Friday, April 10, 2015

Inland Empire Transit Happenings this Spring



By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director
riversidetransit@gmail.com


I hope you all had a blessed and Happy Easter, Passover and restful Spring Break. This has been a busy spring as there's several major stories that I'm keeping a watch on. Here's a briefing on them.

Omnitrans Service Changes


The official public hearing regarding the Omnitrans service change has recently "ended". I'm keeping a watch on the planned peak-hour reinstatement of a freeway express service between Montclair and San Bernardinio. There needs to be efficient local-to-express connectivity for this route to function productively. If SANBAG moves forward with the I-10 Express Lanes, the access points need to allow this bus route seamless access and tolls paid for by solo drivers should help pay for further improved public transit along the corridor.

Also, a public transit service area that certainly deserves better attention is the I-15 corridor connecting Ontario, Eastvale and Corona. Public transit between these regions is long overdue for more direct and streamlined service. 

I'm putting together a route plan that our transit agencies should consider adopting. Wait until you see it.

Yes, the Omnitrans service change public hearing period officially "ended" earlier this month. Why I put "ended" in quotes is the simple fact that "public hearings" never end here at The Transit Coalition. Transit improvements will always be ongoing because no system is perfect. Productive and fact-based suggestions and service requests should always be heard.
  
BNSF Train Derailment & the Metrolink Service Disruptions

According to a Metrolink press statement, there were no injuries in Tuesday's freight train derailment that occured in between east Anaheim and Yorba Linda. The press has been all over this story as both the IEOC and 91 Lines are still experiencing 30-60 minute delays but the trains are flowing much better than they were on Wednesday, the day after the incident.

Also because of the incident, the Metrolink Angels Express runs of the IEOC Line won't make it to the opening night ball game tonight. Trains 898 and 899 are cancelled. The service will resume in two weeks on the 24th.

According to the release, trains are departing from their origin stations on time and passing through the incident site at reduced speeds which are leading to the delays. Investigators are still examining the cause of the wreck. 

When Toll Lanes become congested too...

The other major story unfolding is the continued reported morning peak hour congestion along LA's I-110 Metro ExpressLanes. According to the press, the toll lanes are getting heavy too. What I believe LA Metro needs to do is restrict access to the HOT lanes to carpools only before they hit the point of overcrowding. The express lane infrastructure along the Harbor Transitway was previously a dual set of 2+ carpool lanes which were reported to be underutilized and moving at full speeds during the rush hour. That's why Metro decided to convert them into HOT lanes.

Now, they're experiencing congestion too.

Currently, the HOV-only with switchable FasTrak restrictions are to be enforced if speeds in the HOT lanes drop below 45 mph, but restricting toll-paying solo driver access before speeds become reduced may be a better solution. Metro should experiment with that option.

The Coalition has maintained that the carpools-only rule be enforced when the HOT lanes near full capacity, before the breaking point of reduced speeds and that any HOV meeting the posted occupancy requirement for carpool be granted toll-free access regardless if it has a FasTrak account or not. Being a managed lane system, the I-110 Metro ExpressLanes should be reverted back into 2+ carpool lanes whenever the toll lane capacity is sold out by posting "CARPOOLS ONLY - 2 OR MORE PERSONS PER VEHICLE" on the overhead toll rate signs. Once capacity opens up, toll-paying solo drivers can enter once again.

That's how managed HOT lanes can remain efficient. 

91 Express Lanes Switchable Transponder
Photo: OCTA
Switchable FasTrak trasponders now available for 91 Express Lanes account-holders

While we're on the topic of HOT lanes, according to the 91 Expres Lanes Spring e-Newsletter, FasTrak account holders who use the 91 Express Lanes as their issuing tolling agency now have the option of getting a switchable transponder which declares whether or not they are traveling in an HOV.

