Thursday, March 7, 2013

A no-spin view of the Metro ExpressLanes

High occupancy toll lanes done right can provide an efficient multi-modal transportation facility within congested freeway corridors.

A sign announcing express lanes. There has been much unfair dissent toward the Los Angeles Metro ExpressLanes lately by the public. However, the fact remains that the new Los Angeles HOT lanes are not bad for Southern California; it is the current HOV usage policy that remains undoubtedly questionable and the Transit Coalition will continue to confront it. LA Streetsblog caught ABC7 News spinning the facts when the news channel presented an overall negative report of the high occupancy toll lanes.

The Transit Coalition generally supports multi-modal HOT express lanes and congestion pricing. To be fair, The Coalition did reference this news report in the 2/19/2013 eWeekly Newsletter, but the story reported the fact that overall traffic in the corridor has worsened in the general purpose lanes mainly due to the displacement of non-registered HOV's. This is why the Coalition aims to have the Metro ExpressLanes and all other HOT lanes throughout Southern California allow for any 2+ or 3+ HOV to travel toll free without a transponder. The reasons can be found here. Metro does predict that the increased congestion will phase out as more people register, but the question that needs to be addressed is: How many toll-free HOV's versus toll-paying non-HOV's are using the ExpressLanes compared to the original HOV Lanes? Has the number of HOV's decreased in the high occupancy lanes?

Currently all HOVs except for motorcycles and buses must have a FasTrak to use the Metro ExpressLanes. Any motorcycle can use the lanes for free. Private buses preregister by submitting their license plate numbers. While it's true that the ill-advised policy of mandating all other HOVs need to have a FasTrak transponder needs to be revisited, it's also true that anti-toll lane groups have been unfairly spinning the facts of the ExpressLanes to promote an overall negative public view of HOT lanes in general. That too is counterproductive.

Los Angeles Metro's high occupancy toll lanes accomplished two major productive changes to promote multi-modal mobility: First, new rapid express buses were launched to serve the corridors. Secondly, the HOT lanes allowed any non-HOV to pay a toll with a FasTrak transponder to access the ExpressLanes which funds the bus service and other improvements. In addition, LA Metro's switchable FasTrak could and should set the standard for all FasTrak transponders statewide, eliminating the need to manufacture mylar bags and/or the need to construct and maintain separate lanes underneath the toll antennas. HOT lane facilities can provide a quick and easy throughfare for motorists. If Metro, OCTA, and RCTC can cut out the "Nanny Lane" usage policy and allow free non-transponder HOV usage, high occupancy toll lanes can have a future in Southern California transportation.

Speaking of ExpressLanes, the Los Angeles Times published an anecdote about a person who was sent a citation by the operators of the 91 ExpressLanes. The problem was that his car was nowhere near Orange County and was in fact stored in his garage on the day of the alleged violation. Much of the toll-charging and violation-reporting process is automated. However, operators assure that appeals are reviewed by human beings, with some 900 of these appeals leading to the dismissal of the citation every year.

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