ExpressLanes Transponders, Coming to a Store Near You…and to the AAA! (Updated 11:30)

Thanks to a new report being presented to the Metro Board of Directors later this month, a clearer picture is emerging on how drivers will be able to access the variable toll lanes on the I-10 and I-110 as part of Metro’s “Express Lanes” program.  The plan to turn High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) Lanes into High Occupancy and Toll (HOT) Lanes on these two highways has drawn criticism from both conservatives who see it as double-taxation and liberals who see it as creating a two-tiered transportation system.

Image: ##http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FasTrak##Wikipedia##

To access ExpressLanes on the 10 and 110, car owners will need to purchase a “FasTrack” responder that will automatically deduct the toll cost from a credit card connected to the responder.  An owner can list as many cars as he or she wants on the transponder.  Each time the vehicle passes underneath a toll collection site, the account is debited to pay the toll. If a vehicle does not have a transponder or if a transponder is not detected at the Toll Plaza, a camera photographs the vehicle and its license plate for processing. If the license plate is registered as belonging to a FasTrak user, the account is debited only the toll charge, and no penalty is charged.  If there is no FasTrack account, the owner of the vehicle is charged for using the lane and issued a ticket.

Yes, transponders bought for use on the I-10 and I-110 can be used on other HOT Lanes that use FasTrack.

One of the main arguments against Congestion Pricing is the “Lexus Lanes” argument.  This argument posits that only the rich support road pricing because it allows them to buy their way out of traffic.  However, polling shows roughly equal support for congestion pricing among people of all income levels because even people who would only use the lanes in an emergency appreciate the opportunity for a congestion free commute.  However, for it to be practical for ExpressLanes to be useful to occasional riders, the transponders needed to access the lanes need to be affordable and easy to purchase.

The good news is that Metro seems to realize that it needs to plan the distribution of the transponders a little better than it did distribution of the TAP Cards.  In addition to selling at Kiosks and Metro stations near the ExpressLanes on the 10 and 1110, transponders will be on sale at retail locations and for a discounted price through the Southern California Automobile Club (the local chapter of AAA.)  It would be nice if Metro included other automobile clubs such as Better World in its distribution plans, but the deal with AAA would be the first of its kind for FasTrack despite the transponders being sold in Orange County, the Inland Empire, Greater San Diego and the Bay Area.

The real test will be how the transponders are priced.  In the Bay Area, an initial prepaid balance of $25 per transponder is required if paying by credit card, or $50 if using cash or check.  In addition, a $20 deposit is required for all toll tags, which is waived for the first three tags per account for credit card users.  However, things are more expensive in San Diego.  The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), who administers the HOT lanes on Interstate 15 in San Diego County, requires a $40 deposit to obtain a transponder. Customers are charged a $3.50 per month minimum fee and $1 a month minimum fee for each transponder they hold.  In the Bay area, customers are not charged a monthly fee.

The monthly fee for owning a transponder may be the greatest barrier for drivers of lesser means to afford an occasional congestion free commute.  Metro hasn’t announced how much it plans to charge for the privilege of having a FasTrack responder in one’s car.

Update, 11:30 – Metro just sent along its pricing sheet for the FasTrack transponders including a program to encourage purchase by people of lower incomes.   I’ve uploaded the sheet to Streetsblog and you can read it here, but basically it will cost $40 for the initial setup of a FasTrack responder which will entirely go towards a prepaid toll account.  For people of lower incomes, the startup cost will be only $15,  but the account will still be credited $40.  The $3 monthly account maintenance fee will be waived for those qualifying with smaller incomes.

  • Edward Abasta

    What about Motorcycles do they have to pay?

