May 2000

California Travels:
Financing Our Transportation

Elizabeth G. Hill,
Legislative Analyst

Table of Contents


California's transportation system is currently a major concern among policymakers and for good reason. According to a recent study, in 1999 California had the dubious distinction of being home to three of the ten most congested urban areas in the nation; no other state is home to more than one. This congestion harms the state's quality of life and hampers the movement of people and goods. In addition to congestion, the condition of our highways and local streets and roads has been deteriorating in recent years, resulting in higher repair costs as maintenance is deferred to future years. State funding for certain transit improvements is also in short supply.

What is being done to address these problems? What are the fund sources for transportation and how much money is currently available? How are these funds distributed? Who decides how transportation dollars are spent? This publication seeks to answer these and other related questions in an effort to help those interested in finding solutions to our transportation challenges.

This report was prepared by Rebecca J. Long and Jason A. Weller under the supervision of Dana Curry. This report and others, as well as an E-mail subscription service, are available on the LAO's internet site at

For information about this report call Ms. Long/Mr. Weller at (916) 445-5921. The LAO is located at 925 L Street, Suite 1000, Sacramento, CA 95814.

Trends and Mobility (I)

Urban Travel Increasing Steadily. . .

• Demand for driving has consistently outpaced population growth, as well as growth in vehicle registration and licensed drivers over the last decade. The increase in driving is greatest on urban highways.

• From 1988 to 1998, California's population increased by approximately 18 percent. Yet, vehicle miles traveled (VMT), the best measure of how much people are driving, grew by about 30 percent or 24 billion miles in urban areas on the state highway system, and about 21 percent overall.

• Growth in driving far outpaced growth in the registered vehicles (approximately 7 percent) and growth in licensed drivers (approximately 9.5 percent).

. . . But, Only Marginal Growth in State Highway Capacity

• Supply, on the other hand, as measured in terms of freeway lane miles, has increased by about 1 percent over the last decade.Today, California has about 49,000 lane miles of highways, maintained and operated by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). An additional 310,000 lane miles of local streets and roads are maintained and operated by cities and counties.

• About 925 lane miles of the state highway system consists of high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes which are generally restricted to vehicles with two or more (and in some cases three or more) occupants during peak hours in order to encourage carpooling.

• Southern California also has about 80 miles of toll lanes, some of which offer variable tolls depending on the level of congestion in the lane.

Congestion Paid for in Delay, Fuel, and Excess Emissions

• The imbalance between supply and demand for the state highway system has caused vehicle hours of delay on urban freeways to more than double from approximately 197,000 hours per day in 1988 to about 418,000 hours per day in 1998.

• In 1998, approximately 40 percent of the state's urban freeways (approximately 1,470 miles) were congested (defined as occurring when vehicles are traveling at 35 mph or less during peak commute periods on a typical weekday) up from 27 percent (approximately 1,020 miles) in 1988.

• According to Caltrans' estimates for 1998, congestion on urban highways costs Californians $7.8 million per day (or about $2.8 billion per year) in wasted time and excess fuel.

• This delay also has negative environmental consequences, resulting in an estimated 418 additional tons of emissions per day.

Bus Riders Make Up the Bulk of Mass Transportation Ridership


• In 1997-98, over 1.2 billion passenger trips were made on various modes of mass transportation, including bus, rail, and ferry.

• About 82 percent of these trips were on buses.

• Rail transportation constituted about 18 percent of total mass transportation ridership during 1997-98. The bulk of rail travel was on commuter and urban (light) rail systems.

• As for the remaining modes, about 0.5 percent of statewide passenger trips were on paratransit services. Approximately 0.2 percent of these trips were on ferries.


Little Change in Number of Bus and Commuter/Urban Rail Passengers

1991-92 Through 1997-98

• In 1997-98, there were 215 transit agencies statewide that operated public transportation bus fleets. These fleets included buses that traveled on fixed routes and fixed schedules, as well as paratransit vehicles that provided services to the elderly and disabled communities.

• As for rail transportation, there were nine commuter and urban rail operators around the state in 1997-98.

• Since 1991-92, total ridership for bus and rail have remained relatively constant. Over the period, bus riders have decreased while commuter and urban rail passengers have increased.

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