Last week, I concluded that the plan to add two tolled lanes to MoPac would make everyone better off than either maintaining the status quo or adding two free lanes. But it occurred to me that I haven't considered everyone's interests. Cap Metro's, specifically. Isn't it likely that Cap Metro will be worse off?
As I noted last time, congestion-pricing will be a boon to bus riders. They will get much shorter, more predictable rides. But these buses run from the stations (Leander and Lakeline) that provide the bulk of Cap Metro's morning boardings. Cap Metro is to some extent competing against its own buses for its rail riders. (Cap Metro's surge in rail ridership last year occurred after it scaled back its express bus service from Leander and Lakeline. The reduction in bus service might not have been the sole cause of the bump in ridership, but it surely played a part.)
The shorter, more reliable bus trips will inevitably attract some current rail riders. What's more, Cap Metro will be under a lot of pressure, I predict, to expand express bus service when the tolled lanes open. The benefits for express bus riders are one of the big selling points of congestion pricing. Free-flowing lanes will make it possible to offer reliable express bus service during the very the peak of the peak of the morning commute. Cap Metro will be in the difficult position of either providing great, new express bus service at the cost of its rail ridership or refusing to provide great, new express bus service to preserve its rail ridership.
Perhaps it's not useful to frame this in terms of Cap Metro's interests. Cap Metro's mission is to provide quality, cost-effective public transit. If changes occur to the transportation network that allow Cap Metro to provide better public transportation, then we should count that as a win, even if it puts Cap Metro in a difficult position institutionally.
So perhaps this is a better way to frame the point: adding congestion-priced lanes to MoPac will put more pressure on the Red Line. Cap Metro is running the Red Line today at an unsustainable subsidy of $33.98 per rider. I don't know how Cap Metro plans to reduce that subsidy to a reasonable level. I'm pretty sure, though, that improved bus service on MoPac will make the path more difficult.