HOT Lanes Coming to LA

16 Jun

Angelenos are gearing up for some major transportation changes with MTA’s new express lanes pilot program. In theory, the HOT (High Occupancy Toll) lanes will help reduce congestion on two of the nation’s busiest freeways (the 110 and 10) and generate money for transportation infrastructure improvements. Slated to open this fall on the 110, the HOT Lanes will allow single motorists to travel in the formerly designated carpool lanes using a special FasTrak transponder. The device will charge motorists based on the time of day and/or the amount of traffic on the freeway, per the tenants of congestion pricing. In essence, when traffic is bad, solo drivers will have to cough up more dough to use the toll lanes.

Carpoolers can cruise through the lanes without paying a toll, but they’ll still have to purchase a FasTrak transponder to avoid being hit with a fine (annual fees range from $15 for low-income drivers to $75 for those paying cash). Keep in mind that during rush hour, a minimum of 3 persons will be required to be considered a carpool; 2 people in one vehicle will not be sufficient to travel gratis.

For drivers with white or green clean air vehicle stickers, your ILEVs, CNGs, and AT PZEVs grant you no special privileges. As Metro notes, “driving alone in an alternative fuel/hybrid vehicle helps reduce pollution, but it does not reduce congestion.” So, during the pilot year of the express lane program (and probably much longer), that little sticker is, well, worthless – at least in the HOT lanes.

Feeling a little conflicted about all of this? You’re not alone. Congressional reps on both sides of the aisle have expressed their opposition to the HOT Lanes. On one hand, Rep. Gary G. Miller (R) believes that the toll imposes a double tax on commuters who have already paid for the roads. While, Rep. Maxine Waters (D) believes that the toll is inaccessible to low-income people who cannot afford to pay the fees to use the lanes.

MTA notes that the tolls do not represent a tax, since they aren’t compulsory. The agency has also rolled out a toll credit program [PDF] to help offset the cost of obtaining a transponder for low-income drivers. With that, and federal cash in hand, the MTA is moving forward as planned, launching its one year pilot program in a few months. So, if you are rolling solo in LA and can afford to pay the toll fees to bypass rush hour traffic, mosey on into the new HOT Lanes this fall. You just might save yourself a little time.

More information on new rules and enforcement can be found here.

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