IF WE SPEND BILLIONS ON REGIONAL TRANSPORTATION, SHOULDN'T WE EXPECT A GOOD RETURN ON OUR INVESTMENT?
A Cost-Effective Strategy for Puget Sound Transportation
(Please find a one-page summary below. It is followed by an Executive Summary and the full text of the paper)
One: Provide a high-capacity alternative to driving alone
--Complete a "seamless" regional HOV lane network
--Provide frequent express bus service utilizing the HOV lanes
Two: Use incentives to convert commuters from SOV to HOV
--Expand Commute Trip Reduction Law to more work sites; offer employer tax credits
--"Cash out" employer subsidized parking
--Provide a guaranteed ride home to HOV commuters
--Improve the regional ridematching service
--Reduce the user cost of vanpooling to the equivalent of transit
Three: Experiment with innovative ways to reduce vehicle use
--Site public offices and subsidized housing on transit routes and near employment
--Initiate a shared-ride parataxi system; demonstrate "instant ridesharing"
--Demonstrate intensive bicycle commuting
Four: Broaden governance from transit to transportation
--Create a regional transportation agency that can plan and implement, together with other transportation entities, a diverse and integrated package of measures
--Benefits: Congestion relief, less environmental impact, more travel choices, and more dollars for local transportation problems
Authors: Dick Nelson and Don Shakow
Least Cost Transportation Planning Project
The Institute for Washington's Future
(A summary report may be obtained by calling 206-781-0915)
Full Paper - September 1995
Authors: Dick Nelson and Don Shakow
Least Cost Transportation Planning Project
The Institute for Washington's Future
The Least Cost Transportation Planning Project
The Least Cost Transportation Planning Project was initiated in 1993 under the aegis of the Institute for Transportation and the Environment. The purpose of this three-phase project was to conceive new ways of thinking about the transportation dilemma facing the central Puget Sound region, and to develop new planning tools that could be applied to find the most cost-effective solution.
In the first phase of the effort, a conceptual methodology was developed, and a list of. potentially feasible transportation options was compiled. The second phase resulted in the development of a prototype least-cost/full-cost planning model, and its preliminary application to several regional proposals, including the Regional Transit Authority rail system that was defeated at the March 1995 ballot. Two reports detailing the methodology and model have been issued, and a summary technical paper will be published by the Transportation Research Board of the National Academy of Sciences. A report summarizing the economic analysis of the RTA proposal was released prior to the election.
The project has continued in a third phase under the aegis of the Institute for Washington's Future. The purpose of the last phase of the work is to develop a regional transportation strategy that can meet a cost-effectiveness test. In addition to this summary report, a longer technical report of the third phase work may be obtained from the authors by calling 206-781-0915.
The Institute for Washington's Future
The Institute is a nonprofit research and educational center working in partnership with environmental, labor, religious, and community-based groups to address important policy issues in the state of Washington and its communities. The Institute's offices are located at 2111 East Union Street, Seattle, Washington 98122 (Phone 206-324-7324).
About the Authors
Dick Nelson developed an interest in the economic analysis of public investments as chair of the Energy and Utilities Committee of the Washington State House of Representatives, and in transportation planning as a member of the Transportation Committee of the same body. Dr. Nelson was educated in engineering and materials science at the University of Washington and MIT. He currently works as a consultant in transportation and telecommunications policy analysis.
Don Shakow is a natural resources economist and consultant with a long-standing interest in systems planning. A member of the Clark University economics faculty for fifteen years, he has lectured extensively on the economic analysis of technical systems. Dr. Shakow received a Bachelor of Science degree from MIT and a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of California at Berkeley. He is Coordinator of the Institute for Washington's Future.
A Cost-Effective Strategy for Puget Sound Transportation
The central Puget Sound region would realize significant mobility benefits by undertaking an aggressive and well-integrated strategy focused on commuters who drive alone. This strategy, which includes incentives to increase the number of journey-to-work trips by transit and shared-ride vehicle, will reduce the predicted growth of congestion to a much greater extent than will an equal investment in a highly capital-intensive fixed-rail system. The cost to the region, about $4.6 billion over the next 10 years, would be financed principally through local voter-adopted motor vehicle excise and gas tax surcharges.
The starting point, and major part of the strategy, is accelerated development of the regional HOV lane network. When complete in 10 years, this network, consisting of 276 miles of continuous freeway HOV lanes, key arterial HOV lane segments, and access ramps and interconnections, will offer significant time savings and more reliable travel times to commuters using express buses and shared-ride vehicles.
Although the travel time advantage will induce more HOV trips, the full capacity of the HOV lane network will be underutilized without other measures, especially incentives, to increase ridesharing and transit use in peak periods. These measures would include extension of the Commute Trip Reduction (CTR) Law to employers with work sites having 50 or more employees, and the provision of a $3 per day business tax credit for each employee who shifts from a SOV to an HOV or non-motorized commute. Other measures to increase HOV commuting would include the "cashing-out" of employer-subsidized parking, a guaranteed ride home in case an employee must work late or deal with an emergency, an improved ridematching service, a deeper subsidy for vanpooling, phased development of a shared-ride parataxi service, and a pilot program to test "instant" ridesharing .
