Metro Moves Forward with Confused “Congestion Pricing”

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Yesterday, the Metro, aka LACMTA, announced the details of it’s HOT Lanes FAST Lanes Express Lanes proposal to take existing carpool lanes on the I-10 and I-110 freeways into and out of Downtown Los Angeles.  While the new plan has been tweaked from the one outlined last August in one aspect, it is still missing one of the basic precepts of congestion pricing: congestion pricing should reduce the demand for car travel.

First, let’s outline the basics of the plan.  Toll Lanes on the I-10 and I-110 will be converted to toll lanes for non HOV and transit vehicles.  Using variable toll technology, commuters of any type of will be able to use the new toll lane for a price ranging from between twenty five cents and $1.40.  However, the toll lanes will close to non-HOV and Transit vehicles if average speed in the toll lanes falls to below forty-five miles per hour.

The variable toll lanes are part of Metro’s pilot program to experiment with congestion pricing that will begin in December of 2010.  The rest of the plan involves using hundreds of millions of federal dollars to increase transit options, widen on ramps and Adams Ave where much of the 110 traffic will funnel into City streets.

So here’s the rub, there is nothing in the congestion pricing plan that encourages people to drive less.  The plan removes no current drivers from the current car pool lane, even "HOV-2" vehicles at any point.  Then taking the "congestion" out of congestion pricing, the lane will actually be closed to paying vehicles during the most congested periods.  In other words, this plan will not effect traffic during the most congested periods.

The difference between this plan and the one outlined in August of 2008 is that this plan closes the Express Lanes based on traffic volume instead of on whether or not it’s rush hour.  I guess you could call this plan anti-Congestion Pricing.  If it’s congested, it’s not priced.

But, the plan isn’t finalized yet.  In fact, starting Saturday, there will be a series of hearings on the proposal.  For a full list, read on after the jump.  I’ll be going to one next Monday, if you want me to carry your thoughts with me to enter into public comment, leave them in the Streetsblog comment section below.

Saturday, June 13, 2009
10 a.m. – Noon
Metro Board Room 3rd Fl.
One Gateway Plaza
Los Angeles

Monday, June 15, 2009
6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Carson Community Center
Adult Activity Room
801 E. Carson St.
Carson

Wednesday, June 17, 2009
6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Metro San Gabriel Valley Service Sector
Council Chambers
3449 Santa Anita Ave. 3rd Fl.
El Monte

Saturday, June 20, 2009
10 a.m. – Noon
West Covina Civic Center
Community Room
1444 W. Garvey Ave.
West Covina

Monday, June 22, 2009
6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Civic Center Library
Meeting Room
3301 Torrance Blvd.
Torrance

  • Thanks for the update. I didn’t expect too much from this and I am sure that it’s not quite the congestion pricing that does wonders in European cities… but I wanted to point out a minor contradiction in your account.

    You state that “there is nothing in the congestion pricing plan that encourages people to drive less” right after you’ve stated that “the plan involves using hundreds of millions of federal dollars to increase transit options [and widening, etc.]” Seems to me that investing money in the viability of alternatives would encourage people to drive less.

    I expect that the plan will be criticized for charging people using our public “free”-ways… so I just wanted to stick up for it a little bit… I didn’t expect it to go far enough… but it sounds like a step in the right direction to me.

  • All this will do, is allow single occupancy vehicles into the HOV lanes, particularly at non-charging, congested times because, just like it is now, there is NO enforcement and the enforcement will become even more difficult under this plan. This plan is ridiculous and completely goes against the concept of congestion pricing. Plus with the way LA works, with so much traffic on surface streets also, they should have London-esque congestion pricing where anyone driving in the Greater Los Angeles area (boundaries to be determined) should get charged to drive during the hours of 8-7 and be done with it.
    The plan they have is ridiculous and will not encourage people to get onto transit instead of drive, nor carpool, even with the transit improvements.

  • Prester John

    The reason why the lanes will not be available to non-HOV and transit vehicles if the average speed drops below 45 mph is b/c the federal government requires that carpool lanes maintain 45 mph average speed at all times. If these were dedicated toll roads, and not carpool lanes, too, this requirement wouldn’t apply.

