Friday, February 13, 2015

Bus Parade on the I-15 Freeway

Another potential reason why high occupancy toll lanes need free carpooling and bus transit infrastructure.

Buses Galore: Did the El Monte Busway magically appear this day on the I-15 Freeway?

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director
riversidetransit@gmail.com


Last weekend, I was in a vanpool headed from Southwest Riverside County to a day-long convention in Ontario and transit-related matters weren't initially on my mind. That was until I noticed and began to pay attention to a very interesting pattern on the other side of the freeway: A steady stream of private sector buses headed south.

Buses appeared so frequently last Saturday morning around 9AM that I got out my camera and began to count the number of buses headed south. Between Wildomar and the I-10 freeway junction which spans about 35 miles, I counted 17 private sector buses in a 30 minute span plus an Omnitrans paratransit shuttle bus.

Okay, you want to see the photos as proof? Here they are:

Bus Photo Survey: Wildomar to Ontario via the I-15 Freeway
Saturday, February 7, 2015 - 8:50-9:20am

In addition, the vanpool passed three separate buses on the northbound lanes.

I understand that there is a possibility that some of the coaches may be dead-heading and some of the buses surveyed were smaller shuttles, but let's suppose only 10 of the buses counted were loaded with 30-40 passengers each. That added up to about 350 people aboard this bus caravan during the half-hour I was there with one loaded bus passing through on average every 3 minutes. Do the math and the corridor took in 700 people aboard the buses per hour, which is just under 1/2 of the full capacity of a freeway lane if everybody on board elected to drove alone.

Other than the marked casino buses, many of these coaches were private charters, which meant I had very little information on where all of these HOV's were headed, but 17 buses headed south on the I-15 during a 30 minute span. It was like LA's El Monte Busway minus the transit infrastructure.

I understand that there may have been a special event taking place on the other side of town which could have caused this flood of buses to parade on the I-15 during this 30 minute survey. Inland casinos also typically experience their peak periods during weekends as busloads of people stream into them in droves during the morning and at night. And that's the whole point of this discussion:

Inland HOT Tolled Express Lanes need free non-transponder carpooling and transit infrastructure so that these motor coaches can get to their destinations quickly and efficiently.

Being the highest form of a high occupancy vehicle on a highway, every one of these buses should have the ability to travel toll-free on the planned I-15 Express Lanes between Corona and the high desert as well as the connecting 91 Express Lanes. Every bus should be able to get onto the Express Lanes for free and go. In addition, direct access ramps between the HOT lanes and adjacent transit hubs would further speed up mobility of these coaches and allow them to operate more productively. If these bus providers--mainly the casino carriers--are incentivized to stop their buses at public transit stations, the public-private benefit would be tremendous. 

Coalition Concept: I-15 HOT Lane Direct Access Ramp near Temecula Parkway.
Note: Concept Only. Not endorsed by RCTC, City of Temecula or any public entity.
Think about it: If a weekend coach headed to the Pechanga Resort from Rancho Bernardo used the Rancho Bernardo Transit Center or the adjacent street corner as a pick-up point, riders would be able to use the connecting MTS buses or the park & ride lot to access the casino bus and the bus would be able to transition seamlessly to San Diego County's I-15 Express Lanes. Imagine if there was a direct HOT lane connector in South Temecula to receive these buses and HOV's. The buses would be in town at the doors to the casino resort in about an hour without the traffic congestion. Operating costs go down which lead to increased productivity and better competition, improved services and lower rates between bus providers. With Pechanga planning a massive hotel expansion, bus demand to/from the resort is sure to grow.

I'm going to keep a close watch and continue to survey the number of coaches that pass through the I-15 corridor. If this type of pattern continues, Inland transportation planners really need to integrate bus transit infrastructure into the Inland Empire HOT lane system and ensure every bus--public or private--can use it.

We need El Monte Busway or San Diego I-15 Express Lanes-like transit infrastructure for the 91 and I-15. The high volume of private sector coaches can be another reason why.

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