Non-motorized commute trips would be encouraged in several ways. The market for commuting by bicycle will be tested by one concentrated investment in bicycling route safety improvements and supporting facilities. Publicly subsidized housing would be sited with regard to its proximity to good transit service, as well as pedestrian access to employment, shopping and necessary services. Governmental offices would be located convenient to transit routes.
The proposal makes several other recommendations that are necessary to successfully implement the strategy. Key among these is that the region must reorganize its transportation governance by creating a new regional transportation agency that has the authority to plan and implement a diverse set of measures as described in this report. Changes in state law required to do this and to implement the package of measures are specified. Also recommended are several analytical exercises that would increase our understanding of the regional transportation problem and help identify cost-effective measures that would contribute to its solution.
The Reality of Our Travel Patterns
Each week day, 800,000 residents of this region, 74% of all commuters, drive to work by SOV. More of us would use transit or rideshare if these alternatives were convenient -- if we could get to where we need to go in a reasonable amount of time. Taking the bus or carpooling certainly costs much less out-of-pocket than does driving alone.
The problem is that our life styles and travel patterns have become very complex. Many households have two or more working members. Increasing numbers have a single parent who works outside the home. Travel to and from work often involves side trips to shop or pick up family members. Jobs are changed more often, and many are part-time and temporary, further disrupting travel patterns. At the same time modern life has enriched our lives with many more out-of-home activities to choose from.
Complicating matters further is that for 50 years regional land use patterns have been shaped by the auto. Our urban form is characterized by low-density development, with residential areas widely separated from work places. Shopping and commercial services, except in older business districts, are widely dispersed. Access by car is easy, and by foot or transit is difficult and even dangerous. We have become a drive-to and drive-through society.
Ubiquitous "free" parking increases our auto-dependency. Even though each parking space is expensive to build and maintain, a driver does not feel the costs if they are paid by employers and business owners. Parking is just one of several significant costs of driving absorbed by society generally. Others are air and water pollution, traffic law enforcement, and accidents not covered by insurance.
Another significant factor in determining our travel behavior is the ongoing improvement in automobile technology. Passenger cars have become more reliable, comfortable, energy efficient, pollution-free, and safe. Manufacturers cater to consumer demand for vehicles that meet a wide range of purposes. These trends are expected to continue. For example, a "hypercar" that combines electric propulsion with a small gas engine is on the drawing board. It will be light, safe, and deliver three times the fuel efficiency of current gas-powered vehicles. Also, a prototype compressed natural gas vehicle has been tested that provides the same range as a gasoline powered vehicle on one tank of fuel.
For these reasons and others, the private motor vehicle has a distinct advantage over other modes. In a society in which time has become a valuable commodity, the car is faster and more convenient for the large majority of trips, in spite of the congestion it creates.
The Costs of Congestion
We don't mean to create problems for ourselves and other commuters when we queue at the on freeway ramp each morning. It's that we perceive the costs to be less than the costs of other available travel choices.
But the costs are high, for individuals, families, and to our economy. Especially significant are the indirect costs -- such as lost time -- that we don't feel directly in the pocket book.
The Seattle-Everett area has consistently ranked near the top in congestion on a nationwide list of metropolitan areas. For the region as a whole, the cost measured in lost time and wasted fuel due to recurring delay is estimated to be $740 million per year. This estimate does not include the costs to local businesses when goods and services are not delivered on time, nor does it include costs attributable to accidents which result from congestion, including further delay. And it does not include the environmental costs of congestion, such as the impact of air pollution on health.
Congestion, it is predicted, will grow much faster than population if we take no action. By 2020, according to the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC), the vehicle hours of delay on the region's freeways and principal arterials will increase by a factor of four.
Some would say that the steep growth of congestion will be largely due to the fact that the capacity of our freeways and key arterials has not kept pace with population and per capita trip making. But this, of course, has been our choice. Roads seriously impact the livability of our communities, and we have wisely decided to minimize that impact.
Actually, our roadway system is more than adequate to meet demand for most hours of the day. The problem is peak load -- the few hours when demand exceeds capacity.
The answer to peak demand is not as simple as building a new mass transit system. And it is not just a matter of finishing the HOV lane network that would allow buses and carpools to by-pass congestion. The answer also lies in countering the forces that entice us into solo commuting in spite of its huge costs.
The RTA plan that failed to receive voter approval in March would have moved only 18,500 drivers from their cars into public transit. Previous modeling studies of a regional HOV system indicate a similar low impact on mode choice. Obviously, a more comprehensive strategy is needed to stem the growth of congestion and delay.