  • Erik Griswold

    No, but they need a transponder (set to 3+)

  • Alejandro

    why? we are getting charge for this, we are already paying for this, we are tax payers we get tax like crazy, we pay taxes for everything, and now we have to pay for this, this is to much

  • The idea behind this project is to use pricing to allocate space on the roadway more efficiently and improve the flow of traffic for everyone. In general, people respond to higher (marginal) prices for goods and services by buying less of those goods and services. When the price is set too low, people demand more of a good than it makes sense for the market to supply, and the result is a shortage. Traffic congestion — basically too many people trying to use the same road space at the same time — is a classic example of a shortage. Since the use of the road for a particular trip is always perceived as free by individual drivers (most people don’t calculate the cost of gas and maintenance for each individual trip), people will tend to do a lot of driving — perhaps more than they need. If we can put a price on that use and have that price change according to the level of demand, the thinking goes, we can get people who don’t absolutely need to be on a particular road at a particular time to drive at a less congested, less expensive time of day — or better yet, take a bus, train or carpool to save money — freeing up space for people who really do need to be there.

    An important aspect of this particular project, though, is that only affects the (former) carpool lanes. This gives solo drivers a choice of whether to pay or not. If you decide to pay to use the Express Lanes — an option not previously available to solo drivers — you get the added benefit of a guaranteed fast drive to/from Downtown, because the price will rise or fall depending on how busy traffic is and how useful (and in-demand) the Express Lanes become. If you don’t want to pay, you can stay in the general-purpose lanes like before. The only difference is that some of the (formerly) unused capacity in the Express Lanes lanes is being sold for a fee, allowing solo drivers to choose whether they want to pay with money instead of paying with time (by sitting in traffic).

    The transponder requirement for carpoolers is unfortunate, and I don’t like it, but a) the toll deposit is refundable, b) it doesn’t take much use (2 round trips/mo) to get the account maintenance fee waived, and c) low-income drivers can get a discount. Thus, the burden on carpoolers isn’t particularly egregious, though I’d still like it better if a transponder wasn’t required.

    This is, for better or worse, the future of transportation in LA County. There’s little we can do to stop our population and economy from growing (not to mention that trying to do that would be a terrible idea), and adding lanes to existing freeways has become a political impossibility as people are quite simply tired of having their neighborhoods bulldozed. We need to be more efficient in managing the use of our existing facilities, and projects like the Express Lanes are a step in that direction.Hope that helps.

  • Luis-247

    By my undestanding the california carpol lines was build with FEDERAL money(mean) from my money and your money, money from all californians people how pay tax,means ALL.
    California never invested to build a extra line to charge money.
    So i NEVER going to pay extra to use fucken TRASHLINE .
    Think about it…. We pay for carpol now we need to pay more FUCK Nope.

  • You’re not paying to build the road; you’re paying for the guarantee of a fast drive to/from Downtown. The tolls rise and fall according to demand to keep traffic moving. Using tolls to manage congestion is the entire point of the project.

    To emphasize: your toll buys you an extra benefit that wasn’t previously available to you as a solo driver.

  • Mydazman@yahoo.com

    Ur yearly registation auto fees pay for the up keep and improvement of our highways. This system is two-fold.  It works for those who wanted this lane change incorporation into the daily transit and doesn’t work for those who have no need for the lane change. Now the L.A. express lanes are like those on the 91 Fwy that flow empty (except for a very few cars) through the Anaheim Hills to Riverside. The 110 Fwy has now become an over crowded monster. Another unsuccessful attempt to fleece the public at large. Look

  • Juanacortes22

    I drive a CNG vehicle. How does the toll lane work for myself??

  • Hueichichen1

    I found that the I-10 traffic is getting worse and worse. Why did they think express lanes would “manage congestion?”

  • Paul

    This is sad! CA is making it citizen pay to
    use a freeway we already paid for!!!! No accountability in Sacramento, just
    Greed and no heart! Do away with the Metro Board of Directors, HOT & concepts of forcing
    California to pay again to use their freeways!! The real Answer is we need more
    freeways, highways for all the drivers in the state.

