Proposed SR-91, I-15, and I-10 Express HOT Lanes need free non-transponder carpooling and transit infrastructure.
Coalition Concept: HOT lanes along the I-15 Freeway through Temescal Canyon with free non-transponder 2+ carpooling and bus transit infrastructure. Note: Not endorsed by RCTC
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 tolled express lanes between Corona and Jurupa Valley. 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 rapid express buses, private-sector coaches, and solo motorists willing to pay a toll.
HOT Lanes Done Right: Free Carpools -OR- FasTrak Toll with Transit Direct Access Ramps
The Transit Coalition believes that it is essential for carpools to have free access to these lanes without a requirement for Fastrak transponders especially for highway projects that involve the conversion of existing carpool lanes to HOT. If HOV's are required to pre-register for an ETC transponder, that would result in a reduction of carpools in the HOV lanes instead of single occupancy vehicles. This negative consequence has been proven repeatedly based on past carpool lane conversion projects, an after-effect we object.
In addition, direct access ramps between the HOT lanes and adjacent transit hubs can provide better infrastructure for productive rapid express bus service and additional amenities for HOV's such as park & ride lots and car sharing facilities.
If HOT lane policies are set correctly, free mobility will be a long-lasting reality for high occupancy vehicle traffic travelling 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 with direct connections to transit stations and park & ride lots, the public-private benefit would be enormous.
'No' to Mandated FasTrak ETC 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 proven fact that when HOT lane policies mandate transponder registration or tolls for HOV's, all non-registered motorists are displaced from the HOV lane into the general purpose lanes. The leftover space can then be 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.
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!
I-25 E-Express Lanes, Denver, CO (HOV 3+ Free in 2017)
MnPASS Express Lanes, Minneapolis, MN
SR-167 HOT Lanes, Seattle, WA
Metro HOT Lanes, Houston, TX
Converting HOV lanes to HOT: The consequences of mandatory ETC transponders for carpools
Two real examples show the negative consequences of requiring free carpools and HOV's to pre-register for an ETC toll transponder account. Both Los Angeles and Atlanta transportation officials converted existing carpool lanes to toll, resulting in the undesirable displacement of HOV's.
Metro ExpressLanes, LA Metro - Metro's recent conversion of I-110 and I-10 carpool lanes into transponder-mandated toll lanes resulted in a serious displacement of HOV's into traffic-clogged general purpose lanes. Traffic in the regular lanes worsened as non-registered HOV's were forced out of the HOV express lanes. Although 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 with the remaining space being sold to non HOV's. To be fair, transit ridership and registered vanpools in LA has improved, but many non-registered HOV's remain displaced.
I-85 Express Lanes - 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. Georgia officials are currently working on an extension of the lanes which would be a reversible HOT lane system and will be part of a capacity improvement project.
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. 2 remains the carpool occupancy requirement. The recent upgrades and transit infrastructure additions improved traffic flow even better.
Converting HOV lanes to HOT: When carpools can travel free without an ETC or account
In 1996, San Diego County officials converted an 8 mile dual reversible carpool express lane to HOT along the I-15 freeway between Sabre Springs and Kearny Mesa due to excessive capacity, but existing carpools and HOV's didn't have to pre-register or pay tolls to use the infrastructure. No new lanes were built during the conversion and traffic flow did improve in both the HOT and general purpose lanes according to the reports back then.
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. 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. Plus, free non-transponder carpooling maximizes the number of people travelling through the corridor as the majority of vehicles using the HOT lanes would be free HOV's. Also, free access to a carpool lane is also commonly advertised as an incentive to travel in a high occupancy vehicle.
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 real-time, 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.
During ordinary everyday traffic conditions, tolls should range from 25 cents minimum to $10 maximum depending on the amount of traffic and distance travelled 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. Economists and traffic engineers should develop a fair tolling policy. 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 should be 25 cents to $1 whenever all lanes are free-flowing at 65 mph+ to better redistribute the traffic flow. The low tolls can help inform solo drivers that all lanes in the corridor are free-flowing. Also, all toll revenue should be used solely to pay for corridor operations and mass transit, HOT lane debt/bond obligations, and/or capital improvements.
Also, during extraordinary traffic conditions such a natural disaster, sig-alert, or emergency, it would be fair and just for officials to suspend tolling for solos and open the HOT lanes to all for free to allow stopped traffic in the regular lanes to pass through during the duration of the event.
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, and that is a proven fact.
Carpools Only when HOT lanes near capacity
Note: Coalition Concept Only. Not endorsed by OCTA
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 may 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 preregistration mandates sap free mobility and deincentivize private and commercial ridesharing by restricting free HOV usage to only registered vehicles. Legit HOV's that reduce vehicles on the road like out-of-area private buses, vanpools, and carpools headed to a business convention are unfairly driven out. Carpool and toll payment cheating should be enforced under an intelligence-driven system.
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 wilfully cheats the system, 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 and toll-paying cheaters and maintaining the integrity of HOT lane operations.
Funding Major Inland Corridors with Free Non-ETC HOT Lanes for HOV's
How can a public agency balance free mobility with a steady revenue stream since all HOV's are not paying any tolls or preregistering?
The state and federal governments must be held accountable for its actions and ensure state transportation and gas tax funding are making it to major transportation corridors as it should. Multi-modal infrastructure for high volume corridors like the 91, I-15 and I-10 need to be funded and paid for. Again, under no circumstances should county entities be bound to massive toll lane debt obligations or rules which forces them to impose mandatory ETC's and possible tolls to free HOV's.
At present, all vehicles including 3+ HOV's are required to have an ETC FasTrak toll account to use the 91 Express Lanes. 3+ HOV's also pay 50% tolls eastbound during the PM rush hour from 4-6, no toll at other times. The extension of the dual HOT lane system now under construction into Riverside County would include the construction of additional lanes and the conversion of a 2+ carpool lane to toll. Unlike Los Angeles and Atlanta, speeds in the existing 2+ carpool lane are no faster than the general purpose lanes during peak congestion and weekends. Thus, the conversion will not cause any serious displacements.
Because 2+ carpooling demands are so high as demonstrated by the very congested carpool lane, the 91 Express Lanes corridor should maintain its 3+ occupancy requirement for carpool. However, any 3+ HOV regardless if it has a FasTrak account or not should have full and free access to the HOT lane system. Officials should work on getting the corridor's bond debt paid off and explore placing intermediate access points and direct access ramps which would also make BRT express services more feasible.
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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