Some Facts behind HOT Lane Transponder Mandates for Carpools

Traditional enforcement should be considered in lieu of "Nanny Lanes".

Ever wonder why some agencies such as Metro and OCTA mandate FasTrak transponders for carpoolers in their respective HOT lanes? A 2011 Policy Study by the Reason Foundation combined with a 2007 federal report and preliminary studies from the I-15 Express Lanes project in San Diego County show why. By mandating all vehicles and carpools to preregister before using a toll lane facility, HOT lane policy enforcement is a simple snap. If somebody enters without a transponder and hasn't registered: lights, camera, violation notice in the mail.

Better public revenue is also a point made to support transponder-only carpooling according to these reports.

Okay, good enough, but...

Remember the Goal of HOT: Get SoCal Moving!
What may be good for better enforcement and revenue may not be good for getting Southern California moving, a possible reason why SANDAG rightfully retained its policy for free non-transponder carpooling for the I-15 Express Lanes and probable cause of local opposition in Orange County which helped prompt the OCTA's Regional Planning and Highways Committee to recommend shelving the I-405 toll lane project through Fountain Valley.

Statistics back Casual Carpooling:
Policies which mandate preregistration for carpools is a disincentive to rideshare in the first place.

According to a 2012 study of congestion pricing by UC Berkeley, casual carpooling attracts users not just because of time and cost advantages but also because casual carpoolers like traveling for free, giving a stranger in need a ride, and using a dedicated set of lanes on the freeway. Ironically, free access to an HOV lane is advertised as an incentive to carpool. What happens when a preregistration roadblock is put in the way?

"Nanny Lanes" in Atlanta:
A November, 2011 poll by InsiderAdvantage and WSB-TV reported that Atlanta's HOT lane facility with an ill-advised toll policy of mandated preregistration shows that nearly half of the region's commuters believe that the I-85 Express Lanes has made traffic actually worse for the corridor. In contrast, the I-15 Express Lanes with its sound toll policy has better balanced traffic distribution and cut down significantly on commute times.

But get this: In Atlanta, holders of personal toll accounts who decide to rideshare one day have to change their "toll mode" on their accounts to 3+ HOV at least 15 minutes before using the roadway either online or by a mobile app; forget flipping the car's transponder switch or using a separate 3+ lane...

No wonder why HOT lanes are often mislabeled as "Lexus Lanes", or more accurately "Nanny Lanes": Casual 3+ carpools in Atlanta simply cannot or will not use their HOT lanes simply because they are mandated to preregister to freely use the facility. The result according to UC Berkeley: a drop in carpooling. Private carpoolers should be treated like adults when they decide to freely rideshare and contribute toward better mobility. Bureaucratic policies hamper their efforts as the stats show. The Georgia state government is working on fixing that colossal mess.

Balancing HOT Enforcement with Moving Southern California:
So how can an agency balance free mobility with violation enforcement and steady toll revenue? The answers are clear.

Steady Toll Revenue Stream: Designate the HOT lanes for carpools while raising the tolls on other traffic further, thus keeping the toll revenue neutral while providing a greater disincentive to driving alone. Use dynamic congestion-based tolls to better redistribute traffic flow between the express and free lanes. Tolls go up as traffic increases; tolls lower as congestion goes down--Simple economics supply-and-demand.

Traditional Police Enforcement: Enforce HOT lanes like HOV lanes have been enforced in days past--use the police. By definition, a peace officer's job is to enforce the law. If a solo vehicle evades a toll, have the police ding the driver with a $400 carpool violation ticket. Equip the CHP with mobile enforcement transponders, enforcement beacons and other fool-proof tools; that's how it's done in San Diego County. If internal statistics or complaints show chronic problems, charge the cops to do a carpool sting operation like this one in San Francisco.

Facts also confirm issues regarding automated enforcement; OCTA, for instance, reports that a whopping 60% of automated violation notices from the 91 Express Lanes are dismissed (only 11% pay up, 20% go to collections).

Above all, officials need to encourage ridesharing in the toll lanes: Abolish the transponder and preregistration mandates for carpools who are freely showing what they can do to get Southern California moving.