Metro ExpressLanes and Carpooling: The Facts, the Benefits and More

(Those of you that follow Streetsblog on Twitter may have noticed the ExpressLanes team at Metro were less than thrilled with our article on the concerns some have with the transponder requirement to access ExpressLanes. We invited them to write a response and Stephanie Wiggins, Executive Officer for the Congestion Reduction Demonstration Initiative, responded. – D)

So, what happens to carpools when toll operations begin on the 110 Harbor Freeway (between Adams Boulevard and the 91 Freeway) on Nov. 10 and on the 10 San Bernardino Freeway (between Alameda Street and the 605) next year? This has been a topic of discussion lately on social media and a few blogs. What we are hearing is some carpoolers don’t understand the rules for carpools when tolling starts. Some are concerned they will have to pay a $40 pre-paid toll deposit, and that “casual” carpoolers who don’t travel these freeways frequently will be forced to use the general purpose lanes because they don’t have the required transponder. Finally, others simply say the ExpressLanes won’t improve the flow of traffic, and that the ExpressLanes may actually discourage carpoolers.

We understand those concerns and want to keep the dialogue going. First, we must point out that we are implementing this multi-faceted ExpressLanes program because we believe it will reduce traffic congestions and improve your commute.

It will do this by increasing travel options with more buses, vanpools, expanded transit stations and more. It also will maximize freeway capacity on heavily traveled sections of the 110 and 10 by converting the carpool lanes to High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes. The HOT lanes allow solo drivers (and two-person carpools on the 10 during rush hours) to use the ExpressLanes for a toll.

To avoid backups in the Metro ExpressLanes, sensors are deployed that measure congestion and adjust the tolls, increasing the toll from 25 cents a mile up to a maximum of $1.40 a mile as more vehicles enter the Metro ExpressLanes.

As we prepare for the launch of the tolling program, we are going to be flexible enough to make adjustments once it begins and throughout the one-year pilot period.

Let’s start by laying out the facts related to carpools: 

Fact 1: When tolling starts, carpoolers can still travel toll-free under the same rules for those freeways that are in place now (see details below). The difference is that carpool drivers must open a prepaid FasTrak® account to receive a transponder and mount that transponder in their vehicles.

Fact 2:  The $3 monthly maintenance fee for the Metro ExpressLanes FasTrak® account will be waived if the account holder makes at least four one-way trips. These can be toll-free or paid trips and/or rides on transit in the corridor.  The $3 monthly maintenance fee is automatically waived for those customers who qualify for the Metro ExpressLanes Equity Plan.

Fact 3: Enforcement, flexibility, and performance monitoring are the key reasons for the transponder requirement for all. Currently, the violation rates on the existing carpool lanes are as high as 10%.  There is no way to enforce the toll requirements on the ExpressLanes without everyone playing by the same rules. In other words, if we allowed only carpoolers to have free transponders and no monthly fees, here is what would likely happen: Some people would declare that they carpool – given that there is no way for the Metro Program to distinguish whether they are driving a carpool prior to their actual trip. Also, people using other toll facilities in Southern California (all these projects use FasTrak®, like ExpressLanes) could cancel their accounts and sign up for a no monthly fee account with Metro, which would mean more maintenance costs for Metro without any revenues from those accounts. The FasTrak® requirement for all vehicles on the ExpressLanes will help us maintain traffic flow and accountability during the evaluation process.

To benefit carpoolers, we are offering the Carpool Loyalty Program, the first of its kind in the country, which will reward carpoolers and vanpoolers for taking Metro ExpressLanes by entering them into drawings for free gas cards each month that they use Metro ExpressLanes.  We are implementing the Carpool Loyalty Program in response to focus groups and surveys in which carpoolers said they wanted a non-toll incentive for using the ExpressLanes.

The conversion of carpool lanes to High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes is new to Los Angeles, so it’s important to put it all in perspective. In addition to reducing traffic congestion, this program will provide sustainable and environmentally-friendly transportation solutions. Some program features include:

59 new clean-fuel buses and operating subsidies for the one-year demonstration period for the Silver Line, Foothill Transit, Gardena Transit and Torrance Transit.  Since the ExpressLanes-funded Silver Line Bus Rapid Transit service began in June 2011, ridership on the 110 Harbor Transitway has increased by more than 60%.

