Solving Burning Man’s Traffic Issues

Line of Cars, 2011 (photo by Peg Ortner)
Line of Cars, 2011 (photo by Peg Ortner)

Traffic is the greatest impediment to the growth and sustainability of Black Rock City. Burning Man is under pressure from the Bureau of Land Management and Nevada Department of Transportation to reduce the number of cars entering the event. Highways 447 and 34 are at max capacity during the event and we’re being asked to pay for road damage caused by participant vehicles. Road travel represents 60% of the carbon emissions related to the event.

And the #1 challenge experienced by participants last year? Entry and Exodus.

Clearly, it’s critical we address the traffic issue — and we can only solve this problem by working together as a community. To that end, Burning Man is expanding existing programs and launching new ones to encourage participants to rideshare or take alternative transportation. These programs include:

Awareness
Our community has always policed itself — and changed its behavior when necessary — through awareness. That’s how we became the largest Leave No Trace event in the world, against seemingly impossible odds. Burning Man will continue pushing this information out into the community throughout the year so we can solve these issues together.

Burner Express
Burner Express exceeded all expectations during its inaugural run in 2013, accommodating 2,459 riders to and from San Francisco and Reno-Tahoe International Airport, and participant feedback about the experience was overwhelmingly positive. This year we will expand the service, increasing capacity to 5,000 riders. Tickets for Burner Express will go on sale in late February … keep an eye out for an announcement of exactly when.

Rideshare Board
Burning Man hosts a rideshare board that facilitates hundreds of shared rides to the playa annually. We’ve revamped and significantly improved it over the last couple years.

BMIR mobile app and traffic reports
Burning Man Information Radio will be available via mobile apps and will provide “no BS” hourly traffic updates for Highway 447 and Empire, during ingress and Exodus. This will provide participants with timely information on road status and optimum times to travel to or from BRC.

Vehicle Passes
All vehicles entering Black Rock City will be required to purchase a Vehicle Pass for $40. Our goal is to incentivize participants to reduce the number of vehicles entering BRC by increasing the number of participants per vehicle. Vehicle Passes can be purchased when you buy tickets online. There are 35,000 passes available this year. This may change in future years depending on how successful we are at reducing traffic in 2014.

More Arrivals by Air
Arrivals to Black Rock City via our airport have been increasing. In order to allow the increase to continue, we need to work with permitting agencies and air charters to accommodate higher capacities, while continuing to support our established Burner aviator community.

Regional Container Shipping Program
We will continue to encourage regional groups to share the cost of shipping their gear to Gerlach for delivery to the playa. Several Regional groups (including New York, Boston, Washington DC, and Philadelphia) run container programs and Burning Man has an instruction guide on how to coordinate these efforts.

Near-Playa Shipping Container Program
In 2012, the Burning Man organization began renting near-playa shipping containers to theme camps for storage of their infrastructure elements. We will be increasing the space available for containers this year and into the future — the more stuff that comes in large containers means less individual vehicles are required.

Traffic Management in Empire & Gerlach
Burning Man will deploy traffic control flaggers in and around Gerlach (and possibly Empire) to help ensure uninterrupted traffic flow to the event.

 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

[Update 1/20/13: There is a new, updated FAQ now available, which will be continually updated as new questions and answers come in.]

Q. Who has to purchase a Vehicle Pass?
A. All vehicles coming into the event must have a Vehicle Pass. They can be purchased online when you buy your tickets. There will be an initial allotment made for 35,000 Vehicle Passes.

Q. Why not just charge a larger fee for RVs?
A. The issue isn’t the size or type of the vehicle but the number of vehicles using roads leading to the event — regardless of what kind of vehicle you drive, it’s another vehicle creating traffic and doing damage to the roads. We need all participants to examine how they get to and from the playa and work together to reduce traffic on the highways. Other large events have a footprint shortage. For now, we don’t. It’s our roadways that are limited.

