To The Point

  • Wed January 5, 2011

    Lets look at transportation metrics in a different light.


    What are the appropriate metrics for determining how we use and operate our transportation infrastructure? Right now farebox recovery is the most common metric for transit. (Farebox recovery is the ratio of total operation costs to how much money is brought in by paying customers.)

    But do we use similar metrics for other modes of transportation, like highways? Why not? The metrics are out there. For example, we have a gas tax, but you never hear talk about subsidizing highways when the amount we collect on the gas tax doesn't meet the needs we have for operating our highways. The bottom line is that for transit we often use different metrics for different modes of transportation.

    But rather than split hairs about why one metric is appropriate for one mode and not for another, let's look at it in a different light. Really, this is a problem of how we think about metrics.

    It would benefit our communities to start thinking about metrics in terms of the total transportation system instead of individual modes like transit or highways. The reason for this is that these individual metrics often fail to serve their purpose. For example, farebox isn't really a great metric to determine service for transit anyways. Transit isn't only about the ROI for moving people, it's about quality of life, safety, and the environment which lead to a stronger economy and thriving communities. Highways, when incorporated to the operation of complete streets and transit, are also about our quality of life.

    When we step back, we see that measuring how the system works as a whole benefits each of its parts. So, rather than limiting a conversation to hiking taxes to pay for highway maintenance, we can also talk about incentives for multi-occupancy driving, using transit or alternative routes, employer-subsidized transportation, implementing smart grids that synchronize non-highway traffic lights with highway access, congestion pricing, and so on, because all of these issues contribute to operating and maintaining highways effectively.