Commute Trips and Congestion -- The Focus of the Strategy
The proposed strategy focuses on commute trips because they contribute to the greatest amount of congestion and are the most amenable to mode shift. Commuters who respond to measures that reduce the cost of delay by shifting to transit and ridesharing, may start thinking about different modes or patterns for their other trips.
Although commute trips are just 30 percent of all trips in the peak morning and afternoon commute periods, they constitute a much larger fraction of the vehicles on major roadways during these periods. Survey data from Southern California indicate that at least 70 percent, and perhaps as much as 90 percent, of vehicles using freeways in the morning commute period are headed from home to work or to a work-related destinations. (Some of these trips may involve one or more stops for other purposes.) This implies that a significant mode change for workers would have a positive impact on congestion.
The strategy focuses on the general condition of recurring congestion caused by vehicle volumes that exceed capacity over a large percentage of the system, and not congestion caused by "pinch points" that might be remedied by localized increases in capacity or other improvements. It also does not directly address nonrecurring congestion that results from accidents, incidents such as disabled vehicles or loss of load, roadway construction and maintenance, and adverse weather. Nonrecurring congestion is estimated to be at least half of all congestion. To the extent the strategy reduces accidents that are attributable to congestion, it will also reduce some of the nonrecurring congestion.
Recurring congestion occurs outside the commute periods during weekdays on some roadway segments, and is obviously caused by people taking trips for a range of purposes. Serious congestion also happens on weekends as people travel for purposes of shopping or recreation. Since our choice of mode tends to be habitual -- if we use our vehicles for work trips we use them for all of our travel -- a change in work trip mode should help change our general travel habits. A focus on commute trips may have an indirect effect on congestion that occurs at times other than during commute periods.
Keys to a Solution -- Using our Existing System More Efficiently
A close examination of our current transportation system, both the roadways and the vehicles that run on them, indicates that we operate it in a very inefficient manner.
Personal vehicles have enormous unused capacity. In the morning commute period, there are roughly 1.5 million empty seats in vehicles being driven to work. Average vehicle occupancy is 1.1 persons per vehicle. Also, approximately one million bicycles are available to be ridden.
Buses have large unused capacity. For example, during the afternoon peak period only 56 % of available capacity is utilized on Metro buses outbound from the Seattle CBD. The average load is approximately 13 riders on a Metro bus with 53 seats.
The HOV lanes have significant potential capacity. The most heavily used HOV lane segment in the region, on I-5 in North Seattle, moves 5,000 persons per hour. Most vehicles using the lane are 2-person carpools. In several other metropolitan areas, HOV lanes carry much higher numbers of buses in peak periods and, as a result, deliver more persons per hour. An HOV lane on the Shirley Highway (I-395) between Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., carries 9200 persons per hour.
There is unused roadway capacity even in peak periods. Vehicle loads on our roadways vary widely with time of day. Even in peak periods, some capacity is available and congestion would be less if some commuters slightly adjusted their work schedules and traveled either before or after the peak time.
A number of factors, when weighed together, suggest that revenues for new transportation investments will be very scarce for the foreseeable future.
The present transportation system is costly just to operate and maintain. The PSRC estimates that $37 billion in public revenues will be needed over the next 25 years just to maintain and preserve the existing transportation system. This is approximately the amount generated by current law taxes. Any new spending, for roadway and transit capacity to stay even with growth, or for investments that improve mobility, will require increased tax rates or new taxes. The recently completed Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP) for the region calls for transportation system enhancements costing $21.4 billion, with $12.2 billion for high capacity rail. There is no demonstrated public willingness to pay for this level of enhancements.
Voters have exhibited lukewarm interest in significant new local taxes. Recent elections in the region have seen voters reject a number of projects involving increased taxes. The largest rejection was, of course, the defeat of the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) proposal for a 0.4 percent increase in the sales tax and a 0.3 percent increase in the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET). Local voters have also turned down tax levies and bonds for libraries, public safety facilities, and schools.
Federal and state support for transportation is diminishing. The Congress has consistently appropriated less than amounts authorized by ISTEA. The federal fiscal year 1996 budget now under consideration is likely to contain significantly reduced levels of assistance for transit capital and operating grants. And the State Legislature, in 1995, was unable to agree to place a 5 cent increase in the gas tax on the ballot for a vote of the people to fund transit and roadways.
Transportation competes for funding with many other public needs. Funding for many other essential purposes (e.g., education, law enforcement, job training, public health, economic development, housing, social services, environmental quality, other public infrastructure) is shrinking. At the federal level, deficit reduction efforts requiring a cut in federal spending by $1.3 trillion over seven years will mean large reductions in assistance to state and local governments across a wide variety of programs. To put this number in perspective, a $1.3 trillion cut apportioned evenly across population translates to a $3.7 billion annual loss in federal spending and support to Washington State. At the state level, Initiative 601 limits the growth of all spending and requires legislative supermajority approval for tax increases. Expenditures above the limit are subject to a vote of the people.
