Thursday, November 15, 2012

LA Metro ExpressLanes and Casual Carpoolers

LA Metro officials have to rethink their solutions toward casual carpoolers.

The current ExpressLanes policy. Los Angeles Metro officially launched the Metro ExpressLanes along the I-110 freeway, a pilot, one-year demonstration program. The program included the conversion of the carpool lanes into tolled express lanes (also known as HOT Lanes). Tolling along this corridor began late night on November 10, 2012 with the I-10 toll lanes set to launch later in 2013. All motorists including carpools are mandated to have a FasTrak transponder to enter the facility; HOV traffic must use the Metro ExpressLanes switchable FasTrak for toll free travel.

A Good Opening Weekend:
So far, the lanes are off to a good start, after opening to the public last weekend. Granted, using the lanes will cost as much as $15.40 per use, but these are mere grumblings that officials will take in stride, as the toll lanes intend to provide congestion relief and needed revenue. ( These letters to the LA Times, however, suggest differently.)

TTC's HOT Lane Position:
The Transit Coalition advocated for free non-transponder carpooling along the Metro ExpressLanes, but Metro never adopted the concept citing enforcement issues. Nevertheless, the Coalition's HOT lane campaign page illustrates how non-transponder HOT lanes can be enforced effectively by the CHP in lieu of an automated system. TTC's A Better Inland Empire HOT campaign page goes deeper into the facts.

Keep on Carpooling, Patriots:
Moving forward, several motorists are certainly disappointed, but should accept the situation and explore ridesharing alternatives offered by Metro and the private marketplace. Existing casual carpools should continue to share the ride as a means to reduce traffic. Carpooling is a patriotic act of combating congestion. Same holds true for using public transit. The truth is that the I-110 HOT lanes according to Metro will operate at speeds of at least 45 mph, even during peak hours. Metro claims the main freeway lanes will also benefit, but the verdict will be shown as commuters hit the road during the next few weeks. Let's hope we don't end up with a repeat of the I-85 toll lane disaster in Atlanta.

Carpoolers. Seeking Solutions for Non-Registered Casual Carpoolers:
Meanwhile, officials have to rethink their solutions toward casual carpoolers, HOV traffic coming from the Inland Empire, taxi cab drivers, private sector bus lines, and all other HOV patrons who may be negated by the transponder policy to prevent a drop in the number of private carpools for the corridor. The good news for transit advocates and the public is that the responsibility and pressure are now on Metro and LA officials; if free mobility and ridesharing do not improve for both the HOT and regular lanes along the I-110 freeway over the course of the pilot period, the notion of converting carpool lanes into transponder-mandated HOT lanes as a means to reduce congestion will be struck down, thus opening the door for possible non-transponder carpooling in the Metro ExpressLanes.

However, Metro believes the agency has developed a sound toll lane facility and we should continue to explore ways to improve the corridor, especially for those who share the ride, either by public transit or private carpool. There are two ways the Metro ExpressLanes can affect I-110 mobility: First, as Metro claims, the express lanes will improve free mobility for both the HOT and regular lanes. Or secondly, the transponder-only HOT lanes could be a repeat of the I-85 toll lane blunder with worsened traffic congestion in the regular freeway lanes with the drop of casual carpools from the express lanes. If the former, stop-and-go traffic will be the thing of the past. If the latter, Metro made a big mistake of mandating FasTrak transponders for carpoolers.

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