During asymmetric cytoplasmic mRNA transport, cis-acting localization signals are widely assumed to tether a specific subset of transcripts to motor complexes that have intrinsic directionality. Here we provide evidence that mRNA transcripts control their sorting by regulating the relative activities of opposing motors on microtubules. We show in Drosophila embryos that all mRNAs undergo bidirectional transport on microtubules and that cis-acting elements produce a range of polarized transcript distributions by regulating the frequency, velocity, and duration of minus-end-directed runs. Increased minus-end motility is dependent on the dosage of RNA elements and the proteins Egalitarian (Egl) and Bicaudal-D (BicD). We show that these proteins, together with the dynein motor, are recruited differentially to different RNA signals. Cytoplasmic transfer experiments reveal that, once assembled, cargo/motor complexes are insensitive to reduced cytoplasmic levels of transport proteins. Thus, the concentration of these proteins is only critical at the onset of transport. This work suggests that the architecture of RNA elements, through Egl and BicD, regulates directional transport by controlling the relative numbers of opposite polarity motors assembled. Our data raise the possibility that recruitment of different numbers of motors and regulatory proteins is a general strategy by which microtubule-based cargoes control their sorting.