Proposed SR-91, I-15, and I-10 Express HOT Lanes need free non-transponder carpooling and transit infrastructure.
Transportation officials are working on major proposals to bring in a network of tolled express lanes (also known as High Occupancy Toll or "HOT" Lanes) to Riverside and San Bernardino County freeways. The Riverside County Transportation Commission proposes to extend the 91 Express Lanes east through Corona with potential tolled express lanes south to Lake Elsinore and north toward Ontario. The San Bernardino Associated Governments is also considering placing HOT lanes along the I-10 Freeway between the LA County Line and Redlands and up the I-15 Freeway into the high desert through the Cajon Pass.
The Transit Coalition generally supports multi-modal express lanes and congestion pricing. Such facilities can provide a quick and easy throughfare for carpools, public express buses, private-sector coaches, and solo motorists willing to pay a toll.
HOT Lanes Done Right: Free Carpools -OR- FasTrak Toll
The Transit Coalition believes that it is essential for carpools to have free access to HOT lanes without a requirement for transponders and objects to pre-registration policies that would result in a reduction of carpools instead of single occupancy vehicles, especially projects that involve carpool lane conversions into HOT lanes.
If HOT lane policies are set correctly, free mobility will be a long-lasting reality for high occupancy vehicle traffic traveling along Southern California freeway corridors. With public express buses, 2+ or 3+ private HOVs, motorcycles, and private sector bus lines having their own set of dedicated free-flowing lanes through traffic-choked corridors, the public-private benefit would be enormous.
'No' to Mandated FasTrak Preregistration for Carpools
The Transit Coalition objects to preregistration mandates for carpoolers which would result in a reduction of HOV traffic instead of single occupancy vehicles within Southern California HOT lanes, especially for projects that convert existing carpool lanes into HOT lanes. It is a fact that when HOT lane policies mandate transponder registration or tolls for HOV's, ridesharing and carpooling is discouraged in the express lanes with non-registered high occupancy vehicles being driven out. The leftover space is then sold to non HOV's. The end result is more toll paying non HOV's in the high occupancy lane than HOV's. Field studies and a 2012 study of congestion pricing by UC Berkeley clearly demonstrate this.
Pictured is an OCTA photo of the Orange County entry point into the 91 Express Lanes. All vehicles must have a FasTrak transponder to enter regardless of the number of persons in the car. The 91 Express Lanes charges 3+ carpools 1/2 the posted toll during the PM rush hour in the peak direction, no toll at other times. Toll amounts are also on a set schedule and based on the time of the day. RCTC proposes a similar mandate for the 91 Express Lanes extension/HOV-to-HOT conversion in Corona and the proposed I-15 tolled express lanes along the I-15 freeway. There is currently no report of whether or not SANBAG will mandate transponders for HOV's along the proposed HOT lanes along the I-10 and I-15 freeways in San Bernardino County.
RCTC and OCTA really cannot be faulted on this ill-advised policy. Lack of funding from the state and ongoing 91 Express Lanes debt can be attributed toward these policies. A potential solution is working with the state and federal government to pay off this debt since these freeways are all major interstate highways.
Other HOT Lane Corridors with Non-Transponder Carpooling
These high occupancy toll lane corridors allow for free carpools or a toll transponder. All HOV's--Carpoolers, vanpools, and private buses--do not need to preregister or get a transponder beforehand to use the lanes. They can get on for free and go!
Toll Lane madness in LA and Atlanta: Consequences of mandatory transponder preregistration
In 2011, Georgia officials converted a 2+ carpool lane facility through northern Atlanta into a 3+ HOT lane system with mandatory pre-registration for 3+ high occupancy vehicles. A November, 2011 poll by InsiderAdvantage and WSB-TV reported that Atlanta's HOT lane facility with an ill-advised toll policy of mandated preregistration shows that nearly half of the region's commuters believe that the I-85 Express Lanes has made traffic actually worse for the corridor. InsiderAdvantage CEO Matt Towery told WSB reporter Lori Geary, "It's a total disaster. Without doubt one of the biggest blunders in the history of Georgia politics since I've been covering it." Since 2011, toll lane usage has increased, but much of the growth can be attributed to toll paying vehicles. Non-registered 3+ HOV's remain displaced in the general purpose lanes.
Likewise, LA Metro's recent conversion of I-110 and I-10 carpool lanes into transponder-mandated toll lanes resulted in a similar effect. Traffic in the regular lanes worsened as non-registered HOV's were displaced. Even though the number of vehicles now traveling in the Metro ExpressLanes nearly matches the vehicle counts before the conversion, the high occupancy lanes carry fewer carpools.
