Monday, February 10, 2014

When High Occupancy Toll Lanes become too popular

Coalition Concept: Should the 91 Express Lanes approach full capacity even with high tolls, the lanes would become a free dedicated 3+ carpool lane until capacity opens up for toll-paying traffic. Local officials should get its bond debt paid off so that the HOT Lanes can support free non-transponder 3+ carpooling with transit infrastructure.
Note: Concept only. Not endorsed by OCTA or any public entity.
High Occupancy toll lanes in the San Francisco Bay Area and San Diego County were designed in part to allow solo drivers to buy their way out of slow general purpose lanes and into a faster moving carpool lane. With the exception of the Bay Area toll bridges, high occupancy toll lanes in both of these regions support free non-transponder carpooling without the requirement for a toll transponder, a sound policy that allows any HOV to have free access to the high occupancy lane while permitting solo drivers access for a toll should capacity permit. Overwhelming evidence shows that by not placing a pre-registration toll transponder mandate on high occupancy vehicles, carpooling becomes more encouraged.

However, some HOT lane segments in the Bay Area are reported to be reaching full capacity during parts of the afternoon rush hour. As a result, automatic dynamic entry point signs have been designating the HOT lanes as 2+ carpool lanes. That is, only high occupancy vehicles with 2 or more occupants would be permitted entry into the facilities. This policy has been catching toll-paying solos off guard, causing some commuter frustration on the road. Stats overwhelmingly show that there are numerous solo drivers in the Bay Area who are willing to tax themselves into the carpool lane. However, whenever the lanes reach full capacity and no excess capacity can be sold even with high tolls, then it's "Carpools Only." The toll lane is sold out. Solo drivers need to be prepared for such situations during peak hours. High occupancy vehicle infrastructure is and should be designated for high occupancy vehicles and there will be times that no space will be available for toll-paying solo drivers. That's a reality.

Should a HOT lane corridor ever experience chronic periods of congestion with speeds under 45-50 mph which some segments in the Bay Area may be experiencing, there are some sound debatable options. Officials can identify where the bottlenecks are and fix them, consider improving express bus transit routes and connecting local lines with an early morning to late night service span, entice the marketplace to invest in more car-sharing outlets at receiving transit hubs for those wanting to rideshare but need affordable access to a car during the day, and/or raising the occupancy requirement for carpool to 3 during during peak congestion following a strong carpool/transit marketing campaign.

For corridors with a single HOT lane in each direction, officials can also consider doubling the capacity to two HOT lanes each way. Bay Area officials have plans to double the capacity of several HOT lanes while maintaining the 2-person occupancy requirement for carpool, which is a fair solution to provide the infrastructure for the growing HOV traffic. The inclusion of transit infrastructure and direct access ramps also needs to be considered in long term plans to reduce weaving. However, imposing mandatory tolls or transponders on high occupancy vehicle traffic have already shown not to be desirable solutions.

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