Economic Principles to Guide Regional Transportation Investments
The region lacks a yardstick, a rational basis, for deciding how much should be invested in transportation beyond maintenance, preservation and new transit and roadway capacity to serve population growth. Obviously, investments that enhance mobility above this level will be limited by public support for other priorities. But what is a reasonable level of public investment in transportation? The following principles should guide us:
Account for the full costs of transportation. Full cost means that we account for indirect costs as well as public and private "out-of-pocket" expenditures. Indirect costs include the time costs of travel and the environmental costs of transportation, such as the health impacts of air pollution.
Implement a least cost planning procedure. All feasible transportation alternatives should be compared and an integrated set of measures should be selected based on the principle that the benefit produced is achieved at minimum cost; alternatively, that a given investment leads to a maximum amount of benefit.
Measure benefits in terms of congestion mitigation. While benefits can be conceptualized in many different ways, the traveling public presently perceives and understands transportation benefits in terms of congestion relief. A benefit measure should be designed which indicates how regional travel time delay is affected by the recommended strategy. Other benefits should be identified but should not be used as the primary measure of performance. A clear additional benefit is how equitably all people in the region share in the primary benefit of congestion relief. For some having more travel choices, especially safe non-motorized modes, is a benefit. Money that is freed up when a cost-effective regional solution is found, would also constitute a benefit. It could be applied to solve local transportation problems. Other benefits include reductions in health impacts, environmental damage, and accident costs, as travelers shift to transit, rideshare and non-motorized modes.
Limit the transportation investment to the value of benefit produced. Public transportation investments (and new taxes) should be constrained to the value of the congestion relief produced. The following examples indicate what might be a reasonable level of investment. Example #1: Since the estimated cumulative increase in "normal" (recurring) congestion costs over the next 10 years under current trends is $5.1 billion, the region could spend up to this amount to achieve a zero increase in congestion. Example #2: Since the total cumulative baseline cost of congestion over the next 10 years is $7.4 billion, the region could spend $740 million more to reduce congestion by an average 10 percent over the next 10 years.
The Recommended Strategy
A cost-effective, environmentally sound transportation strategy for the region is available. The emphasis is on making better use of the transportation resources that are currently in place or planned and at least partially funded. In contrast to proposals that have been put forward by others, the recommended strategy highlights systems and incentives to get people out of their cars and into HOV modes. The strategy, which would cost about $4.6 billion over the next 10 years, would produce greater benefits (reduced growth of congestion, improved air quality, more travel choices, substantial regional equity) at less cost than the RTA Master Plan. The essential parts of this strategy are summarized below and described in more detail in the following sections:
Create a "seamless" regional HOV lane network. Complete the freeway HOV lane network and connect it to arterial HOV lanes serving activity centers and transit stations -- in 10 years or less. Expand express bus service using the network and feeder bus service to the network.
Provide incentives to insure that the HOV network is fully used in commute periods. Use incentives to encourage shifts to transit, vanpooling, carpooling, and non-motorized modes, and to spread demand to non-peak hours. Incentives are appealing because if they do not produce results, little public moneys will be spent.
Site subsidized housing and public facilities near transit routes. Establish as governmental policy, that all facilities supported by public funds will be located so that residents and users can easily access public transit.
Initiate phased demonstration projects to assess the benefits and costs of innovative transportation systems and incentives. A number of potentially cost-effective measures to increase transit, ridesharing, and nonmotorized travel have not been sufficiently tested to warrant full-scale deployment. Small-scale tests and phased introduction of the most promising of these projects should be pursued.
Establish a better analytical basis for selecting the measures that would comprise a comprehensive and well-integrated transportation strategy. Although regional models are used to predict future travel demand, they are not adequate to estimate the costs and benefits of a strategy that encompasses a diverse set of supply and demand-side measures. In addition, basic data needed to make intelligent decisions often lacks precision. This includes the future cost of congestion that can only be roughly estimated. New tools of analysis are needed.
Modify the regional governance of transportation to enable the implementation of a diverse and integrated strategy. The RTA was designed with a narrow focus. A new regional transportation agency that can organize a comprehensive and well-integrated strategy, including transit improvements, should be created.
Measures Which Comprise Recommended Strategy
The following measures are recommended for adoption and implementation as the components of a comprehensive and integrated strategy to reduce commute period congestion. A more complete description of the measures is contained in a technical report available from the authors. The list is not exhaustive; other measures will be added as they are demonstrated to be feasible and cost effective.
Regional HOV System. Finish the "core" HOV lane system, including freeway-to-freeway linkages, and connect it to key arterial HOV lane segments. Unless new HOV lane capacity can be justified, develop HOV lane capacity through conversion of existing lanes. Increase the performance and productivity of the HOV network for both transit and rideshare vehicles by providing: increased express and feeder bus service; park-and-ride lots; HOV bypass lanes on queue ramps; direct HOV lane access from park-and-ride lots and transit centers; signal priority for buses on arterial HOV lanes; and more HOV enforcement zones and safety measures. Balance the additional park-and-ride lots with additional feeder bus service to transit centers based on a least cost analysis that takes into account the air quality impacts of short auto or bus trips to lots and centers and long auto trips from home to work. Consider the use of personal rapid transit (PRT) systems to transport bus riders from freeway bus stops to park-and-ride lots located at such major activity centers as shopping malls.