Q. Why not have an HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lane for cars with multiple passengers?
A. An HOV lane is under consideration but comes with its own logistical challenges (like having a way to prevent low occupancy vehicles from using the lane). Depending on the success of our existing programs, HOV lanes may be considered for 2015. Burner Express, however, does get HOV priority and doesn’t wait in line.

Q. Do motorcycles have to pay for a Vehicle Pass?
A. To be determined, but not at this time.

Q. Does a tow-behind trailer count as a vehicle for a Vehicle Pass?
A. No. Just your primary driving vehicle.

Q. Do I have to pay for a Vehicle Pass for my Mutant Vehicle?
A. If you are bringing your Mutant Vehicle in on a trailer, you do not need to have a Vehicle Pass for it. If you are driving it in, you need a Pass. Each stand-alone vehicle that drives through the gate must have a Vehicle Pass.

Q. Aren’t Vehicle Passes just a way to raise money without increasing ticket prices?
A. While this will raise money needed to support the event, including flaggers, equipment and staff for Gate Road to help ensure a more smooth ingress and egress, it’s being implemented to raise awareness and encourage participants to share the cost by sharing room in their vehicles.

Q. How many people rideshare now?
A. According to statistics collected by Traffic Works LLC (a consulting firm paid by Burning Man to study participant traffic in 2013) and the Nevada Department of Transportation, the typical vehicle coming into the event carries 1.9 people. Our goal is to increase that to >2.5 by 2016, and we need your help to reach it!

Q. How do I learn more about Burner Express?
A. See our Burner Express webpage.

Q. How many people used Burner Express last year?
A. Burner Express had 2,459 riders last year – 1,300 going into the event and 1,159 leaving the event. Our goal for 2014 is to increase the total number of riders to 5,000, and to increase that number in future years.

Q. Where do I learn about participating in the near-playa shipping container rentals?
A. Visit http://storage.burningman.com for information, and to get on the waiting list.

Q. How do I learn more about participating in or starting a shipping container delivery program in my region?
A. We hope to take some of the best practices and experiences of those groups coordinating container shipments and making it available to the public this Spring. Watch the Jackrabbit Speaks email newsletter for information to come.

Q. Where can I find a list of air charters servicing Black Rock City?
A. We have a list of the 2013 approved air charter services. A list of 2014 approved carriers will be posted as soon as it is available. As an informed consumer, ask the air charter you choose whether they have been approved for 2014.

179 thoughts on “Solving Burning Man’s Traffic Issues

  • We have our tickets, but sadly no vehicle pass. Please say there will be a way to still get one. To not get in just because we don’t have a $40 pass would be tragic. I am happy to pay for one. We’re Canadian so it’s not a small trip and it’s hard to plan and scheme even with a ticket now…

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  • Hopefully some of this vehicle pass money is going towards solving the gate and road issues. Open more lanes on the gate and man them with more staff. Improve your ticketing network so it doesn’t crash all the time. Will call is always a disaster. Actually, now that I think of it: what part of the gate actually does work efficiently for an event this size? I grant you that there’s only so much you can do about exodus, as everyone tries to leave at the same time and there is a road capacity limit. But the rest of it is embarrassing.

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  • how can we get a vehicle pass is anyone selling? I’ve emailed and tweeted and posted on this blog but burning man is ignoring me :-/ Theres 4 Brits coming we need just the 1 vehicle pass anyone that can help please email darrenjames22 here: darrenjames22 (at) hotmail.com

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  • I was wondering about the Low Income Ticketing/ Vehicle Pass. Are there passes available for those who are trying to go Low Income? I didn’t see any option there for us on the application as I am aiming to get a car this summer, but I am not sure if I”ll drive there or carpool, so I want to play it safe this year and have a backup plan. Any info guys?

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  • how does it work for low income ticket holders who pay for their tickets at the the pick up window….do we get to purchase a car pass at the window? this is particularly vital for disabled low incomer folks who need their vehicles.