That will allow 91 Express Lanes account-holders who travel in an HOV and meet the posted occupancy requirement for carpool to use LA's I-110 and I-10 high occupancy toll lane systems for free. Currently, Transportation Corridor Agencies (The Toll Roads), OCTA (91 Express Lanes), and LA Metro (Metro ExpressLanes) now offer switchable transponders for carpools headed into Los Angeles.

This is a big step in the right direction for those who use the 91 Express Lanes as an HOV and want the option to use the Metro ExpressLanes too for free. Because three tolling agencies now offer switchable FasTrak transponders, the remaining entities statewide should get on board too. Believe me, there are going to need to be more changes made at both the local and state level to alleviate the confusion on what to do in order travel as a toll-free or discounted HOV along the Southland's high vast high occupancy toll lane system.

3's a Carpool: 91 Express Lanes motorists in a 3+ HOV will continue to use the 3+ carpool lane at the toll collection area. All HOV's must either have a standard or switchable FasTrak.
Just to summarize:

I-110 & I-10 Metro ExpressLanes: If you use LA's I-110 or I-10 Metro ExpressLanes as a toll-free HOV, use the switchable transponder and declare your vehicle occupancy. All HOV's must have the switchable FasTrak to travel toll free.

91 Express Lanes: If you're using the 91 Express Lanes as a toll-free or discounted 3+ HOV, use the 3+ lane upon reaching the toll antenna area; like LA, all 3+ HOV's must have either a valid standard or switchable FasTrak transponder.

San Diego I-15 Express Lanes & Bay Area Express Lanes: If you're using any of the Express Lanes (excluding toll bridges and toll roads) in the Bay Area or the I-15 Express Lanes in San Diego as a toll-free HOV and also have a FasTrak transponder, dismount it and place it in a mylar bag so that it won't get read. For those HOT Lanes, having no transponder means the vehicle is declared a toll-free carpool.

I well understand that these various HOV usage policies are very confusing if you use more than one HOT lane system in the Southland. For example it's still very easy for un-informed motorists to take a standard transponder into LA, see "HOV2+$0 w/FASTRAK" on the toll rate sign and assume they're getting a free ride. Likewise, a motorist from LA can easily hop into the I-15 Express Lanes down south, see the FasTrak logos and signs that read "CARPOOLS 2 OR MORE FREE" and mistakenly switch their transponder to carpool instead of dismounting the toll tag, and end up getting billed a toll.

I'll talk more about it next week and propose some workable and fair solutions, but the switchable transponder is a step in the right direction.

5 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. the 91 express lanes have had switchable transponders for at least a year now...i got one when i signed up in april of 2014. i told them i was going to be using the LA lanes, and they gave me the switchable transponder.

    if you have it switched to 2 or 3, it will also count you as being HOV in SD. no need to take it down and put it in the mylar bag...

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    1. I appreciate the tip. This is the first time that I saw this feature actually announced publicly but if the agency has already been distributing transponders for some time to its account-holders, that's great. However the public does need to know the option is there before signing up for an account. Now that the announcement has been made public, I can let our followers know.

      Regarding San Diego usage, I need to confirm that is the case independently. This tweet by SANDAG in January tells I-15 Express Lanes HOV motorists to use the mylar bag in lieu of the switch:
      https://twitter.com/SANDAG/status/552857567173423105

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    2. please do, because i'd love to hear them confirm it. i did it once as a test and when i saw that it was counting each trip as $0.00 i just always left it up on my windshield and made sure the switch was set properly.

      i have used my 91 express lanes switchable transponder three times in the past week on the 15 express lanes in SD and each time it has registered in my account (as the transponder being read) and charged me $0.00.

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    3. perhaps (at least the way i read that tweet) - SD isn't issuing the switchable transponders yet. if that's the case, of course you'd have to use the bag (the non-switchable has no way of knowing if you're a carpool)...but it does appear to be reading switchable transponders from other agencies correctly based on what i've seen in my own account.

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