by Alex Valdez
For years, “adding capacity” to meet the growing demands of commuters on urban roadways equated to “adding lanes.” But now, construction costs and the expenses associated with securing right-of-way to build more lanes have exceeded our ability to pay for them. “Doing more with what we have” is the goal of most traffic management agencies these days.
El Paso is no different from other major cities in this regard. Not surprisingly, our slow-downs happen at peak morning and afternoon travel times. This is especially true along I-10, the main corridor connecting the east and west sides of the city. Even if we had the money to expand capacity by building more lanes, the frontage roads and existing commercial development along I-10 wouldn’t allow it. You could say that economic prosperity—a good thing—has boxed in the interstate.
So, we have to think outside the box. Carpooling sounds like a good idea in this situation, right? More people in fewer cars creates more capacity on the same amount of roadway. The problem is, coordinating schedules among carpoolers can be a hassle. Everyone’s in a hurry, and everyone’s used to hopping in their cars and going where they want when they want. Carpooling is not known for being convenient.
That’s where the concept of dynamic or express carpooling comes in. Express carpooling doesn’t require coordinating schedules. Smart phone apps can do that for you. But because many people have a negative impression of carpooling—often based on personal experience—they’re not always willing to try new approaches to carpooling.
I and my CIITR team studied express carpooling as a possible solution for improving mobility in El Paso. We looked at what other communities are doing and their experiences in implementing the idea locally. Then, to assess local interest among El Paso college students, we surveyed some 1,200 students attending The University of Texas–El Paso or one of El Paso Community College’s campuses. Some 40 percent of students overall and 51 percent of those who currently rely on transit systems expressed interest in trying out a flexible carpooling system.
Our research also showed that, for such a system to be successful in a community, an aggressive publicity campaign is vital. And promotion should be coordinated through entities connected to the targeted ridership. In our study’s case, the colleges attended by prospective participants would need to promote dynamic carpooling to their students.
To be sure, carpooling is only one ingredient in the recipe for reducing congestion in El Paso. But by sharing our finite roadway space through innovative practices like dynamic carpooling, we can increase capacity without sacrificing convenience. That’s something all of us should contemplate the next time we’re sitting alone in our cars, waiting in traffic.
Alex Valdez is an associate transportation researcher with TTI’s Center for International Intelligent Transportation Research.