Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Toll Lanes: What the press needs to question

Concept of I-15 facing north at Highway 74
The new high occupancy toll lanes along the I-10 and I-110 freeways in Los Angeles have been getting much negative press during the last few weeks, but why did this not happen in 1996 when the I-15 carpool lanes in San Diego County underwent the same conversion?

After the Los Angeles Times published a front page article reporting worsened traffic conditions in the main freeway lanes along the I-110 freeway, public views of toll lanes in general have declined. Although toll lanes are really not bad as many think they are, having a policy where "All HOV's must have FasTrak" causes toll lanes to deserve the reputation that they've been getting during the last few weeks.

The Transit Coalition's view of high occupancy toll lanes and congestion pricing is very clear. This mode of transportation works, but HOT lanes must support free non-transponder carpooling.

The questions that the press needs to ask LA Metro are:

1. How many toll-free HOV's versus toll-paying non-HOV's are using the Metro ExpressLanes compared to the original HOV Lanes?
2. Has the number of HOV's decreased in the high occupancy toll lanes?
3. How many HOV's are now using the general purpose lanes?

Traffic has worsened in the general purpose lanes 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. For toll-free travel, a Metro-issued switchable FasTrak is needed, not just any FasTrak. These are clear facts and here's an example:

The HOT lanes down in San Diego County which permits carpools or FasTrak traffic has better balanced traffic distribution and cut down significantly on commute times because non-registered carpools were never displaced. To be fair, San Diego's latest upgrades included additional lanes, but the actual HOV-to-HOT conversion took place back in 1996 in the original reversible lanes; no new lanes were built at that time and traffic flow did improve in the regular lanes according to reports. Therefore, the I-15 toll lanes didn't receive a negative reputation from the press.

If Metro wants the ExpressLanes to cut down on I-110 commute times, they need to get the displaced HOV's out of the general purpose lanes and back into the high occupancy lanes. If Metro desires to do this while fulfilling its long term goal of reducing the number of solo drivers in the corridor and promote ridesharing, the new regulatory burden on HOV's needs to be repealed. To be fair, most motorcycles and all plate-registered buses (public and private) are exempt from needing a transponder, but the FasTrak mandate for all other HOV's needs to be abolished and that notion needs to be adopted for all other future HOT lanes throughout Southern California. If there's suspected carpool cheating going on, get the CHP to conduct an enforcement sting with media coverage, lobby the state to increase the base fine to $500 and make it a one-point moving violation.

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