Category Archives: Transportation

Taking Another Look at Tolls on I-81

Interstate 81, which slices through western Virginia, is one of the most heavily trafficked highways in the Old Dominion. Nearly 12 million trucks travel the Interstate, accounting for 42% of all interstate truck traffic in the state and transporting more than $300 billion in goods per year. The tractor-trailers make other drivers miserable by hogging lanes as they pass one another on steep mountain inclines. Typically, trucks are involved in the 30 or so crashes a year that take six hours or longer to clear and generate miles-long backups.

Tractor-trailers have been a nagging headache for decades because the situation has defied an economically and politically viable remedy. There was serious talk some twenty years ago about imposing tolls to finance a multibillion-dollar upgrade from Winchester to Bristol, but the idea provoked fierce local resistance. The Virginia Department of Transportation opted instead for a less ambitious — and far less expensive — program of making spot improvements to alleviate the worst bottlenecks.

Now the talk of tolls is back. Legislation enacted this year orders the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) to complete a study of tolling options by the end of 2018. The law restricts the parameters of the study, however, in a way that presupposes the outcome. The CTB, states SB 871, “shall not consider options that toll all users of Interstate 81” nor “commuters” but may consider “high occupancy toll lanes” and “tolls on heavy commercial vehicles.”

Reports the Bristol Herald Courier of the legislation:

“It is very specific in tolling either hot lanes, express lanes or a heavy commercial vehicle toll. The objective is to not toll commuters,” said Ben Mannell, VDOT’s deputy director of planning. “They’ve also asked us to look at minimizing the impact to heavy commercial vehicles, if we did have a tolling scenario.”

Part of the study will focus on the latest crash data, areas that have a high number of crashes, congestion, delays and the potential for operational improvements for incident response in case of a major crash, Mannell said.

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) will hold a dozen public hearings this summer.

Bacon’s bottom line. Take note: Commuters (i.e. voters) are not to be inconvenienced. By exempting commuters from tolls, the legislation envisions co-opting I-81, which was built for inter-city and interstate traffic, for the purpose of local travel. Virginia seems destined to repeat the error that turned Interstates 95, 395, and 495 in the Washington metropolitan area into traffic hell-holes that disrupt the flow of interstate traffic up and down the Atlantic Coast.

Conceptually speaking, there are two reasons for worsening congestion and traffic accidents on I-81: increased interstate traffic (mostly trucks) and increased local traffic. Local commuter traffic on the interstate hasn’t gotten as bad as in Northern Virginia because the metropolitan areas along the route — Winchester, Harrisonburg, Staunton, Roanoke, Blacksburg, Bristol — have experienced much slower rates of population and economic growth. But the dynamics are the same: New commercial and residential development clusters around the interchanges and people come to treat I-81 like a local transportation artery. Over time the Interstate clogs up, and commuters come to resent all those annoying tractor-trailers.

There is no way to solve the congestion problem on I-81 without solving the land use problem in each locality. Localities must stop treating the Interstate as a local transportation corridor. Instead of widening I-81 and paying premium prices to build at Interstate-grade standards, VDOT needs to build parallel transportation corridors designed for local use at lower travel speeds and lower construction costs. Furthermore, localities must eliminate zoning barriers to higher-density, mixed-use development supporting travel patterns of fewer, shorter trips.

As for some of the ideas contemplated in the VDOT study… Singling out heavy commercial vehicles for tolls may make political sense — out-of-state truckers don’t vote in Virginia — but it violates the purpose of the interstate to create connective tissue between states and metros. However, it would be appropriate to increase user fees on trucks so they pay their proportionate share that their super-heavy loads cause on the highway.

Tolls are a useful tool for funding transportation improvements and rationing scarce highway capacity. But they cannot do the job alone. All vehicles must pay their proportionate share of interstate maintenance and operations, and proper land use/transportation planning must provide commuters with viable options for local travel. Let’s hope that the authors of the I-81 study understand these principles better than those who wrote the legislation.

There’s No Such Thing as a Free Parking Space


Following up on thoughts in the previous post about what is to be done about the Washington Metro… Here is a basic maxim to remember: If we want more people to avail themselves of shared ridership, be it commuter rail, bus, or shared ride-hailing services, they need to pay the full cost of their transportation choices. At present, nobody pays the full cost. Just as mass transit is heavily subsidized, so is automobile mobility.