100 New Metro Vanpools;

El Monte Station Expansion and a new Transit Station at Patsaouras Plaza;

Harbor Transitway Park & Ride Upgrades;

Metrolink Pomona Station Expansion;

Transit Signal Priority Expanded in Downtown LA;

New bicycle lockers at the Harbor Gateway Transit Center & bicycle station at El Monte Station;

LA Express Park™”

Our research shows that 80% of current carpoolers would continue to carpool after the FasTrak® requirement goes into effect so they can avoid paying the toll or being forced back into the general purpose lanes when their carpool partner is not available. Our initial statistics bear that out with almost 35% of the people opening new FasTrak® accounts indicating they are carpoolers. Those who don’t use the ExpressLanes may be happy to find the regular lanes flow faster than they did before ExpressLanes. Others will likely begin using the expanded transit opportunities.

Our program also is environmentally friendly.  The Metro ExpressLanes will reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases equivalent to:

Removal of 12,593 passenger vehicles per year

7.1 million less gallons of gasoline consumed per year

149,285 less barrels of oil consumed per year

Reduction in electricity use of 7,994 homes per year or

Reduction in energy use of 5,585 homes per year

State law requires a performance report to the Legislature by December 2014, which includes any reductions in greenhouse gas emissions attributable to Metro ExpressLanes, as well as the demonstration project’s impact on carpool usage.

Another first-in-the country ExpressLanes feature is the Equity Plan that provides qualified low-income commuters both a $25 toll credit to go toward either the transponder or the pre-paid toll deposit and the automatic waiver of the monthly $3 account maintenance fee.

Where will the money go that is raised from the tolls? It will be reinvested in the corridor’s transit and carpool facilities. The money will stay right there, helping your commute now and in the future.

So, back to carpooling. Here are some details.

On the 110, vehicles with two or more occupants will be able to use the ExpressLanes toll-free 24 hours a day.

On the 10, which currently has a requirement of three or more people during rush hour in the carpool lanes, the ExpressLanes will allow two-person carpools the choice of accessing the HOT lanes for a toll when tolling begins next year. Vehicles with two occupants will need to pay a toll during peak hours (5 a.m.- 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. – 7 p.m.). They will have toll-free use during off-peak hours. Vehicles with three or more occupants will be able to use the ExpressLanes toll-free at all hours.

On both the 110 and 10, solo drivers will have the option to use Metro ExpressLanes for a toll.

A Metro ExpressLanes transponder will be needed to travel in the 110 and 10 ExpressLanes to receive the toll-free discount. The Metro ExpressLanes FasTrak® account and transponder can also be used to electronically pay tolls on all toll facilities in California (i.e. Orange County, San Diego County and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Area).

We hope this helps clarify information on the carpool portion of ExpressLanes. We encourage people to keep the conversation going on Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

  • I agree that the requirement for carpools to have a transponder is a PITA and needs to change, but this comment is rather hyperbolic. The deposit on the transponder is refundable if you don’t use it on tolls. And I would offer a reminder that our freeway system already requires you to purchase (or rent) something in order to use it: a car.

  • Harold Crumb

    I can tell you for CERTAIN that motorcycles need a transponder since I got a ticket on the mail with a picture of me riding the 110.  At the moment, they are charging just the toll so for me it was 55 cents.  So from now on it will cost motorcyclist $36 a year to ride the same road they used to be able to ride for free.

  • Harold Crumb

     Dont worry they will get their money back since they are taxing EVERYONE that rides the carpool lane.  EVERYONE will pay a minimum of $36 a year for the carpool lane (BUSES fill every time, canpools, motorcyclist, everyone).

  • Harold Crumb

     The problem is that people keep thinking this is about reducing traffic.  This is about them collecting MONEY.  This is about taxing everyone to use the carpool lane. 

    They will fudge the results and call it a success.  Even if the traffic is so bad that it is a gridlock from 6AM to midnight everyday. They will have an excuse and say that it would be worst without it.  I for one used to use the carpool lane daily in my motorcycle now I am ride in the regular lanes and since the freeway is so tight I can split lanes so I “help” hold of the traffic while endangering my life.  Oh and a motorcyclist get into an accident it will definitely help traffic when the shut 2 or 3 lanes for 30 minutes to an hour until the ambulance comes and they do the preliminary on the field report.

    This is all about taxing people in Los Angeles more.  PERIOD.

  • Harold Crumb

     This WILL NOT FAIL.  They will do whatever number manipulation to extend it or call it a success.  Provably the success story was written even before the projected started.  They want the money and they will lie, cheat and manipulate the system to get more money so they can waste it on themselves.

