Bus toll lanes could be a win for commuters, public transit and toll agencies.
Imagine a transportation solution that reduces traffic congestion, improves public transit finances and is sensibly and efficiently funded. That, in a nutshell, is the Bus Toll Lane (BTL) concept, a transportation innovation that is gaining traction around the U.S. and might soon be adopted in Tampa Bay.
A recent study conducted by the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority (THEA) and the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) indicated that the BTL concept could benefit the region in a number of ways. BTL offers premium transit service to buses traveling on special corridors added to local freeways. Private vehicles could also travel along the corridors, with fees collected by electronic tolling.
Construction of these “premium corridors” would be funded by a combination of public-transit sources (such as federal grants) and tolls collected from users. This method of financing, combining short-term public transit funding with long-term toll collection funding, is an innovation that creates a financially feasible and self-sustaining public transportation solution.
In the BTL concept, public transit and public toll agencies are partners in financing, operating and maintaining the express lanes. Traffic capacity on the lanes would go first to public transit. Remaining capacity would then be sold to drivers of personal vehicles. Tolls on these lanes would be “price managed,” with rates varying by time of day. Price management is a proven way to assure high-speed operations at all times.
In the THEA-HART study, for example, a price-managed BTL could move nearly twice the number of people than a congested highway.
Another benefit of BTL is the increased public transit ridership that results from offering express bus service in highly congested urban areas. In one scenario studied by THEA and HART, transit ridership would increase by nearly 350 percent, as commuters were drawn by attractive travel times and reduced fare costs of the BTL express bus.
The bottom line: The BTL model is an innovative solution to traffic congestion. It strengthens public transit by attracting more riders. And it makes public transit agencies and toll agencies partners in a financially healthy and sustainable transportation system.
With the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority celebrating its golden anniversary in 2013, call this an achievement 50 years in the making.
Through the sale of more than $455 million in bonds, THEA attained financial independence from the state of Florida last December. The action enabled THEA and the Florida Department of Transportation to terminate their lease-purchase agreement and confirm THEA’s absolute ownership of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway and other assets. Additional local road construction projects will receive new funding, thanks to a bond sale, including part of the I-4 Connector, which will provide a toll link between Interstate 4 and the Selmon Expressway.