Here in Virginia, motorists pay a portion of what it costs to maintain and build new roads, bridges and highways through retail and wholesale taxes on gasoline. But they also pay taxes on the purchase of new cars, which is unrelated to how many miles they travel and the wear-and-tear they put on the road system. They also pay a sales tax, which has no connection to transportation at all.

Transportation funding is just the tip of the subsidy iceberg. The current system for allocating parking spaces represents another wealth transfer, and the subsidies are all the more insidious for being invisible. However, Donald Shoup, the nation’s foremost academic authority on parking, has published a new book that sheds light on those subsidies. I have not yet read the book, “Parking and the City,” but I crib here from a review in Public Square, a publication of the Congress for the New Urbanism.

The first nationally representative survey shows that urban garage parking is costly to renters, for example. “We find that the cost of bundled garage parking for renters is approximately $1,700 per year, and the bundling of a garage space adds about 17 percent to a unit’s rent,” CJ Gabbe and Gregory Pierce write in Chapter 11. This is true even though many of these renters don’t own cars, and many of these spaces go unused.

A study in San Francisco showed that off-street parking requirements make housing more expensive. Having off-street parking raised the average household income needed to qualify for a mortgage to $76,000, from $67,000. “If the parking requirements had not existed, 26,800 additional households could have afforded condominiums,” report Bill Chapin, Wenyu Jia, and Martin Wachs. Parking reform downtown and in several adjacent neighborhoods allowed for development with 60 percent less parking and a 30 percent reduction in the construction cost of dwelling units—“enough to allow for market-rate housing that is more in line with the typical San Francisco household’s income.”

As of 2009, the average value of a motor vehicle was $5,200. Yet the average cost of an underground parking space is $34,000, and the average cost of an aboveground garage is $24,000 per space. “One space in a parking structure … costs at least three times the net worth of more than half the African-American and Hispanic households in the country,” Shoup points out.

Parking requirements play a part in determining what kind of housing is built and discouraging the “missing middle,” according to researchers. “Because parking can consume so much space and money, parking requirements needlessly reduce variety in the type and location of housing available,” notes Michael Manville.

Policies to promote off-street parking reduced the economic development in cities studied by Chris McCahill, Norman Garrick, and Carol Atkinson-Palombo. “For the six cities we considered, each parking space added since 1960 reduces potential property tax revenues by between $500 and $1,000 per year,” they write. Parking is both a cause and effect of driving, “yet the changes in commuting behavior in cities that added more parking suggest that more parking increases driving.”

Parking is expensive. In a functioning free market, automobile owners would be willing to pay for some of that parking, just as they pay for gasoline, auto insurance, tolls, and other mobility-related costs. But the practice of mandating parking is absurd. If motorists paid the full cost of parking their vehicles, people would own fewer cars, drive less, and choose more shared-ridership transportation modes.

Alas, Virginia’s transportation system, like that of every other state, is so permeated with subsidies, cross subsidies, and subsidies to counter other subsidies, that rational economic decision making is impossible. Political decisions to support “mass transit” or “road building” are driven by ideological, partisan and special-interest considerations. The scale of the misallocation of resources is mind-numbing.

Metro Rot Runs Deeper than Anyone Imagined

Washington Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld has earned plaudits for his forthright management style and the improvements he has instituted since taking over the troubled commuter bus and rail system in 2015. But the latest news raises questions whether he, or anyone, has the grit to take on a deeply corrupt organizational culture.

Reports the Washington Post based upon a newly issued Office of the Inspector General report:

Metro crews copied and pasted language from prior years’ structural inspection reports for the Rhode Island Avenue station and in other instances skipped hard-to-reach areas, culminating in a steel beam and concrete chunks falling from the ceiling in 2016, the agency’s inspector general concluded in a report released Thursday.

No one was injured, but the Rhode Island Avenue and Brookland stations will be shut down for 45 days starting July 21 to permanently address the structural failures that came to light when debris tumbled from the station’s ceiling Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, 2016. …

The audit found 49 times over three years in which the annual inspection reports for Rhode Island Avenue contained identical wording to prior years, the IG concluded in its year-long review. In 29 of those cases, the inspector general could not determine what Metro crews had inspected, while in 20 other cases, inspectors simply said nothing had changed since the prior year’s inspection, according to the report.

