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.