  • Vito

    Why don’t we do something really radical. Take out the expressways and replace them with subways. Now that would do a lot to keep people out of their cars and encourage transit use.

  • limit

    The real story is that Metro sold out Caltrans for Federal Funds to buy buses with this experimental project.

  • Wad

    Vito wrote:

    Why don’t we do something really radical. Take out the expressways and replace them with subways.

    Not every vehicle using a freeway is a commuter.

  • Spokker

    The LA Times predicts that the one-way cost to drive the length of the toll lanes between El Monte and Downtown to be $19.50. That’s on top of whatever it costs you to drive. Metrolink is $10.50 round trip, in case anyone cares.

  • The El Monte busway route is currently HOV-3 (at least during rush hour), and I doubt it will be converted to HOV-2 again, since the last attempt was a disaster. If it remains HOV-3, I think this plan will provide some genuine rush hour benefit, provided the prices are set correctly.

    I doubt the HOV-2 lanes will see any benefit, since, as Damien says, they will effectively not be congestion priced during congested periods. When that becomes obvious, perhaps those segments can be converted to HOV-3 so that there’s some real benefit.

  • Damien wrote: “While the new plan has been tweaked from the one outlined last August in one aspect, it is still missing one of the basic precepts of congestion pricing: congestion pricing should reduce the demand for car travel.”

    I must disagree emphatically – congestion pricing is meant to reduce, or manage, congestion.

    I would also point out a very important aspect of this ‘demonstration’ project is that it’s funded with a $210 (federal) Urban Partnership Grant that was originally intended to do congestion pricing in NYC – but the NYS Assembly decided that would be too radical.

    Do note that funds will go to new, clean-fueled buses that travel along the Express Lanes.

    Check out the LA Times article on it, L.A. County considers congestion pricing for 110 and 10 freeways

    and a 2008 Planetizen on it:NYC’s Loss May Be LA’s Gain.

  • Chris

    I agree with Irwin. I always thought congestion pricing’s only goal is to charge car drivers the true cost of driving. Because the true cost of driving is so high, as a result of congestion pricing many drivers will stop driving, but I think many planners would feel that driving is OK as long as drivers pay the true cost of driving. I mean, I read that 50% of trips in the Stockholm, Sweden metropolitan area are still by car and I can think of few cities that have tried to impede driving as much as Stockholm.

  • There absolutely needs to be more people present, since at the first meeting it was just me and another SO.CA.TA member from the public, and I was the only speaker. Despite this, they still insisted on enforcing their silly two minute rule, which of course I had to spend the first few seconds reaming them on. I don’t like the format used, which is the public hearing format rather than the more informal workshop format, and their presentation showed how ridiculously convoluted their “equity” plans are. For example, they are offering “credits” for transit ridership such that if you happen to board a bus using the corridor 32 times in a 60 day time period, you can get $5 applied to a TAP card or on your toll account. (Contrary to popular belief, the lower fares on the Silver Line were NOT subsidized by congestion pricing money, and never were – it was simply Metro Operations’ idea to simplify the system, which of course raised the specter of unfair competition with the Metro Board member that also sits on Foothill Transit’s board.) Also, they plan on setting the threshold for low income at $35,000, but again, how they plan on enforcing this is also convoluted. Will rich USC students which have little taxable income get to use the “express lanes” for a discount while the middle class gets shut out?

    The other bad news is that every vehicle will need a transponder, which I think may deter some of the fampoolers and out-of-area visitors from using the carpool lane, and take some vehicles out. The problem with this is that Orange County charges $75 for a transponder or $7 a minimum for tolls. To counter this, my Fastrak toll tag is a Bay Area Fastrak tag, since they charge no monthly fees. Will MTA charge monthly fees to carpoolers that use the Fastrak lanes, and how is one supposed to signal that they are carpoolers and should not be told? I was able to spend a half hour and ask a few questions about how this worked, but when you leave you realize there are a lot more questions. With the accelerated time table, it will be interesting to see what happens.

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