The findings, reflected in three annual reports examining a single station, suggest broader problems within Metro’s structural inspection department.

The organizational rot runs deep in Metro. According to the WaPo, Metro fired a third of its track inspection department for widespread record fabrication contributing to a 2016 train derailment. At least there was a modicum of accountability in that case. But the track derailment represented incompetence so extreme that management had no choice but to respond forcefully.

It’s not clear what Wiedefeld intends to do about the latest revelations when nothing so visibly alarming as a train derailment occurred. His first instinct, it appears, is to minimize the significance of the abuses. Writes the Post: “Wiedefeld defended the agency’s inspection practices, saying that the situation differed from the problems within the track inspection department. But he declined to elaborate, pending an official response to the IG it plans to submit by June 1.”

Bacon’s bottom line: The private sector is a messy, messy place where corruption and incompetence can occur, just like in government and quasi-governmental agencies. The difference is that the private sector is a self-correcting system. If a corporation gets as corrupt, incompetent and inefficient as the Metro, it eventually goes out of business. It goes into bankruptcy, its assets are reallocated, and its failed organizational structure is extinguished forever. Not so with the Metro. Because commuter transportation is deemed “essential” to the functioning of the Washington metropolitan area, including of course Northern Virginia, the system simply extracts more wealth from taxpayers to paper over the corruption.

My sense from afar is that Wiedefeld is a good man doing the best possible job under the circumstances. But I fear that decay so permeates the organization that it is unreformable.

The question, as always, is what Virginia should do about it. The Northam administration has agreed to hand over more money with a few conditions requiring governance reforms and burden sharing from Maryland and D.C. Whether the governance reforms are forthcoming remains to be seen. Likewise, whether the contemplated governance reforms will give Wiedefeld the power he needs to carve out the rot also is an open question. Meanwhile, Metro continues to hemorrhage riders and revenue.

What alternatives are there to a corrupt Metro? One is to build more road and highways. But fiscally speaking, that is not a remote possibility. The cost of adding more lanes of highway in a dense urban environment would be astronomical. Another is to ration scarce roadway capacity through pricing mechanisms like time-of-day tolls. That’s an elegant solution from an economist’s perspective, but it’s a non-starter politically. Yet another option is to encourage higher density development in walkable communities in the hope of getting more people to abandon their cars and, New York style, get around by walking, biking and mass transit. But overcoming NIMBY opposition and transforming land use patterns is an incremental, slow-motion process that takes decades to accomplish; land use reform is necessary but it is not a near-term or even intermediate-term solution.

That leaves the Uber revolution. Within a decade or so, self-driving cars will cut the cost of riding-hailing services by half. Passengers will have the option to ride solo or share rides with others, trading some time and convenience for even lower prices. Companies will be offering integrated services providing access to taxi-like services, van services, commuter bus services, car rentals, bicycles (both of the peddle and the electrified varieties), and other variants no one has thought of yet. I don’t know how it’s all going to shake out, but for a metro like Washington, I see no other hope.

Does Uberization Increase Traffic Congestion?

The ride-hailing market in Washington, D.C. is booming — ridership for Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing services have more than quadrupled since late 2015, reports the Washington Post. And that’s a problem, some say. All those vehicles on the road are adding to traffic congestion.

According to figures provided by the Washington mayor’s office, some of that traffic is diverted from traditional taxicab companies. Taxi ridership has fallen 31%, or about 6 million trips, since the ride-hailing boom began in late 2015. As far as traffic congestion is concerned, that’s a wash.

But a Washington Metro consultant last year noted that Uber and Lyft account for much of the commuter bus and rail system’s ridership decline. Average weekday ridership is down 135,000 from the decade-ago peak. Those riders are crowding the roads, while Metro’s revenues are sagging, making it difficult to keep up with maintenance and safety needs. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser has proposed increasing the gross receipts tax on “for-hire” vehicles to 4.75% to raise money for the Metro.

City officials concede, however, that they don’t have hard data on how many trips the ride-hailing services are providing, or how many passengers they are carrying. Calculating the impact is a challenge because, for Uber at least, a growing business segment is comprised of shared-ridership services. When riders share trips instead of riding solo, they take vehicles off the road.