In contrast, the I-15 Express Lanes in San Diego County with its non-transponder policy for carpools has better balanced traffic distribution and cut down significantly on commute times. In 1996, the carpool lane-to-HOT conversion took place in the existing reversible lanes. No new lanes were built at that time and traffic flow did improve according to reports. The recent upgrades and transit infrastructure additions improved traffic flow even better.
Statistics back Free Non-Transponder Carpooling in HOT Lanes
UC Berkeley's in-depth study combined with the Transit Coalition's field studies of tolled express lanes show that policies which support non-transponder carpooling have enormous public-private benefits. By having a dedicated set of free-flowing lanes, all 2+ or 3+ HOVs, all public express buses, and all private sector transit buses like Greyhound, Megabus, and casino coaches can bypass traffic-choked corridors for free while solo vehicles are given the option to buy their way in for a toll if capacity permits it. Stats show that there are groups of non-HOV's who are willing to tax themselves into the carpool lane. With the high occupancy vehicle traffic and toll paying SOV traffic out of the general purpose lanes, overall traffic would be more evenly distributed and therefore better flowing. Let's not forget that free access to a carpool lane is advertised as an incentive to travel in a high occupancy vehicle.
Pictured above is a concept of what a 91 Express Lanes entry point would look like if the corridor offered free non-transponder 3+ carpooling. Note how the signs and a simple change in the lane usage policy would encourage ridesharing and reduced congestion for both the express and main freeway lanes. Solo drivers would buy their way in at real-time market demand rates.
OCTA and RCTC should work with the state to get the 91 Express Lane debt paid off which will afford the agencies to permit free non-transponder 3+ carpooling, even during peak rush hours. The I-15 Tolled Express Lanes should allow for 2+ carpools.
Congestion Pricing: Tolling non-HOV traffic
Congestion pricing is a concept from market supply-and-demand economics. Tolls for non-HOV's increase as traffic volume rises; tolls lower as the corridor becomes more free-flowing. Solo drivers have shown that they are willing to tax themselves out of congestion and into a carpool lane. Public officials should consider using dynamic congestion-based tolling to better redistribute traffic flow between the express and free lanes. OCTA, RCTC and SANBAG should adopt this model for their HOT facilities.
Tolls should range from 25 cents to $10+ depending on the amount of traffic and distance traveled through high volume segments. Toll amounts should follow the supply-and-demand economic principle to maintain a steady volume of revenue 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. For instance, non-HOV 3+ traffic should expect to pay a minimum toll of $2-4 with a $8-12 maximum during the afternoon peak hour on the eastbound 91 Express Lanes. In contrast, the toll would be 25 cents to $1 whenever all lanes are free-flowing at 65 mph+ to better redistribute the traffic flow and maintain adequate toll revenue during off-peak hours. All toll revenue should be used solely to pay for corridor operations and mass transit, HOT lane debt/bond obligations, and/or capital improvements.
The state must also be held accountable for its actions and ensure state transportation and gas tax funding is also making it to the transportation corridor as it should. Under no circumstances should county entities be bound to massive toll lane debt obligations which should otherwise by state-funded.
Lexus Lanes? Facts of HOT Lane Patrons
Several public transportation agencies including OCTA have done numerous surveys of its toll-paying customers and have found that people of all income levels use HOT lanes, not just the wealthy. Average solo patrons may not use them every day, but they will use the toll lanes on days whenever they need fast and reliable travel according to statistics.
HOT lane corridors should offer all patrons an option for fast and reliable travel when they need it. In addition, HOT lanes which support free non-transponder carpooling help HOV's such as vanpools, motorcycles, public transit buses, and private sector buses get to their destinations on time. People of all income levels fit into these categories. "Lexus Lanes" are not just for the rich.
Carpools Only when HOT lanes near capacity
Should the HOT express lanes approach full capacity based on real-time traffic conditions, the lanes should automatically become a dedicated carpool lane. That is, only high occupancy vehicles would be permitted entry into the facilities. "Carpools Only" messages would be displayed on the toll rate signs at entry points when traffic in the express lanes nears capacity or drops below 50 mph and no excess capacity can be sold to non-HOV's, even at high toll rates.
Whenever the HOT lane signs switch to HOV-only, any FasTrak traffic already in the lanes would be permitted to complete their trips and not be mandated to exit. Once capacity in the lanes frees up, toll-paying non-HOV's traffic would be permitted to enter once again at the marketplace toll rate.
Should a HOT lane corridor ever experience chronic periods of congestion, officials should identify any bottlenecks, consider improving mass transit options and/or raising the occupancy requirement for carpool during for that period following a strong carpool marketing campaign. Imposing mandatory tolls or transponders on carpools is no substitute.
