Friday John cited Tzvee's Lincoln Tunnel advice in his column, "Road Warrior: Carrots, sticks can fix bus backups." This is down-to-earth journalism at its bedrock,
Ride a crowded, rush-hour bus into Manhattan, as I did a few times this week, and you begin wondering why anyone with active brain cells would opt for that other form of road commuting — the one with four wheels, a driver and three empty seats.
My buses were comfortable. Rides were smooth. The best feature of all, though, was the speed — a steady 50 mph all the way into the city.
That's probably 25 to 50 times faster than the thousands of cars crawling along Route 495 and inching down, down, down the helix until they compete like lab rats for three measly Lincoln Tunnel entrances.
My 60-passenger NJ Transit steed outran these creepers the way thoroughbreds outpace donkeys — all because of an incentive called the Exclusive Bus Lane or XBL.
Being penalized for driving a car can be a great incentive for taking the bus on the XBL. The concept is simple: XBL reverses one of the tunnel's three New Jersey-bound lanes from 6:15 to 10 a.m. weekdays from the New Jersey Turnpike to Route 495, which leads directly to a tunnel opening dedicated to buses.
At peak efficiency, this lane — the nation's busiest bus lane — speeds commuters to the city 15 to 20 minutes faster than those using the other in-bound lanes.
It's a no-brainer recipe: Efficiency plus incentive. But it's an old concoction. Peak efficiency doesn't occur as frequently as it did in 1971 when the Port Authority launched the XBL. Starting at 7:30 a.m. on a bad day, XBL backups can stretch to the turnpike tolls.
Short of poking a seventh costly tube through the tunnel, how can more commuters be squeezed through existing tubes?
So far, two $1.1 million studies have considered several options, two of which offer a balance of incentives and penalties.
Two XBLs: A second bus lane might double the speed of the current system, but it also might back up the remaining lanes to the Delaware Water Gap.
An XXBL: Usually called a Hot Lane, the second XBL could be Extra Exclusive – either for high-occupancy vehicles or for drivers of private and commercial vehicles who would be charged premium tolls as high as $30.
Choosing the correct balance is complicated and time-consuming. One three-year study was submitted to the Port Authority board in 2007 without a formal recommendation. The premium-pricing study won't be completed until later this year.
So far, nothing has been decided. One reason: The dynamic keeps changing. So do priorities. For example, once the proposed second Hudson River rail tunnel is completed, its mass transit advantages might dwarf any incentives for expanding bus service.
But all this strategic reform is in the distant future. Bus commuters would prefer some tactical help right now.
"We can put a man on the moon and spend a trillion dollars on bailing out banks," said reader Tzvee Zahavy. "Why not do something simple to make life more livable for everyone in the area?"...more...