Guaranteed Ride Home. Provide a region-wide service guaranteeing a free ride home, in the case of an emergency or in situations where an employee must work late, to CTR Law affected employees. Set a monthly per person limit on the number of free trips that can be utilized.
Preferential Parking for Ride Share Vehicles. Direct cities and counties that fall under the CTR Law to adopt ordinances requiring large employers who provide on-site or off-site parking to give preferential treatment to vanpools and carpools. Also require that cities provide a similar preference in publicly owned on-street and off-street parking.
Limited Free SOV Parking for HOV and Non-Motorized Commuters. Reimburse employers with a business and occupation tax credit for the fair rental value of a limited number of days per month of subsidized parking for employees who choose to commute by public transit, carpooling, bicycling, or walking. Design the limited parking subsidy to take into account that most commuters will occasionally need to use a car for errands, emergencies, work-related purposes, and to provide rides to family members on the trip to and from work.
Employer-Subsidized Parking "Cash-Out". Require employers affected by the CTR Law to offer employees a cash payment equivalent to the value of parking. Allow an employee the choice of keeping his/her parking, or accepting payment. If accepted, allow the cash to be used in any way, including for other forms of transportation such as carpool, vanpool, transit, bike or walk. Apply the requirement to all parking provided free or at a reduced cost.
Increased Vanpool Subsidy. Subsidize vanpool commuters at the same proportion of total costs as transit riders.
Alternative Mode Tax Incentive for Employees Affected by CTR Law. Modify the ridesharing tax incentive program adopted by the 1994 Legislature to apply to all employers in the three-county region who are affected by the CTR Law. Increase the allowable tax credit to $3 per employee per day. Require employers to "cash-out" parking they subsidize to be eligible for the credit. Expand the CTR Law to include employers in the three-county region with 50 or more employees at a single work site.
Bus Pull-outs. Provide pull-outs for buses that operate on HOV lanes for the loading and unloading of passengers.
Real-Time Traveler Information System. Implement an interactive, real-time traveler information system that provides, through a central sorting operation, and through home and in-vehicle computer systems, timely information for making pre-trip or en route decisions regarding modes, routes, trip start times, etc.
Site Subsidized Housing to Encourage Transit and Non-Motorized Trips. Locate publicly subsidized housing and public services facilities in urban villages or in close proximity to a bus route. Low income people are less likely to own a car and would benefit from the proximity to employment and services.
Initiate Shared-ride Parataxi System. While preserving the existing taxi system as a top tier service targeting the tourist and business traveler markets, initiate a second tier of computer dispatched parataxis targeting commuters. Entry into this market would not be rationed. Parataxis would accept more than one passenger traveling to different destinations. "Smart cards" could be used to facilitate payment and record keeping. A system of shared-ride parataxis would be directed at commuters who wish to employ convenient public transit, but who (1) are subject to work schedules so erratic that carpooling at regular times is not convenient; (2) chain their trips among two or more trip purposes (e.g., work and shop) so that multiple bus trips would prove too time consuming; (3) live in areas which are not easily accessible to regular public transit.
Under this system, entry to the parataxi market would be open to any potential suppliers provided that their vehicle met stringent safety and performance standards and that the drivers met rigorous requirements including both personal history, current health status, and driving ability. Were these met, the driver/vehicle combination would be eligible to participate in the system.
Measure/Incentive, Estimated New 10-year Public Cost (Million $), Change State Law?
1. Complete freeway and arterial HOV network; add express buses, bus stations and park and ride lots. Freeway lanes $1,410; Access $942; Arterial lanes $462; Bus operating $514; Bus capital $68 Bus O&M $ 57; Park & ride $140
2. Provide guaranteed ride home in case of emergency or schedule change. $10
3. Offer preferential parking for ride share vehicles at work sites and activity centers. $0; Yes
4. Allow tax credits for employers who provide limited free SOV parking days to employees who commute by HOV, bike, or foot. $10; Yes
5. Require employer subsidized parking cashouts. $0; Yes
6. Subsidize vanpools at same level as transit. $180
7. Give employers tax credits for alternative mode incentives provided to employees. $700; Yes
8. Construct bus pullouts at key locations to speed the movement of rideshare vehicles in arterial HOV lanes. $40
9. Provide real-time information of traffic conditions to travelers and potential travelers. $19
10. Site publicly subsidized housing and public office facilities in close proximity to transit and in urban villages. $0
11. Initiate shared-ride parataxi system. $50, Yes
12. Create new regional transportation agency with authority to implement comprehensive and integrated strategy. $0, Yes
Regional Transportation Governance. Create a new, directly-elected regional transportation agency with the authority to implement an integrated transportation program. All transportation improvements that require public policies and expenditures, as most do, could then be considered together. Their costs and funding sources could more easily be rationalized and determined. The implementation of transit improvements would be more effectively accomplished if done in the context of the planning and implementation of other capacity improvements, including pedestrian and bicycle enhancements, and transportation demand management.