One of the main reasons why a transportation agency would decide to mandate all vehicles traveling in their respective HOT lanes to have a FasTrak transponder is the ability of the agency to have an automated photo enforcement system. The successful operation of a HOT lane facility must be dependent upon a visible and effective enforcement program that the public perceives as fair and consistent according to a 2007 federal report and a 2011 Policy Study by the Reason Foundation.
Sound enforcement in HOT lanes is imperative. However when preregistration mandates begin to sap free mobility and deincentivize private and commercial ridesharing through the creation of a HOT lane nanny, the Transit Coalition will confront it. HOT lanes should be enforced under an intelligence-driven system, not a "Nanny Lane" system.
Similar to automated red light and speed enforcement cameras, reports question the reliability of an automated HOT lane photo enforcement system. OCTA reported that a whopping 60% of automated violation notices from the 91 Express Lanes are dismissed (only 11% pay up, 20% go to collections, 9% not reported). To be fair, an undetermined percentage of the dismissed violations may have been applied toward prepaid tolls under new FasTrak accounts.
How can LA Metro, OCTA, and RCTC watch over their HOT lanes under an intelligence-driven system? Agencies should task the CHP to patrol the HOT lane toll antenna areas and equip the officers with intelligence-driven enforcement tools, funded by increased carpool violation fines. If a solo vehicle enters a HOT facility, does not have a valid FasTrak transponder mounted at all times and is caught by the CHP, the driver is issued a heavy carpool violation ticket plus the maximum posted toll amount in lieu of a $25 automated fine. The state government should consider increasing the carpool violation base fine to $500 and make it a one-point moving violation.
Intelligence-driven enforcement tools could include mobile enforcement transponders to ensure non-HOV's have a proper FasTrak mounted at all times while in the HOT lanes, enforcement beacon lights near the toll antennas, and remote infrared scanners to track possible carpool cheating. San Diego, Bay area, Minneapolis, and Washington State toll lanes use these methods for enforcement. Should internal intelligence statistics ever show a violation ratio of over 10%, the CHP would be tasked to conduct a sting operation like this one with news media coverage to get cheaters out of the HOT lanes; each and every ticket issued carrying a $500+ fine, a moving violation point, plus the maximum posted toll.
Federal reports and studies confirm that establishing contracts with the CHP and local law enforcement is the most effective and practical means of monitoring non-transponder HOV vehichles and to ensure all toll paying transponder-equipped solo vehicles have a valid transponder account with the FasTrak mounted at all times while in the HOT lanes. Having a strong intelligence-driven enforcement presence combined with heavy fines are key to deterring carpool cheaters and maintaining the integrity of HOT lane operations.
Funding the Corridor: Supply-and-demand Toll Revenue and State Transportation Taxes
How can a public agency balance free mobility with a steady revenue stream since all HOV's are not paying any tolls or preregistering?
Toll lane operators should designate their HOT lanes for toll free travel for carpools and set the tolls on other traffic based on market demands. Under no circumstances should toll lanes be used as money fountains.
Toll amounts should follow the supply-and-demand economic principle to maintain a steady volume of revenue 24 hours per day, 7 days per week and all toll revenue should be used solely to pay for corridor operations and mass transit, HOT lane debt/bond obligations, and/or capital improvements.
The state must also be held accountable for its actions and ensure state transportation and gas tax funding is also making it to the transportation corridor as it should. Again, under no circumstances should county entities be bound to massive toll lane debt obligations which should otherwise by state-funded.
The 91 Express Lanes corridor should maintain its 3+ occupancy requirement for carpool due to very high carpool demands for the corridor. Any 3+ HOV should have free access to the corridor without a FasTrak transponder. Officials should work on getting the corridor's bond debt paid off and explore placing intermediate access points between the 91 Express Lanes and the main freeway lanes at 3-5 mile intervals to build up high speed bus rapid transit infrastructure. This would allow patrons to enter/exit the express lanes more at will and seamless bus connections to nearby transit centers. Whenever the express lanes are nearing capacity, signs would only permit 3+ HOV traffic to enter.
Please note that several of the ideas presented are conceptual and have not been endorsed by any public entity.
The Transit Coalition is an entirely grassroots campaign, supported by the time and resources given by concerned citizens. With your support, you can help us get proposed Inland Empire toll lanes to have free non-transponder carpooling with bus transit infrastructure!
The Transit Coalition is a non-profit public charity exempt from federal income tax under Section 501[c](3) of the Internal Revenue Service.
The Transit Coalition are not affiliated with any public entity or private organization.
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