  • calwatch

    Actually it’s giving more options to people. Sure carpoolers need a transponder, but if the Yaroslavsky motion passes at MTA Board this month then LA County residents will have no minimum fees provided they use the Express Lanes once every six months. I don’t think that’s much to ask.

  • Anonymous

    Why can’t I just buy a transponder next time I am in the Bay Area and bring it down. I thought the Fastrack is suppose to work in the entire state.

  • Anonymous

    And how is your comment relevant to anything? Government seriously has been trying to tax us at much greater rates over the years. Not sure why, or why people put up with it. I certainly isn’t for the “better service” we all now get.

  • You *can* use a Fastrak transponder from the Bay Area on the Express Lanes; it just won’t come with a switch to indicate the number of occupants in your car. Meaning that you pay the toll regardless of whether you’re in a carpool or not.

  • The same as it does for any other passenger vehicle driver: you need a transponder to use the lanes; you get charged a toll if you drive solo, but no toll if you have other people in the car with you (two other people if you’re using the I-10 lanes during peak hours). The Express Lanes do not distinguish between different types of engines or fuels; the idea is to use tolls to manage congestion.

  • Anonymous

    Tux for the info. On the Fast rack site it said l need to pit the unit in the mylar bag if I am carpooling. Good to know there is a switch. Now to find one in the Bay Area they are sold at Costco and grocery stores. Here ??? Maybe AAA

  • Anonymous

    I have never gotten a ticket on the I 15 carpool lane without the transponder. In fact the fastrack website says if you carpool put the transponder in the mylar shielded nag so you won’t get charged. Someone just wrote me that the San Diego version has an on off switch.

  • You can’t get Express Lanes-specific transponders in the Bay Area. They’re only sold in LA County. If you buy a Fastrak transponder in the Bay Area, it won’t have the switch.

    All the info you need is here, BTW… https://www.metroexpresslanes.net/en/faq/fastrak.shtml

  • “Government seriously has been trying to tax us at much greater rates over the years.”

    If you’re talking about the last 30 years or so, this is most certainly not true.

  • Anonymous

    Um, I don’t know where you get your info, but lets look at it. 30 years ago the sales tax in most urban counties was about 6.5% now it is around 9%. 30 years ago income tax was about 1% less (not including our new 3% rich tax we just imposed) The only tax that has stayed the same is the property tax – however even that has been corrupted with Mello Roos and various other schemes.

    In addition fees and indirect taxes have also increased tremendously From 2003 – 2013 state part entry fees have gone from $3 to $10 for example, much higher than inflation – and 30 years ago, I don’t recall paying anything at all. This year gas taxes are going up 9% – and there is a brand new Carbon tax which is taxed on utilities – but then they just pass it to us.

    California has gone from a middling tax state, to the highest tax state in the country in the last 30 years. I would like to see you data that shows this is demonstratively not true.

    Now if you are complaining that during a recession, folks are not paying as much, because they aren’t earning as much and other folks who don’t want to pay the 13% tax have left, you may have a point. The average Californian is in a lower socio-economic class than they were 30 years ago so the average relative taxes collected per per person – at least in income tax has gone down. BTW the one tax that hasn’t gone up at the state level, the property tax, showed the largest increased change in revenue over the last 30 years.

  • Anonymous

    Per Bay Area Fastrak you can.

    https://www.bayareafastrak.org/static/about/faq_general.shtml#8

    And they do have similar lanes on I-680 and I-237 so I suspect it has the same switch, that you were talking about above. Fastrak was developed by the state of California to keep all the automatic toll taking services in the state the same. Seems crazy that they wouldn’t work if the whole point was to make them all work the same way all across the state.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FasTrak

  • Jesus luna

    Kisiera ke por favor alguien me dijera donde puedo pagar un tiket por usar el carpool del fwy 110 muchas gracias

  • Luis teran

    Puedo pagar el tiket por aquí

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