In other big ride-hailing markets such as New York, San Francisco, and Boston, there is growing concern that the Uberization of transportation is cannibalizing mass transit and putting more vehicles on the road. Not only is the trend bleeding business from mass transit, it might even be creating new trips.

Bacon’s bottom line: I’m a big believer in the disruptive potential of Uberization (by which I mean the entire panoply of ride-hailing services encompassing Uber and all of its competitors and offshoots), but I acknowledge that the trend poses complex trade-offs.

The obvious benefit of Uberization is that people wouldn’t be flocking to ride-hailing services if they didn’t offer a superior value proposition. Do we really want to a tax 21st-century transportation mode to subsidize a 19th-century mode (commuter rail) and a 20th-century mode (buses)? Another plus is that if more people ride Uber, they won’t need to park their own car. Reducing the demand for on-street parking could free up space for other uses such as bicycles.

On the other hand… If Uberization does, in fact, put more vehicles on the road, the trend adds to traffic congestion, which imposes a social cost on other drivers. Arguably, more vehicles also equals higher CO2 emissions — at least until cars are powered by solar- and wind-generated electricity. Finally, given urban political realities, if Uberization undermines the economics of mass transit, taxpayers could wind up paying more to subsidize the failing transit systems.

The Washington Post article creates the impression that there is a growing backlash against Uberization. I worry that the backlash might become powerful enough to stifle the industry’s growth, experimentation and evolution into new forms. We’re still in the very early phases of the 21st-century transportation revolution, and as far as I’m concerned, the transportation future can’t come soon enough.

Hey, Uber, Over Here! Over Here!

Dara Khosrowshahi. Photo credit: Fortune

So, Uber decides to use Washington, D.C., as a test bed for its vision for urban mobility. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi visited Washington Wednesday to publicize company plans to expand its ride-hailing app so customers can access and pay for bike share, car rentals from private car owners, and eventually mass transit.

And what does Washington do? Mayor Muriel E. Bowser has proposed increasing the gross receipt tax on ride-hailing companies from 1% to 4.75%. The tax revenue would pay for about 10% of Washington’s $178.5 million share of increased funding for Washington Metro. (Virginia and Maryland and providing the balance — without taxing Uber.)

Interesting economic development strategy Bowser has there: Tax businesses in the growing innovation economy to subsidize enterprises in the stagnant, money-losing old economy.

Uber’s idea is potentially so transformative that slapping $18 million added tax on the ride-hailing industry may not prove debilitating. (Not for Uber anyway. I’m less sanguine about its weaker competitors.) But one thing we can say for sure: The tax will not accelerate Washington’s evolution toward the transportation future.

“What we want to make sure is that you’re not taxing one form of shared transportation for another form of shared transportation,” Khowrowshahi said in a public meeting with Bowser, reports the Washington Post. “We’re in this to promote shared transportation in general. We want to make sure that proposals like this are not unconstructive to that goal.”

City officials, notes the Post, say the ride-hailing services have benefited from Metro’s problems so it’s only fair that they be part of the solution.

 

 

Bacon’s bottom line: Hey, Uber, come look at Virginia — we won’t tax you!

Your one-stop-transportation-shopping app sounds like a fantastic idea. I can hardly wait until you develop AI that allows people to map multimodal trips integrating everything from walking and biking to gypsy vans and buses to hour-long car rentals. I’m eagerly waiting for a full range of transportation services at varying levels of convenience, comfort and price. If you put a few money-losing public mass-transit enterprises out of business, I won’t have a problem with that. I’d love to put an end to the drain on taxpayers. Likewise, if you force public enterprises to adapt by cutting costs and becoming more responsive to customers, I’m totally cool with that, too!

I regard Bowser’s logic — Uber is part of Metro’s problem, therefore you should be taxed to help fix it — as wildly illogical. You should be allowed to compete on a level playing field with all other transportation business models. I hope you understand, however, that does include paying your fair share of the cost of maintaining and building the road and highway infrastructure that you rely upon. Who knows, you might end up paying more in taxes that way. But at least you wouldn’t be subsidizing the competition.