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  • does anyone know if you can purchase a vehicle passes are available after ticket sales as my circumstances have changed and i know need to get my self there

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  • Maybe we could move the Gate Greeting Ritual to the base of The Man and let it go on all week. It would speed up ingress and create a kind of orienting pilgrimage for Newbies. “Go to the Man and ring the bell Newbie! Then you have arrived.”

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  • I’ve purchased the ticket but missed to purchase the vehicle pass. Is there a way I can still purchase vehicle pass after I purchase the tickets?

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  • I wonder if the negative commenters have actually been to Burning Man before.

    I’m all for reducing traffic and providing alternative means to get to Black Rock City. This year we’re flying to Reno and taking the Burner Express to and from BRC.

    At first it was a logistic thing (less time from work, lower costs than driving from Austin) but other than missing the epic travel through the desert and the inevitable side trips on the way there, I’m stoked to not sit in a car. Also, no waiting in the line, which is as fun as it is frustrating.

    I’m happy they’re taking steps like this and hope to see it expand.

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  • And, it’s clear not everyone actually read the blog post or has paid any attention in the past few months.

    If you’re towing a trailer you only need one pass.

    35,000 x 40 is $140,000, not $1.4m

    A corporation is a type of organization. Burning man is a non profit. If anyone has actually seen Black Rock City and has any idea of what goes into making it, it’s not an inexpensive or easy endeavor.

    Many of the above comments are complete gibberish and I’m not sure of the point they’re trying to make. People love their conspiracy theories and will stick with them (like “agenda 21,” chemtrails, the anti-vaccination people) regardless of how silly they are.

    Traffic is a huge and expensive problem. Some of you may be unaware of the problem, but it’s a sore spot for the state of Nevada and local municipalities. The two-lane desert highways aren’t designed for the drastic increase in traffic.

    They’re counting RVs and other big things the same as cars to keep it simple. Unless I’m wrong, they’re working with an average vehicle size and weight.

    Vendors, law enforcement, services aren’t part of the ticketing process and relevant with the vehicle pass. Besides, they enter through service roads.

    No one is forcing anyone to go to Burning Man. For people like me who aren’t fabulously wealthy, it’s a sacrifice and something I work for all year. I couldn’t make it last year and I’m stoked to go this year.

    I applaud the effort to reduce traffic and make it easier for us to get to Black Rock City and easier for the people who live there to tolerate us.

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  • Is it possible to buy a vehicle pass separate from a ticket? I’ve finally found a ticket, but without a vehicle pass I may not make it to my 21st year on the Playa.

    Should I only buy a ticket if it comes with a vehicle pass?

    Concerned.

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  • @ Super Evil Brian 35,000 x $40 = $1,400,000 ($1.4 million).

    I’m a Civil Engineer specializing in roadway and pavement design. From my post here on January 30th:

    “Part of my job as a Traffic Engineer is to design pavement for Agencies at the State and Local level. Pavement designs vary from place to place and reflect the environmental and traffic conditions experienced over the pavement life. A vital component of this is an accurate estimate of the expected magnitude and frequency of traffic loads over the design life. In making this assessment, the prudent traffic engineer will notice that; the contribution that motorcycles, passenger cars, and pick trucks (light vehicles) make towards the pavement distress incurred during its service is VERY small in comparison to heavy vehicles such as tractor trailers, single unit box trucks and RV’s. In fact, the contribution of passenger vehicles is so small that many State and Local transportation agencies consider their effect on the pavement to be negligible, and the design engineer is permitted to exclude them from the pavement design calculations.” The FAQ of this article conveys misinformation about this topic; as an engineer, this bothers me.