Total Costs and Benefits
The proposed strategy is designed for a ten-year implementation period. This is the same as the period in the RTA Second Ballot System Planning Kit. Other plans have been longer; fifteen years, in the case of the RTA March 1995 ballot proposal, and 25 years in the case of the MTP.
The ten-year costs of the supply-side elements of our strategy at $3.5 billion, while the demand-side incentives are estimated to cost $1.1 billion, both in 1995 dollars. Since there exists some overlap with existing Washington State Department of Transportation plans currently being implemented to extend and enhance the HOV system for the region, and these overlapping elements will utilize revenues generated by existing sources, the additional tax burden necessary to implement this plan is somewhat less than $4.6 billion. Over the interval 1972-1993, for example approximately $830 million from federal, state, and local sources was expended on "transit benefit programs" that included HOV lanes. For the future this number is highly uncertain, especially given the current political climate on the federal, state, and local levels. This implies a net figure less than $4.6 billion but as yet unknown.
As an operating assumption, the figure of $4 billion is employed, which (on a net basis) will be significantly less than the cost of the recently defeated RTA ballot measure. Yet the benefits to the region, whether measured as: (1) a reduction in SOV use for the home-based work trip; (2) reduction in total vehicle hours of delay on the region's roadways; (3) air-quality enhancement; or (4) decrease in total net social cost, are assessed to be substantially greater than those projected for the RTA proposal. The precise calculation of this benefit should be a major initial task for the new regional transportation agency.
The taxes necessary to pay for this package should be obtained from local option MVET and gas taxes approved by the voters. This combination of taxes would be less regressive than the combination of sales and MVET taxes proposed in the RTA plan, and would more directly assign the costs of the strategy to those who will benefit from it.
The cost-effectiveness of measures funded by these taxes should be periodically reviewed.
Measures Needing Demonstration Before Implementation
A number of other measures hold promise as components of an integrated congestion strategy, but there has been insufficient experience to predict costs and benefits. This study has investigated several which should be the subject of small-scale demonstrations designed to facilitate broader application.
Bicycle Commuting. Commuting by bicycle is a risky adventure in most areas of the region. Narrow arterials, lack of designated lanes or even shoulders, and high volumes of motorized traffic create serious deterrents for all but the most agile riders. This measure would test the idea that a well-designed program to improve rider safety and convenience would increase the number of bicycle commuters, and that the expenditure would be cost effective considering the reduction in SOV commuting and its impacts. The demonstration program would be focused on commuting to a single employment center, and would involve safety improvements such as signage designating "safe biking" commute routes, bicycle lane markings, removal of hazards, secure bicycle parking, and locker, changing room, and shower facilities. Riders would be eligible for employer-provided transportation incentives. The program might be expanded to commuters who use low-powered motor scooters or mopeds.
Commuter Rail Transit. The use of Burlington Northern and Union Pacific right-of-ways to move people between Everett and Tacoma should be explored. The expenditure for the test should be limited to that necessary to demonstrate whether sufficient ridership can be developed to render the system cost-effective.
Dynamic Ridesharing. Dynamic, informal, "casual" and/or "instant" ridesharing would involve the designation of pickup areas at entry points to the region-wide HOV network. Pickups at these points could be either spontaneous, or by prearrangement using a central information system. Passengers would disembark at similarly designated drop-off points.
"Casual carpool" systems have been introduced successfully at the Bay Bridge in the Oakland/San Francisco area since the 1970s, and "instant carpool" systems have worked with great success along The Shirley Highway in Northern Virginia since 1970. In both cases ridesharers can avail themselves of HOV lanes and (in the San Francisco case) avoid congested toll plazas.
This measure would include a ridematching system bulletin board. Participants seeking rides other than their regular carpool would input their needs to a bulletin board that would array inputs in database format (indicating origin, destination, and time of pickup). Participants providing rides would indicate an offer to meet a particular request. All participants would have background information (place of employment, gender, etc.) on file. If the requester wishes to accept the offer, he/she would confirm.
This system should be tested initially on a controlled pilot basis, focusing, say, on a travel market featuring a common destination such as the University of Washington. If the initial pilot is successful, its expansion might be based on a thorough analysis of the metropolitan travel matrix describing the origin and destination of trips.
Larger Ridematching Data Base. The probability of creating a ridesharing arrangement increases as the pool of identified potential commute trip ride sharers increases. The current pool, which is approximately 1% of the commuting population, severely limits the number of potential matches for an individual commuter who would like to ride share.
A pilot project will be mounted to demonstrate that ridesharing in the region can be significantly increased if commuters are provided information indicating the number of their neighbors who commute to the same work location at approximately the same time. The demonstration would be conducted by the Metro rideshare service with the assistance of private contractors. The goal of the demonstration project would be to increase the pool of commuters interested in ride sharing by a factor of 5, to approximately 50,000.