One more thing, Virginia has localities that would love to cooperate with you. Take Virginia Beach. The resort city has plans for development of its waterfront that include a drop-off zone for ride-hailing services. How cool is that? If cities can provide drop-off zones for buses — typically referred to as bus stops — why not drop-off zones for ride-hailing services? That’s something that municipalities can do at next-to-no cost.

Here in Virginia, we want to accelerate the development of a 21st century model for transportation, not tax it. Use us as a test bed. Please!

AVs, Pedestrians, and Human Perversity

In the previous post, I extolled the possibilities for driverless cars to improve our lives by reducing the number of traffic accidents, injuries and fatalities, provide mobility for the aged and handicapped, and reduce the vast acreage we devote to parking spaces. I guess I’m a techno-optimist. (I’m reading Peter Diamandis’s book “Abundance” right now.) But I acknowledge that, given the perversity of human nature, there is a dark side to just about everything.

In a recent blog post, Charles Marohn, leader of the Strong Towns movement, highlights how people will game the safety programming of driverless cars to the detriment of our human settlement patterns.

When perfected, what will an automated vehicle do on that nasty stroad in your community — the one where the cars today drive too fast and the drivers are too oblivious, where nobody sane would dare to cross…. When all cars are AV, what happens when someone crosses midblock?

The obvious answer is that the vehicles stop and allow the person to cross. They don’t run that person down. They don’t kill them. The automated vehicle will be programmed to always stop when someone steps out into traffic. As a society, we would not have it any other way.

So, knowing this, who is ever going to stop and wait at another traffic signal? What person on foot, in their right mind, would wait for a gap to open so they can cross without impacting the flow of traffic? Nobody.

I have to walk across a nasty stroad every time I go downtown. Why would I wait my turn to cross in minus 20 degree weather, with the wind whipping at my face, when all I need to do is step out and traffic comes to a complete stop? I wouldn’t.

And that is not acceptable. Humans will not be allowed to interfere with the free flow of traffic. Our economy will depend on it, after all. All those commuters that need to get to their jobs, all those potential customers that need to get where they are going. … There’s too much at stake in maintaining efficiency.

So, it will be against the law to step out into traffic except at designated places and times.

Well Chuck, how is that different than today’s jaywalking ordinances? Exactly! It’s not. We don’t even need new regulations, just the courage to enforce existing laws.

Despite the fact that in this country’s best urban spaces, the ones that are thriving, jaywalking is rarely enforced (at least rarely enforced except as a law enforcement pretext, which is a different matter entirely), we’ll make stopping jaywalking a national priority. With cameras on every vehicle, and the motivation of frustrated drivers to use them, enforcement will not be a problem.

And if it is, we’ll do what I posited years ago that we would do: we’ll erect human fences along the edge of the streets to keep people out. The people….excuse me, I need to use the correct language in this context….the “pedestrians” will be allowed to cross only at designated pedestrian crossings. …

Automated vehicle technology will do nothing to make our streets better places to be and, if we continue to have blind faith in it, has the very real chance of setting our cities back another generation.

Yeah, I can see things unfolding that way.  I totally agree with Marohn that we can’t let autonomous vehicles ruin our walkable streets. But I also have confidence that we can find solutions to the issues he raises. We need to start experimenting now, and start learning through trial and error what works. There’s too much to be gained from AVs to give up before we try.  

Virginia as Fast Adopter of Autonomous Vehicle Technology

Mark Riccobono, blind since childhood, navigated an SUV through a race course in 2011. Image credit: Virginia Tech

Virginia may not have Silicon Valley, and it may not be a center of the automobile industry, but the Old Dominion is in the thick of the self-driving automobile revolution. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, with a staff of 500, has established itself as a national-level player in research. Blacksburg-based Torc Robotics develops self-driving technologies used in mining trucks and military vehicles. The University of Virginia is studying how passengers react to self-driving cars. Perrone Robotics, based a few miles away in Crozet, has developed a proprietary software platform for running autonomous vehicles. The Commonwealth Transportation Board has moved to allow testing on express lanes on Northern Virginia. Virginia even has a trade association, the Unmanned Systems Association, to promote autonomous vehicles and drones. Virginia Business magazine has the story here.

