Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A decline in carpooling on Los Angeles toll lanes

The Transit Coalition would like to reiterate its position on high occupancy toll lanes: We generally support congestion pricing, but toll lanes need free non-transponder carpooling. What is happening in Los Angeles clearly shows why.

With that, the Metro ExpressLanes pilot project in Los Angeles released its second performance report earlier this week. Both Metro and Caltrans stress that such data is still preliminary and subject to change. There is some truth to that; carpoolers are still adapting to the fact they must pre-register for a FasTrak transponder--more specifically LA's switchable FasTrak--to travel for free in the high occupancy lanes. However, this ill-advised usage policy is why LA's system has received so much negative feedback in contrast to other HOT lanes throughout the country which support free non-transponder carpooling.

Here are some facts according to the report:

The I-110 Freeway:

In the former 2+ dual carpool lanes, an average of 54,000 high occupancy vehicles used the high occupancy lanes per day. In April, an average of 57,256 cars use the I-110 toll lanes. Even though there's a growth in the number of vehicles, the real question is how many of the 54,000 HOV's that the former carpool lanes carried are still using the high occupancy lanes? Take a look at this discouraging stat: Of the 57,256 cars using the I-110 toll lanes, 59% are toll-free HOV's and 41% are toll-paying solo drivers. Do the math and we have 33,781 toll-free HOV's. That could mean a displacement of well over 20,000 high occupancy vehicles per day and portions of that traffic may have stopped ridesharing altogether and gone back to driving alone since the incentives to carpool were declined due to the transponder mandate. That's why traffic congestion has worsened in the general purpose lanes. That's why LA is seeing more cars on the I-110 freeway.

The I-10 Freeway Stats:
Things aren't much better for the I-10. An average of about 28,000 HOV's used the former carpool lane (3+ peak/2+ off-peak). An average of 24,613 cars used the toll lanes last spring (57% HOV's, 43% toll). That adds up to 14,030 HOV's in the ExpressLanes, almost a 50% displacement ratio from before.

On the plus side:
To be fair, the number of actual people (not cars) moving through lanes may still be up, but that could also be attributed to a recovering economy. Public transit usage on the toll lanes has blossomed. Metro-sponsored vanpool programs are up. Income stats show that these "Lexus Lanes" are not just for the rich. If LA continues to work on revitalizing South LA and combatting gang and drug crimes, it may be finally safe for I-110 commuters to set up more park and ride arrangements south of Downtown. It's still too early--and difficult for that matter--to determine how many people are moving through the high occupancy toll lanes.

However, if Metro wants to move even more people through their express lanes than cars, the agency needs to get the 34,000+ displaced HOV's back into the high occupancy lanes by dropping the FasTrak mandate for private carpools. The central concept of the high occupancy lane is to move more people—rather than more cars—and to offer a practical alternative to adding more general-purpose lanes. During peak hours, high occupancy lanes can carry the majority of the people carried on the entire freeway. That's a notion that is in no way too preliminary to adopt.

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