Thursday, February 21, 2013

Why High Occupancy Vehicles are losing freedom with Toll Lanes

Transportation agencies need to put aside the "Nanny Lane" politics for high occupancy toll lanes.


Concept: What an entry point for the 91 Express Lanes would look like if the corridor permitted free non-transponder 3+ HOV's -or- FasTrak.

High occupancy vehicle travel remains a highly popular travel option for many, but incentives to freely rideshare on southland freeways are weakening. Legit HOV's consist of not only commuter carpools which make up approximately 10% of all commuter trips, but also private charter buses, airport shuttles, casino coaches, the Greyhound bus, taxis, caravans, motorcycles, and yes, family trips. Private HOV's contribute toward a robust multi-modal transportation system, but presently, incentives to travel in an HOV are in decline.

Los Angeles Metro's high occupancy toll lanes along the I-110 freeway corridor through South LA accomplished two things: It allowed solo-occupancy vehicles to pay a toll with a FasTrak transponder to access the underutilized $1 billion I-110 Harbor Transitway corridor. New rapid express buses were also brought in to serve the corridor. However, there is little else that shows that the toll lanes have contributed toward getting Southern California moving, and the majority of I-110 commuters know it.

Metro ExpressLanes entry sign As The Transit Coalition predicted, traffic in the I-110 general purpose lanes has worsened since the November, 2012 carpool-to-ExpressLane lane conversion three months ago, thus repeating the same disaster that occurred in 2011 in Atlanta. Video rants posted to YouTube and toll lane opposition Facebook pages have surfaced on the Internet.

That's because all of the non FasTrak-registered HOV's were displaced from the former 2+ carpool lanes; all vehicles including HOV's are now mandated to have a FasTrak transponder to use the facility. To make matters worse, HOV's with a non-switchable standard FasTrak, which is issued by other public entities all over the state, can only use the LA Metro ExpressLanes as a toll patron.

Let's restate that: There's no way to optimize HOV usage in the ExpressLanes to its fullest potential with the current usage policy, no way. To be fair, Metro predicts that the increased congestion will phase out as more people preregister and ridership on the Metro Silver Line builds up, but The Transit Coalition has objected to such preregistration mandates for HOV's which clearly result in a reduction of HOV traffic instead of single occupancy vehicles. It is a confirmed fact that when HOT lane usage policies mandate transponder registration for HOV's, ridesharing and carpooling is discouraged; solo commuting encouraged.

Concept of I-15 HOT lanes facing north near Lake Elsinore The very popular 3+ carpool lane along Interstate 10 between LA and El Monte will undergo the same conversion on February 23, and Metro is now proposing additional ExpressLanes through the Newhall Pass on Interstate 5. The Riverside County Transportation Commission also continues on its plans to extend the 91 Express Lanes east into Corona which will include a carpool lane conversion and potential HOT lanes for I-15. Speaking of the I-15 HOT lanes, the Riverside County Transportation Commission scaled back the southernmost segment of the corridor to cut its cost in half, but the shortened project will most likely exacerbate a major southbound bottleneck south of Corona if nothing else is done further south. To be fair, RCTC's proposals include constructing additional lanes to address any worsened congestion impacts, but how do our public agencies think HOV usage is going to flourish if they continue to put pre-registration barriers on such traffic?

The riding public knows that governments cannot expand HOV usage in a corridor by strangling it with regulations that drives non-registered carpools back into traffic-choked general purpose lanes. High occupancy toll lanes can be truly "high occupancy" with free non-transponder carpooling or not, and it seems both Metro and RCTC are saying not. Public agencies need to get back to helping HOV's expand and set aside the "Nanny Lane" politics because serious worsened congestion has already occurred along the I-110 and LA's commuters know it.

2 comments:

  1. Is it clear that, in the long run, mandated transponders discourage HOV use? Would it be better if the transponders were free or somehow subsidized?

    It seems to me that the primary constituents that Metro and others are trying to reach with HOT lanes are those who drive a route on a regular basis, and increased congestion in the free lanes combined with reduced congestion in the HOT lanes would be a powerful incentive to just get the transponder. And I'm unsure as to the enforcement implications of allowing 3+ drivers transponder-free access.

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    1. The evidence is very clear that transponder pre-registration discourages HOV use in HOT lanes and encourages SOV use, especially on the 91. For instance, The Transit Coalition spotted a Greyhound bus and two other charter buses stuck in traffic in the general purpose lanes during two field studies of the 91 Express Lanes. Data from the US Department of Transportation also shows that the majority of 91 Express Lanes users are not 3+ HOV’s, even though the corridor clearly has very high ridesharing demands. In contrast, USDOT shows corridors that support free non-transponder carpooling have higher HOV percentages than toll-paying SOV's.

      Regarding subsidizing FasTrak transponders, that concept is certainly debatable given they are issued by public entities. However, HOV's who have no intention of using their transponders as a toll-paying SOV should not need to register; that would be wasteful to the taxpayer.

      Regarding enforcement, many HOT lanes are enforced under an intelligence-driven system by law enforcement. Intelligence-driven enforcement tools could include mobile enforcement transponders to ensure non-HOV's have a proper FasTrak mounted at all times while in the HOT lanes, enforcement beacon lights near the toll antennas, and remote infrared scanners to track possible carpool cheating. If a non-HOV vehicle enters a HOT facility, does not have a valid FasTrak transponder mounted at all times and is caught by the CHP, the driver is issued a $401+ carpool violation ticket plus the maximum posted toll amount. Several HOT lane corridors use this method for enforcement. The state should also make carpool cheating a one-point moving violation.

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