Suffice it to say that, despite a highly publicized accident in Tempe, Arizona, in which a self-driving Uber test car killed a pedestrian, self-driving cars are coming. There is too much money behind the industry and the potential safety gains are too enormous for any one fatality, or even a series of fatalities, to turn back the tide.

While Virginia likely will never become more than a niche player in the manufacture and development of self-driving cars and technologies, the Commonwealth has much to gain from making itself hospitable to autonomous vehicles. Just consider these figures from the Virginia Highway Safety Office:

2017 Virginia Vehicle Incidents
Crashes: 127,375
Injuries: 65,306
Fatalities: 843

After many years of improvement, those trends turned markedly worse in 2015, 2016 and 2017 — most likely due to the increase in distracted driving associated with cell phones. Too many drivers are morons. Safe, self-driving cars can’t come too soon.

Integrating self-driving cars into state laws, the tort system, and the motorist culture won’t be smooth. Inevitably, some motorists will try to exploit the driving patterns of self-driving cars. Inevitably, there will be accidents. Inevitably, some self-driving cars will be found to be at fault. But there can be little doubt that over the long-run, autonomous vehicles can be programmed and perfected to drive much more safely than humans. Further, as the Virginia Business article alludes to, autonomous vehicles will provide mobility for the aged, the blind, and the handicapped. Speaking personally, I’m looking forward to the introduction of fully autonomous cars just around the time I turn 80.

The sooner we begin dealing with these issues, the sooner we can reap the benefits. We have so much to learn. Are traffic laws designed for humans appropriate for computer-driven vehicles? How do we apportion blame when human and self-driving vehicles collide? What impact will robotic cars and artificial intelligence have on commuting patterns? How much will car ownership decline as big corporations begin providing Transportation as a Service? How much will the demand for parking garages and on-street parking shrink when people hail rides instead of drive their own cars? Will people drive less or more when they can wile away long-distance commutes reading, emailing, watching TV or surfing the Web?

The sooner we can get answers to these questions, the sooner we can begin pushing down the number of accidents, injuries and fatalities on our streets and roads. The sooner we can revamping our transportation policies and stop squandering billions on highway and mass transit projects that may (or may not) be obsolete a decade from now. The sooner we can adjust our land use practices. The sooner we can devise 21st-century solutions to the insufferable traffic congestion in much of the state.

That’s why it’s a good thing for Virginia to be an early mover. It would be cool if the next great autonomous-vehicle company sprang from Virginia soil, but let’s be honest — that’s a long shot. The real reason is become fast adopters of the technology is simply to better our lives.

Amazon-ification and Vehicle Miles Driven

I visited my daughter Sara the other day and was amused to note that delivery services had dropped off two cardboard boxes in front of her house. When I stepped inside, there was a third box, still unopened. Three packages delivered in one day. Wow, thought I. My wife and I might average one delivery per week. Upon my further inquiries, Sara revealed that she also had begun ordering her groceries online and having them delivered to her doorstep as well.

Sara is the mother of a three-month-old infant, so running errands is a serious chore. I understand why she might be willing to pay a modest delivery fee in exchange for greater convenience, especially when she’s juggling baby care with handling the administrative work for her husband’s law practice.

There’s a lesson here for public policy. The rise of e-commerce and home delivery is changing America’s driving habits, especially among younger people less entrenched than carmudgeons like me in their customary way of doing things. Instead of driving to the grocery store and perhaps combining it with one or two other errands, such as depositing a check or picking up a prescription, more and more people are opting for online delivery.

Online-delivery option takes people like Sara off local streets and roads. In the argot of transportation planners, it reduces the number of trips per household. For decades, the propensity for Americans to take an increasing number of trips per day fed the increasing number of cars on the road. According to Federal Highway Administration data, the average number of trips per household increased from 2.3 in 1969 to 3.3 in 2009, and the number of daily vehicle-miles driven per household increased from 34 to 58.1.

Conversely, more e-commerce means there are more delivery trucks roaming around our metropolitan regions and dropping off more packages than ever.

Here’s a big question for public policy wonks: Are we as a nation experiencing a net gain in vehicle miles driven or a net loss as a result of e-commerce? My hunch is that the trend is bringing about a net reduction in driving. While the typical American stops at one or two retail/service locations on average for each trip, I’m surmising that delivery trucks are stringing together long chains of drop-offs, using computer algorithms to plot the shortest, most efficient routes. (This may be true even for grocery store deliveries by refrigerated trucks.)