As an initial test, employers at a large work centers (at least 10,000 employees) would be asked to participate in an effort to promote ridesharing as a commute mode by providing coded information regarding the residential locations of their employees. The data base that is developed would be used to market ridesharing to the employees of the test work site. Letters would be sent to employees indicating the number of their neighbors who work at or in close proximity to their workplace, and soliciting their application to the rideshare matching service. Applicants would be asked to indicate if they wish to form a carpool or expand an existing carpool.
The assistance of employer organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development Council, and the Neighborhood Business Association, will be solicited to help recruit employers to the program.
If the initial test proves successful (i.e., the total public and private cost savings from increased ridesharing exceeds the cost of administering the program), it would be expanded to other major work sites in the region.
Enforcement of Lane Reentry Right-of-Way for Buses. A recent state law requires drivers to yield the right-of-way to buses that have signaled their intent to reenter the traffic lane after loading or unloading passengers. Although signs that notify drivers of this requirement have been posted on the left rear of buses, the law is seldom obeyed and buses usually are forced to wait for a break in traffic. Buses that operate on busy arterials experience a cumulative delay that can be significant. A limited test of enforcement of the law should be made to determine the benefits to transit, the impact on traffic flow, and the costs of enforcement. Efforts should also be made to test driver education programs that would produce compliance without more costly enforcement.
Public Amenities that Support Urban Villages. Urban villages, when located near major employment centers, allow more residents to substitute walking, biking, and transit for SOV trips to work. Public investments in parks and recreational facilities support the development of urban villages. To the extent that these investments indirectly encourage a shift in commute mode, they are equivalent to other direct transportation investments. A case could be made that transportation revenues should be used to partially pay for public amenities that have a desired regional transportation impact. Since a number of the older urban centers in the region have underutilized areas that could be developed in the urban village form, the long-term effect on commute mode choice may be relatively significant. The use of transportation revenues for the purpose of realizing transportation benefits in this manner should be considered. A pilot program should be mounted that provides guidance to decision makers regarding the appropriate level of funding from transportation revenues and a quantification of expected transportation benefits.
Studies and Other Actions Needed to Support Strategy
A Least/Full Cost Analysis of the Strategy. It is necessary to estimate a cost stream (including both capital and operating cost) for all measures included under the plan. Pilot projects must also be included. The full cost of operating a transportation system under the strategy would then be estimated. This would then be compared to the full cost of transportation under a base case, or under some other plan (e.g., one that features a high capacity rail system). The cost calculation would include, for example, the cost of delay or congestion cost. In order for the proposed plan to be justified under a least cost criterion, the reduction in cost due to the new measures must exceed all costs associated with the implementation of these measures. Moreover, the benefit to cost differential would have to exceed that of any other proposed system including a high capacity rail system.
The study team over the past year-and-one-half has developed a methodology capable of performing the estimations above. In the current study, we have refrained from offering this methodology since some of the required inputs and associated analyses -- especially those which address the cost savings to the region due to specific measures -- require resources beyond our present capability.
This analysis should be a primary duty of a new regional transportation agency, whose responsibilities should extend well beyond the current RTA. Accordingly, its mandate should highlight the implementation of this type of analysis. This agency would work with the Puget Sound Regional Council which has substantial knowledge in the area of travel demand modeling and has begun the development of a integrated (least/full cost) transportation planning methodology. Procedures capable of selecting least-cost transportation investments among many alternatives would be integrated with current computer models used by the PSRC to forecast travel demand. These procedures should account for the full costs of travel including personal, public, environmental, and time-related costs. They should also estimate latent travel demand which might offset improved mobility.
A Study of Efficiency Improvements. Given the constraints on new revenues, all regional transportation investments, both current and future, need to be carefully scrutinized for possible efficiency improvements. Money saved through more efficient operation could be applied to unfunded transportation needs, including regional mobility enhancements, and to local transportation improvements, especially those that expand travel choices. Metro has began that process in its 6-year plan, and has found that by consolidating some bus routes, it can increase intra-neighborhood services. Similar efforts should be made to discover efficiencies in other local transit agencies, in particular where services cross county boundaries.
Roadway as well as transit investment efficiencies should be investigated. All transportation subsidies should be reviewed for cost-effectiveness. Suggestions as to new methods of planning, constructing, and operating transportation facilities and services across the region should be entertained. Measurable service standards should be put in place for all components of the regional system. In addition, ways to improve the efficiency of system management, given the large number of government agencies that have authority over regional surface transportation, should be considered. A special study commission should be formed to target regional system efficiency improvements. Input from interested citizens should be invited.
An Economic Model for Congestion Cost. The direct costs of congestion to the region need to be understood and quantified, so that policy makers can make appropriate decisions concerning its mitigation. The costs of measures that are intended to reduce congestion must necessarily be evaluated against the baseline cost of travel delay.
