MTS rebuts RIDES claims

RIDES wrote an op-ed page to the Contra Costa Newspapers. Statements are quoted below, followed by the MTS response. Rebuttal to Catherine Wasikowski, executive director of RIDES, is by Akos Szoboszlay, President of the Modern Transit Society. RIDES is a promoter of High Occupancy Vehicle [HOV] lane construction in the San Francisco Bay Area. Akos Szoboszlay has done research on carpool lanes in Santa Clara Co.

RIDES: "diamond [HOV] lanes have proven themselves effective in reducing air pollution."

MTS: HOV lanes increase air pollution because HOV lanes increase solodrivers much more than carpoolers. Solodrivers accounted for 79% of 5769 vehicles added to Montague Expressway (in Santa Clara County) six years after constructing the HOV lane. This solodriver figure for San Tomas Expressway is 73% and for Rt. 237 is 63% of vehicles added to the roadway. All vehicle counts were taken when HOV lanes are activated, AM + PM commute. Rounded off, HOV lane construction added between 2 and 4 times as many solodrivers as HOVs.

RIDES: "[HOV] lanes have proven themselves effective in reducing congestion ... and increasing travel speeds"

MTS: Any reduction in congestion in other lanes is only temporary as "induced traffic" takes effect. Reduced congestion is not the result of a shift from solodriving to carpooling, but a temporary result of increasing roadway capacity. Induced traffic is the now recognized phenomenon that if a road is widened, additional new traffic is induced to use the road until the congestion returns as before.

RIDES: "The fact is, diamond [HOV] lanes in the Bay Area are a success story."

MTS: Carpooling in the Bay Area has decreased from 16.3% in 1980 (before HOV lanes existed) to 14.3% last year. A drop in market share is not a success, especially when millions of dollars have been spent to increase market share by constructing carpool lanes. In Santa Clara County, carpooling fell from 17% of commute trips to 12.5% (1980-1990) despite constructing 115 miles of HOV lanes in that period (1982-1990), more than all other Bay Area counties combined.

RIDES: "diamond lanes move more people in fewer vehicles"

MTS: Most new HOV lane users are former transit riders. 74% of casual carpool passengers and 33% of the carpool drivers used public transit before they began casual carpooling, a recent study shows. This shows that diamond lanes actually move less people in more vehicles. HOV lanes both decrease transit patronage and increase the number of motor vehicles. This shows HOV lanes are actually counterproductive.

Furthermore, about half of existing carpoolers are from the same family, driving a spouse to work, which doubles the travel distance, or the kids to school. Your (RIDES) own study shows that 40% are from the same household. A Caltrans study of Rt. 237 gives a 51% figure. This further defeats the purpose of HOV lanes.

RIDES: "We must ... alleviate congestion [by] expanding the diamond-lane."

MTS: HOV lane construction is a solodriver incentive in disguise. Their only success is to serve as a ruse for circumventing the Clean Air Act, by claiming HOV lanes reduce air pollution to enable highway widening. As with constructing regular lanes, congestion is decreased but only temporarily. In Rt. 85, this alleviated congestion you promote only lasted two years. But a billion dollars were spent. This money was wasted, as there is no "traffic relief," as promised by the highway construction interests.

RIDES: "that RIDES' and BAAQMD's reports supported [the Contra Costa Newspapers] claim that diamond lanes are a failure, this is quite simply not true."

MTS: Any time millions of dollars are spent with the result that there is a loss in market share, that is a failure.

RIDES: "the number of carpools in the region has increased steadily since 1992."

MTS: Your own data shows that carpooling has decreased from 16.7% to 14.3% (1993-1998). See your web site at, Table 5. From your table, only one year (1995) has exceeded the 16.7% figure for 1993, so this contradicts your claim that HOVs "increased steadily since 1992." Your table does not mention values for 1992 or previous years, and I think RIDES should upload values for these years as well. Data on the MTC web site shows shows that HOVs have also decreased since 1980 before there were any HOV lanes!

RIDES: "in Santa Clara County, which has the region's largest number of diamond lanes, this [HOV] increase has outpaced the rest of the Bay Area."

MTS: The highway engineers of Santa Clara County have used outright false statements in their propaganda to bring political pressure to increase highway construction, their livelihood. They never talk about the increase in solodrivers. They never talk about induced traffic, the fact that any time a road is widened, you will get an increase in vehicles of all types, not just HOVs. I did, as an engineer and President of the Modern Transit Society. The highway engineers also never considered that most of the increased HOVs are from parallel routes. For example, in their press release they touted the HOV increase on Montague Expressway as a "great success" but without mentioning that solodrivers also increased, by about four times more than HOVs!

RIDES: "in 1997 diamond lanes were included as part of the Clean Air Plan to reduce pollution."

MTS: HOV lanes are a ruse to circumvent the Clean Air Act. It is a technique of highway construction interests to continue building highways by falsely claiming that HOV lanes reduce air pollution.

RIDES: "we must implement programs that allow more people to commute in fewer vehicles and create incentives for people to use these alternatives."

MTS: Agreed. Transit achieves this. Not HOV lanes since HOV lanes actually decrease transit patronage. HOV lanes increase automobiles, some who are former transit patrons, but far more, by two to four times, by increasing solodriving.

RIDES: "Diamond lanes do just this."

MTS: Disagree. HOV lane construction is a solodriver incentive in disguise. Changing existing lanes into HOV lanes would actually correct many of your statements (reduce pollution). But you never advocate this. You always advocate highway construction, which increases pollution and decreases transit usage.

RIDES: "make better use of our current transportation systems."

MTS: Yes! And the cheapest way is to add trains onto existing tracks.

RIDES: "The evidence clearly shows the Bay Area's diamond lanes are working."

MTS: Despite spending millions to increase market share, market share is decreasing. HOV lanes are a loser, except when the goal is more highway construction. Then HOV lanes serve as a ruse to circumvent the Clean Air Act. That is their only success.

Conclusion by MTS: The RIDES claim that carpool lanes decrease air pollution is blatantly false. The claim is also outrageous because the purpose of this propaganda is to construct even more carpool lanes which further increase air pollution. Two hundred miles of HOV lanes are planned for construction under this false premise. If RIDES truly wants to decrease air pollution, it would oppose these additional carpool lanes.

For more details on HOV lanes, as well as sources for the above information, see: Carpool lane facts.

Also see the Index of articles on HOV lanes.

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