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LA Metro to begin charging solo drivers in clean air vehicles in ExpressLanes in effort to reduce increasing congestion

The Los Angeles Metro Board of Directors approved a plan last week to begin charging solo motorists in designated clean air vehicles (CAVs) a discounted toll to use the ExpressLanes on the 10 and 110 freeways, beginning in late 2018. Under the change, drivers in clean air vehicles without enough passengers to meet HOV occupancy requirements would get a 15% discount on the tolls.

Under California law, a vehicle that meets specified emissions standards may be issued CAV decals that allow the vehicle to be operated by a single occupant in highway lanes designated for High Occupancy Vehicles (HOV). However, Metro ExpressLanes is a program specifically designed to improve traffic flow and provide enhanced travel options in Los Angeles County.

Tolls on the Metro ExpressLanes are calculated using Congestion Pricing. Congestion pricing provides an opportunity to sell some of the additional capacity on the ExpressLanes to those willing to pay a toll and maximizes efficiency of the entire freeway. It is designed to keep traffic in the ExpressLanes flowing smoothly, resulting in a more reliable travel time.

Up until now, vehicles displaying a California DMV issued white or green Clean Air Vehicle decal could use the ExpressLanes toll-free (with their FasTrak Flex set to 3 (3+ person carpool). These vehicles include pure zero emission vehicles (100% battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell); liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and compressed natural gas (CNG) fueled vehicles; or MY2004 or older vehicles that meet the California ultra-low emission vehicle (ULEV) standard for exhaust emissions and the federal ILEV standard.

Now, however, during peak periods, traffic congestion is slowing speeds in some ExpressLanes segments below the 45 mph (72 km/h) target. Metro staff has found an increasing number of clean air vehicles using the ExpressLanes—resulting in increased congestion in the ExpressLanes due to this growing segment of unmanaged traffic.

According to Metro staff, when the ExpressLanes opened, the number of CAV decals issued statewide was 30,000. Since then, that number has increased almost 1000% to 302,453 as of 1 January 1, 2018, with an average annual increase of approximately 54,000 decals per year.

Concurrently, over the past two years, the penetration rate of Clean Air Vehicles in the most congested segment of the ExpressLanes has doubled. Measurements on I-110 North ExpressLanes in the vicinity of Slauson Ave from the first half of 2016 during the weekday AM Peak showed that CAVs constituted 3% of all ExpressLanes traffic. Corresponding measurements from the second half of 2017 revealed that this penetration rate had jumped to 6%.

—Metro staff report

Anticipating enforcement challenges of the revised policy, and to evaluate the possibility of granting some form of access to drivers without transponders, the Metro Board also approved the following two motions:

  • A motion for Metro staff to evaluate a pilot program for the I-10 ExpressLanes that would use an alternative pricing approach in which only transit vehicles and registered vanpools qualify for the HOV discount, and all other vehicles would be subject to posted fares. The discount for clean air vehicles would continue to apply.

  • A motion asking for a report back from Metro staff with a summary of the current performance of the ExpressLanes, a comparison of ExpressLanes to other congestion pricing systems in the US, and an evaluation of the viability of allowing customers to access the ExpressLanes with or without a transponder.

Comments

PiPSB

The Los Angeles MTA Board's decision has nothing to do with congestion, it's just a convenient cover story. They are addicted to the revenue generated by charging the public $2 for every mile to bypass the very traffic they create with their mismanagement of area highways. What gives away their true motive is the fact that their own staff report that up to 30% of the drivers using the ExpressLanes are engaging in toll evasion, but the MTA Board has so far declined to pursue enforcement because it costs money. Instead, every strategy they are exploring involves raising their revenue in a way that doesn't require them to expend money, consequences be damned. They don't care about destroying the nascent EV market in the Los Angeles area, and they don't care about the thousands of criminals abusing the system on a daily basis.

The good thing for EV drivers about MTA's lack of spine is that those willing to take a little risk can join the ranks of the toll-evaders. If caught, which requires the CHP to notice that the number of people in your car doesn't match your transponder setting, the fine is around $500. Seems steep, but the tolls would cost that every month anyway. So, as long as you get caught once a month or less, toll evasion is the sensible alternative.

Lad

The basic problem is still there; too many cars for too little road and begs the question again; "where is the mass transit for Southern California? Surely stop and go on a polluted freeway can't be all that much fun.

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