Bill Authorizing Bus-Only Lane Pilot Program to be Heard in House Transportation Committee Tomorrow Morning

Wouldn't this be awesome, commuters? Imagine this is Mopac at 5 p.m., and the bus you're on could carefully pass up the traffic on the shoulder?

Tomorrow, House Bill 2327, which has been filed by Representative Ruth Jones McClendon of the San Antonio area, is scheduled to be heard in the House Transportation Committee tomorrow morning. Senator Jeff Wentworth has filed the bill on the Senate side; his is Senate Bill 1102. (Keep reading to learn how you can register your support of these bills!)

Rep. McClendon’s bill, HB 2327, would authorize TxDOT to implement a pilot program in Travis, Bexar, Denton and El Paso Counties whereby public transit agencies would be allowed to safely use improved highway shoulders for bus passage on authorized sections approved by TxDOT. For Capital Metro, we believe this could be safely and effectively implemented on IH-35, MoPac, and 183—our region’s most congested corridors.

At the discretion of the bus operator, the operator could travel on the designated shoulders when traffic slows to 35 mph or less. To ensure the safety of all motorists, the bus would only be allowed to travel 15 mph greater than the prevailing traffic, with a maximum speed limit of 35 mph. 

As anyone who lives in our area knows, traffic is a beast and for multiple hours a day, traffic on major highways grinds to a halt. Austin was unfortunately recently named the third most congested city in the country—which is why we need and deserve options other than sitting in traffic and bus-only shoulders can help!

The operation of buses on shoulders is already allowed in many communities across the county: Minneapolis/St. Paul, Atlanta, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Miami, Seattle, and San Diego; and it can work in Central Texas too.

During these times of congestion, the pilot project would safely use existing 10 foot right-of-ways, which would be pre-approved by TxDOT and clearly marked with signage, to allow buses to bypass traffic. This would reduce travel time for transit riders and increase scheduling reliability. In other communities where this is allowed, the reductions in travel time and even the perception of reduced travel time were significant enough incentives to get people out of their cars and increase ridership.

Construction to implement this pilot in Travis County would be limited to signage, meaning very limited disruption to current drivers and very low capital costs. The total capital cost within Travis County is projected to be only $20,000 paid for by Capital Metro, but the increased ridership that could result could generate up tan additional $250,000 in fares annually. There is zero fiscal note to the state for this piece of legislation.

The bill is scheduled to be heard in the House Transportation Committee tomorrow morning. The meeting starts at 8:00 am in Room E2.028 of the Capitol. The notice is online.

If you are open to signing a card in support for the hearing tomorrow come on down!

Since we think the Committee would appreciate the brevity, we suggest that any supporters simply sign a card in support and not testify (which also means you can leave and go on with your day).

This pilot program is a fantastic way to maximize underutilized right-of-way that already exists, and for Capital Metro to be able to move our passengers more quickly. In fact, a study conducted by UT’s Center for Transportation research identified feasible sections of highway shoulders in Travis County where buses could be safely and effectively operated and travel time savings of about three to seven minutes per trip for routes that could benefit from this were estimated. Given the low cost and potential for increased ridership and fare revenue, it’s a great deal!

5 thoughts on “Bill Authorizing Bus-Only Lane Pilot Program to be Heard in House Transportation Committee Tomorrow Morning

  1. I experienced this visiting Seattle (SR520). Their traffic was mostly stopped, just like Mopac during the PM rush. Buses were stopped at each entrance ramp waiting for a car to let them through, then stopped at each exit ramp waiting for a car to let them through. The time improvements had to be minimal compared to the extra aggravation.

    1. Tina Bui

      Thanks to my coworker Adam Shaivitz for posting the video of how bus-only shoulder lanes have been working in Minnesota, where they’ve found this beneficial enough to do this since 1991 and on almost 300 miles of highway shoulder. When I watched the video, it didn’t seem overly aggravating to me but maybe I am more tolerant of stopping and starting.

      Sure, it would be aggravating for the bus to have to wait but there would still be time savings and as, or more importantly, studies of bus-only shoulders have found that the PERCEPTION of time savings was just as effective as the actual time savings in getting people to try a bus-only shoulder route. So if someone can save even 3 minutes (and the UT study projects as much as 7 minutes on the high end — which I think is a very tangible savings), or they think they can save even more time than that, if that person gets on a bus when they wouldn’t have, the low cost to implement this seems well worth it.

      A 2007 study conducted by FTA of Minnesota’s experience with bus-only shoulders noted that “Although the traffic speed as well as that of buses may be minimal when corridors are heavily congested, passengers’ perception of time saved is considerable. Respondents to an on-board survey conducted in 1998 reported that they reached their destination faster than they had prior to [bus-only shoulder] use. These reports overestimated the actual amount of time saved by two to three times” (emphasis mine). So people thought they were saving two to three times what they really were! Wow. So, if on the low end, someone could save 3 minutes on a Capital Metro bus-only shoulder route but thought they were saving 6 to 9 minutes, or if someone could save 7 minutes in real life but thought they were saving 14 to 21 minutes, that sure does seem like some extra incentive to get on the bus.

      Re: the actual effect on ridership, per a 2009 study conducted for the Miami-Dade MPO on bus-only shoulders in Miami, in 2006, there was a 7% and 10% increase in ridership on two bus-only shoulder routes there whereas there was only a 3% increase on rest of the system. Also, that same 2007 Minnesota study cited another 1997 study of bus-only shoulders in the Twin Cities, which analyzed more than nine bus-only shoulder routes for a period of two years and found that overall there was a 9.2% increase in ridership along these routes while, at the same time, total ridership had decreased by 6.5%. (I realize that studies from 1997 and 1998 are more dated than we’d all like but I think they are still worth noting, especially since Minnesota has been pleased enough with bus-only shoulders to expand their program to almost 300 miles.)

      Additionally, as traffic gets worse and worse (which it is), the time savings for bus-only shoulder routes might/should become more substantial. If there’s a realistic possibility that we can cut 3 to 7 minutes minutes off of someone’s travel time on a bus with bus-only shoulders, it definitely seems worth it to me to give transit an advantage (heaven forbid!) for the low cost and its proven record of effectiveness and safety.

  2. Boo

    What happens when:
    * there is a broken down car on the shoulder
    * Police or EMS need to use the shoulder for emergencies
    * Police have someone pulled over on the shoulder
    * a bus has a flat on the shoulder or cannot travel because that is usually where a lot of debris collects?

    1. Tina Bui

      Under the proposed legislation
      , the program is actually set up to give TxDOT the authority to establish this program and the bill explicitly states that TxDOT shall include “bus operating rules that require bus drivers to yield to passenger cars and emergency vehicles.” Buses, like any car today, have to yield to emergency vehicles but we added this be doubly safe.

      If there was
      * a broken down car on the shoulder,
      * Police or EMS need to use the shoulder for emergencies, or
      * Police have someone pulled over on the shoulder
      the bus would just have to go around the broken down car or move out of the way for the police or emergency vehicle.

      If the bus has a flat b/c they were traveling in the shoulder, it would be no different than the bus getting a flat today on the highway; we would just have to fix it like normal. If there was too much debris, the bus driver would not have to travel in the shoulder. Our drivers are trained to identify hazards like extra or hazardous debris on their travel routes and the driver always has the discretion to use or not use the shoulder. There is nothing in the bill that would require the driver to use a designated section of bus-only shoulder and they do not have to use it if they do not think it is safe.

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