more likely to bike rather than drive, thus reducing congestion and emissions. And the person gets some exercise, too...Kids need to be able to make fully informed choices and not be forced into driving simply because the society doesn't offer alternatives or make them useful and accessible."

Given today's teens would rather own a smartphone than a car, it's safe to say that these measures would be more than effective at saving teen lives and reducing parental worries.