In sum, I would expect the net result to be positive for society — fewer vehicle miles driven, fewer vehicle emissions, and less congested streets. (But more cardboard boxes in the landfill.)

While positive overall, one might argue, this trend does not help our biggest headache: rush hour congestion caused by people driving back and forth from work. But even here, I expect there will be a modest benefit from home deliveries. Working people typically tack errands onto their commutes home — picking the dry cleaning, stopping at the grocery store, whatever. Insofar as home deliveries displace those rush-hour errands and shift the trips to non-rush hour times of the day, they might alleviate rush hour traffic to a modest degree.

The truisms that have underpinned our transportation planning are shifting under our feet. Smart planners will take into account the impact of e-commerce and home deliveries before investing billions of dollars on new roads, highways and mass transit projects on the assumption that the trends of the past 30 years can be confidently projected into the next 30 years.

Pony Up, D.C. Or Else!

Uh, oh, the Metro funding deal isn’t sealed yet. The Washington, D.C., city council could be the spoiler. While Mayor Muriel E. Bowser has asked council to back a $178.5 million annual increase in funding for the commuter rail system to go along with $154 million from Virginia and $150 from Maryland, a council faction by Chairman Phil Mendelson is balking.

Reports the Washington Post:

Mendelson (D) and five other council members sent Bowser a letter late Wednesday saying the city should give Metro only $167 million a year. The letter also says the District should contribute no more than Virginia and Maryland, contrary to the Virginia plan that stipulates each jurisdiction make a proportional contribution based on a funding formula that takes into account things such as ridership, population and number of Metro stations. …

Repeating arguments made by city officials in the past, Mendelson and the council members said that formula is unfair to the city, partly because the District has a smaller population than the Virginia and Maryland suburbs served by Metro.

But, as the Post points out, the District has 40 Metro stations, compared to 26 in Maryland and 25 in Virginia.

Furthermore, I’d add, the reason Metro finances are a wreck is that D.C. representatives on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) board have insisted on not increasing fares and have been supportive of labor agreements that have run up operating costs and built up massive unfunded retirement liabilities. Virginia needs to stick to its guns, and D.C. needs to pony up $178.5 million.

Localities, Get in Front of the Transportation Revolution

An Amazon delivery drone — requires no additional investment in roads and highways.

After the General Assembly hashed out a deal this weekend providing the Washington Metro system with an additional $154 million per year in state funding, local Prince William County leaders expressed discontent that more funding for Metro means less money for roads and highways.

Lawmakers had to divert roughly $80 million from regional transportation projects administered by the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority to hit that dollar amount, reports Inside NoVa, “perturbing officials in counties without Metro stations.”

“This is hugely problematic to us,” said Vice Chair Marty Nohe, R-Coles, who also serves as chairman of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance. “It’s going to be very difficult for us to fund the sort of megaprojects we’re known for if we lose this money.”

My reaction to the road-builder lobby is the same as it is to the mass transit lobby. The United States is in the early stages of a transportation revolution in which Mobility as a Service will challenge traditional transportation modes such as mass transit and single-rider, owner-occupied vehicles. It is entirely foreseeable that time- and route-flexible shared ridership services in cars, vans, and buses will take away market share from route-fixed and schedule-fixed mass transit enterprises. Likewise, Mobility as a Service will be cheaper than car ownership. While affluent households will always want to own their own car, many will find the Mobility-as-a-Service option to be preferable.

Inevitably, we will see changes in driving patterns — changes that we cannot accurately predict. But committing ourselves to spending billions of dollars on road and highway projects on the assumption that the driving patterns of the past 50 years will remain the same over the next 10 years is nothing short of insane.

Prince William County, like every other jurisdiction in Virginia, needs to get in front of the Uber revolution and ascertain what kind of public investments (hopefully modest) will encourage mobility entrepreneurs to introduce new super-flexible shared ridership services to their locality. As a next step, they might explore how to reduce the number of automobile trips by expediting Amazon-like home delivery services. The transportation policy of the future should focus not on building new highway capacity but on reducing the number of trips.