There has been no direct measure of travel delay and its costs in the region. The Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Transportation has, since 1982, made an annual estimate of congestion costs for a number of major urbanized areas including Seattle-Everett. The Tacoma and Bremerton urbanized areas were not included. The TTI congestion estimates are made by comparing measured vehicle volumes to roadway capacities. Costs of delay are obtained by applying a single number for the value of travel time and by estimating the excess fuel burned from the speed reduction.
The PSRC has estimated the vehicle hours of delay that will occur during the afternoon peak period on regional roadways in the year 2020. An estimate could be made of the total daily vehicle hours of delay using the PSRC model. By assuming an hourly value for time, the total cost of "normal" (recurring) congestion to the region could be calculated. However, this estimate would ignore congestion caused by accidents and incidents. It would also not separately estimate the impact of congestion on the cost of transporting freight, goods, and services. The hourly costs for commercial transport can be considerably greater than for person transport.
The region should have an economic model that describes the monetary impact of traffic congestion on the transportation of people, freight, goods, and services. The model should be validated by direct measurements of travel delay for the various components (private passenger, public transit, commercial freight and service vehicles) of the traffic stream at various times of the day. Surveys should be made to ascertain the purposes of vehicle trips on congested roadways in peak periods, to verify that vehicles carrying people to work constitute a large fraction of all vehicles. Only through an analytical model and empirical measurements such as these will we be able to estimate of the true costs of congestion to individual travelers and the regional economy, and make cost-effective decisions that enhance mobility.
Amend Federal Tax Law Applying to Employee Transportation. Current federal tax law provides for the exemption of employer-subsidized parking up to $155 per month, while exempting only $60 per month for employer-subsidized transit costs. Employer incentives in the form of cash subsidies for commuting by other modes -- vanpooling, carpooling, ferry, walking, biking -- count as income and are fully taxable. Thus the federal tax code is a strong incentive for SOV commuting, especially to central business districts where parking rates exceed $55 per month. This is the case in the Seattle CBD where the average monthly commercial parking rate is $111 (1992).
The strong interest in Congress to reform federal income tax law may provide an opportunity to remove or change specific tax exemptions. The region should mount a lobbying effort through its congressional delegation to abolish the tax exemption favoring SOV commuting. If a tax code is retained that allows specific exemptions, it should either favor HOV and non-motorized commuting or be mode neutral.
Transit for Hilly Areas. Research in Portland, Oregon, has found a strong correlation between topography and mode choice. People who live on hills tend to drive far more often than people who live in relatively level areas. All other things being equal, the reason is understandable: hills deter walks to bus stops or to shopping. The rule of thumb that people living within one-quarter mile on both sides of a transit corridor are potential transit users is no longer valid where the terrain is steep.
Transit service could be redirected to meet this reality. This might be done by using small shuttles that serve hilly areas and feed bus routes. These shuttles could be fixed or flexible in their routing, and would look much like the small neighborhood shuttle buses that are now being tried by Metro in Ballard. This concept should be tested in at least one hilly area.
Issues of Regional Equity. Regional equity has been a dominant theme in efforts to design a regional transportation solution. Taxpayers who are asked to make a significant contribution over a long period can rightly expect to receive tangible benefits. The RTAs capital-intensive rail proposal was unable to demonstrate sufficient benefits for citizens living at a distance from the central city. In comparison, a transportation strategy that highlights a regional HOV network might be perceived to principally benefit suburban commuters more than central-city residents, many of whom commute to work on arterial streets.
In reality, residents of the central city will benefit both directly and indirectly from a regional HOV network. There also is considerable flexibility in the recommended strategy to allow equity considerations to be addressed. Specific measures comprising the integrated approach could be designed to maximize regional equity.
Census data indicates that 27 percent of Seattle residents commute to employment sites outside the city. Many of these trips would undoubtedly involve use of a completed HOV lane network. It should also be noted that a network that allows suburban commuters to travel more expeditiously to work favors the location of employment within Seattle, so that Seattle would derive significant economic benefits from completion of the HOV lane network. Currently, 50 percent of Seattle CBD workers commute from outside the city's boundaries. Seattle's comprehensive plan envisions a net increase of 72,000 jobs over population in the next 20 years.
Additional arterial HOV lanes, as well as investments in signalization that allows buses and carpools to move more efficiently, could benefit residents of the central city as well as suburban areas. For example, a solution to the "Mercer Mess" could be integrated within the framework of the overall HOV system by constructing an HOV arterial connector between SR 99 and I-5 via Mercer Street. Enhancements that encourage non-motorized commuting would benefit several areas where residential areas are or could be located within close proximity to employment centers. The "hill shuttle" described above provides still another example of a measure that addresses the needs of high density neighborhoods, whether in Seattle or other areas.
Regional equity is also addressed by tax incentives paid to CTR-affected employers. Incentives will put dollars directly into the pockets of individual employees throughout the region.
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Last modified: May 2, 1996