Can the 91 Express Lanes support 2+ carpooling instead of 3+?

The short answer is: Not quite.

What signage should look like for the 91 ExpressLanes.

Transit Coalition Community Engagement Director Nicholas Ventrone has continued to solicit public opinion and feedback regarding the campaign We Want Toll Lanes Done Right, which advocates for free non-transponder carpooling on Southland high occupancy toll lanes. Many support the Coalition's position. Carpoolers especially like it. Non-HOV's who are willing to buy their way out of traffic and frequently use the 91 Express Lanes also support maintaining FasTrak as an option. Therefore, HOT lanes which support free non-transponder carpooling continue to gain steam.

However there were some commuters who questioned the 3+ occupancy requirement for carpools using the 91 Express Lanes instead of a typical 2+ HOV. Currently, the 91 Express Lanes defines 3 persons as a carpool, and all vehicles using the 91 HOT lanes must have a FasTrak transponder. The Coalition aims to abolish the FasTrak mandate and all tolls for carpoolers to encourage 3+ carpooling. Pictures such as this one show concepts of the Express Lanes with a 3+ HOV or FasTrak usage policy.

So the question is: Can the 91 support dual high occupancy toll lanes in each direction with a 2+ occupancy requirement instead of three. Short answer is: Not quite. With all politics and bureaucratic red tape set aside, here are the facts:

  • Much like Interstate 10 east of Los Angeles, the 91 corridor through Anaheim Hills has more carpool demand than a single 2+ HOV lane can supply at most times during the day. The HOV lane through Corona is consistently congested in both directions.
  • What about 2 sets of HOV 2+ or FasTrak lanes? Currently, where the eastbound 91 Express Lanes becomes a single 2+ HOV lane near Highway 71, there is a mile long buffer with two lanes dedicated to 2+ HOV's or FasTrak traffic (set of 2 carpool lanes, FasTrak ok). These lanes are consistently high in volume, but to be fair, they sustain acceptable speeds most of the time.
  • The 91 experiences surges in traffic congestion during the weekends and holidays. Most through-travelers are 2+ HOV's.
  • Other corridors like the I-10 east of LA and the Oakland Bay Bridge which have such high demands for 2+ carpools without the infrastructure to support it also have the increased occupancy requirement for carpool as 3+.
  • With an overwhelmingly high HOV market demand in the area shown by the congested carpool lanes and filled park & ride lots, the focus may already be incentives to convert 2-person HOV's into 3+ HOV's.
To be fair, the 3+ occupancy requirement on the 91 could be lowered to 2+ during off-peak hours once future infrastructure and additional lanes are built, but it is far too early to support such a change. Therefore, the 91 through Anaheim Hills between the 55 and I-15 Freeways would fare better with 3+ HOV's for its HOT lanes until additional data can be collected from the new infrastructure.

Speaking of HOV 2+ lanes, Caltrans has also concluded that much of Orange County's carpool lanes are congested during peak congestion times, which could signal the need to increase the carpool occupancy requirement to three during peak hours to get the lanes moving again. Also up for discussion are converting the HOV 2+ lanes into HOT 3+ lanes. If the latter, officials must not impose a mandatory transponder requirement for usage; otherwise the county risks seeing a decline in HOV usage.