    I have no misgivings with heavy vehicles bringing the burn to BLC; that’s how my stuff gets there and I think it’s a cost we should all bear. I would encourage efforts that reduce traffic volumes, but such efforts should be well planned; my chief concern is the unintended consequences that could impact local communities (i.e using the parking lots of Fremont businesses as park and rides). This policy has never been attempted before. Since we have no experience to draw upon, a detailed travel forecast study CANNOT be performed to evaluate the consequences. These studies rely on data collection (experience) and analysis to establish causes, effects and mitigation measures. In fact, the travel forecast models and a trip generation analysis developed by Fehr & Peers Transportation Consultants in article 4.21 ‘Transportation and Traffic’ of the Environmental Assessment dated June 2012 prepared by the US Bureau of Land Management to evaluate the event (for 2012-2016) did not evaluate the potential effects of limiting vehicle entry to the event, nor did they recommend capping vehicle entry as a mitigation measure. The engineering consultants did recommend incentivizing carpooling: “Improvements that would continue to maintain acceptable levels of service with greater populations include: extending the exodus period, implementing a system that requires participants to sign up for an exit time, or incentivizing carpooling so there are more participants per vehicle (e.g., by charging a fee to bring a car or rewarding high vehicle occupancy rates).”

    The Environmental Assessment prepared by BLM contains stipulations for maintaining the permit for the event (i.e. implementing measures to reduce traffic) and also contains an explanation of the permitting requirements for the event (refer to ‘Permit Administration’). It’s important to understand that the cost of securing local, State and Federal permits for this event is borne by ticket sales (and therefore us); which is used for roadway maintenance, law enforcement etc.

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  • Hi, a friend sold me his ticket, but alas, no vehicle pass. What am I to do? I am already giving a ride to someone, who also doesn’t have a pass, but holds a ticket.
    This just doesn’t makes sence. I don’t care to sleep with strangers inside a small car. Please HELP BM organizers. This is UNFAIR!!!
    Thanks
    Victoria

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  • I’ve never heard so much whinning….what ever happened to the so called self reliance everyone preaches so much about…is it just words your throwing out or do you really believe in the voice inside your head? Take this as a positive…skip your starbucks coffee every other day…the vehicle pass equates to $4 a month…Im sure each and every one of us can save an extra 4 bucks a month Lets move on to more important happenings…

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  • So a trio of us are coming in early arrival. The plan is that we arrive in Reno on Friday, rent a car for a single day, use it for our last-minute purchases, go to the playa, drop off our stuff and two of our companions, and the third returns to Reno to take the Burner Express back in. We have a vehicle pass, but since we’re not contributing to the traffic, is there any way of getting a refund?

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  • Hello Everyone,

    One of our groupe accindently sold our vehicle pass because he thougt we had it double. Wat should we do, because we want to visit with our RV but do not have a vehicle pass. Thank you. Jesse

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  • Burner Express word of warning. Last year (2013) I was on one of fist Burner Express shuttles into BRC on Monday and happened to camp near the drop off spot. By late Monday, drug dogs were searching virtually every bus that arrived. Passengers were ordered to disembark and place all of their belongings on the playa. Dogs then had at it. When they got a hit, officers asked whose bag it was and then did a manual and very very thorough search. (Opening seams and disassembling electronics.) Many people got nailed. Some never claimed their bags and just walked away. The Burner Express is such a great concept and really is the fastest way home. But unfortunately it was like herding lambs to the slaughter. How this type of search is constitutional is a mystery to me. Best of Luck.

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  • I was in Gerlach selling coffee during the event last year. There were about a hundred hippies squattin in town, pooping all over the place, flyin signs for free tickets. The gate was telling people they couldn’t hang out on playa to mooch tickets, and sent them all to gerlach, where they harassed and stole from residents. With this vehicle pass requirement, there’s gonna be a whole bunch of cars abandoned on the streets of gerlach, heavily interfering with local peoples lifes. And the Borg, as usual, won’t do anything about it until forced to.

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  • Kitty in San Diego is selling tickets turning around and cancelling the transaction after she receives the money, I’m surprised Burning Man lets people do this SCAM

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  • I want to go in 2015, So what were the results?
    Did this decrease traffic jams at entry?
    What about exit?
    Was there less Art?
    Was there less gifting?
    Were there more problems with burners who didn’t bring enough to survive?

    Considering taking my 1994 minivan instead of my SULEV hybrid because the extra $40 per vehicle cost means its more cost effective to drive the dinosaur.

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