Metro Clarifies Position on Access to Express Lanes

7_15_09_metro.gifImage: Metro

Anyone trying to catch up on Metro's Express Lanes plans for the I-10 and I-110 by reading the transcript from last week's live chat would have stumbled upon a surprise.  For nearly a week, the answer has been changed now, it seemed as though the agency was planning to deliberately refuse Express Lanes entry to households of lesser means.

Question: What happens if you are in the lane without a transponder in your car? Or if the person runs out of money on their pre-paid account, do you bill them? Is there a payment plan to be set up to pay for the transponder or some kind of notification, if funds are low? Mello S.

Answer: When a person registers for the Rewards program or opens a transponder account, we will be able to link their address to U.S. Census household income data and be told if they qualify. The qualifying limit will probably be something like $35,000 per family.

This answer was pretty shocking and sort of crazy.  Not only would this be an unprecedented policy, but it was going to require the largest mea-culpa of all time.  After all the mocking I did of Times' columnist Tim Rutten's non-sensical sob story about a poor single mother having to choose between being at her son's emergency room bed or eating for the next month; I'd probably have to show up to his house and buff his car to get his forgiveness.

Fortunately, for both myself and Metro's congestion pricing plans, the answer was a mis-print.  According to Stephanie Wiggins, the author of the answer and Metro's Executive Officer for the program, the answer was actually to a different question concerning how they were going to make certain people of lesser means weren't excluded from the program.  The correct answer to the above question is now available on the chat log and now reads:

If you are in the lane without a transponder in your car, you will be able to call the toll hot line or go on the web and open a toll account within 72 hours of using the Express Lane in order to avoid receiving a violation notice.  If the person runs out of money on their pre-paid account we will bill them, however, we will encourage users to replenish their account before the balance reaches $0 -- there will be multiple payment plans for the user to choose from.