  • Sracam

    You have just created a complicated system that for me, who only occasionally drives towards downtown (probably 4 times per year) and ALWAYS with a carpool/family means I will either have to pay $36 per year to save time or choose to retract my participation in the downtown renaissance and stick to places that are less costly in time and money to get to.
    Do not be mistaken, you ARE penalizing those of us who habitually carpool for leisure activities and only making it easier for daily commuters whom you could have pushed to public transit with other policies.

  • Ihavenoemail

    This appears to be extortion.  Pay to use my lane four times a month, or I’ll charge you $3.  The 110 traffic is worse than prior to the toll implementation.  can’t wait to see what the 2014 report says, and what backup data they use to write it.

  • Luckysda

    The Equity Plan is limited to only those residing in LA county. Therefore, all low income families living in Orange County or the Inland Empire must pay the 3 monthly fee even though they are low income in order to be in the carpool lanes. How does that make any sense especially so many people go in between the OC/LA/and Inland Empire daily? The plan is discriminating against low income families that do not live in LA county and are trying to make ends meet by going to work.

  • Driver6967

    This whole system is stupid they have used ALOT of Frwy space to create these two lanes that I see mostly single passenger vehicles hauling ass on and many think its ok to dart in and out of because of the DOUBLE WHITE LINES
    Well people the DOUBLE IS JUST AS ENFORCEABLE AS THE DOUBLE YELLOW… If I were the state of California I’d have the CHP do biweekly campaigns to cite offenders and reckless drivers who abuse out frwys and generate money that way rather than force working people to pay to use the Frwy!!! Stop wasting our tax money!!! And people WAKE UP thirty minutes earlier and that way you won’t kill someone on the way to work by your reckless driving habits!!!

  • Mermaaid96

    This is sick. The rich get richerd and poor gets poorer. Why does it always have to involve only citizens money. How about a real change and create a program that would help, the poor people off the street for ones and clean our streets (it’s so depressing). That’s a real concern. This is CALIFORNIA! tourist don’t want to come no more because are streets are depressing to see. Maybe if city officials and politicians could prepare there people into more hands on then we as one team could make California a better place. where people would love the system Your asking for more accidents and disasters and if you want more i suggest keeping your people here in California and creating a better system them metro fast tract lane bull. I can’t even believe you guys are serious. I think pretty soon one is just going to turn on one another

  • Mer96

    If we all think like that then we would get no where. We got to stay positive and play hard.

  • Jessi

    Adding on to news I just found out so Tyler Duvall broke up with AT&T transformed telecommunications. Sense that was a big money marker. Now this his is replacement
    Metro…..

  • Evita055

    This is wrong, we are paying taxes for our freeways  and we all should have the same rights.  I am a solo driver not by choice and only occasionally can use the carpool lanes.  Over the weekend I used the 110  Freeway, for miles I did not get my car out of 2nd gear and noticed only about every 30-40 seconds a care in the Express lanes.  This is a waste of Freeway space, why are we not allowing the use of all lanes for all drivers after business hours and weekends/holidays! ?

  • I too dislike the $3 monthly fee and the transponder requirement for carpools, but let’s make sure we’re aware of all the facts here: if you’re a daily user of the Express Lanes, you don’t pay the $3 account maintenance fee. It gets waived after four one-way trips (two round trips) in the same month.

  • Hins26

    So you’re saying that motorcycle riders will not have to pay for a toll, but indeed would have to purchase a transponder? Makes no sense at all, sounds like one of those get rich quick schemes. I remember in the good old days when i USE to feel safer riding in the carpool lane. Now i guess I’ll have to endanger my life to split lanesand hope i don’t get hit and them cause a real traffic jam.

  • This post is several months old. Motorcycle riders no longer need a transponder. http://thesource.metro.net/2013/02/21/motorcycles-no-longer-need-fastrak-transponders-to-use-expresslanes/

  • SpudMan

    HOV lanes took no more money to maintain than regular traffic lanes and were free to anyone carpooling.  Now we have a complex system, costing millions of dollars to implement and maintain, and it now cost to use a lane that was previously free.  If anyone really believes this will improve traffic issues, you are a bit deluded.  This is nothing more than another way to make money.  By the time Metro cooks the books and justifies the cost of operation, NOTHING will go back into the roads or communities.  This is Capitalism, this is America!!
     

  • Lagusgus

    We were thinking to go to LA live but then we remnber that we need to have the trasponder but we went any way, what a nightmare ! Traffic was worse from floorence alll a way to downtown and on the way back bad traffic all a way to slauson , we will never be back unless the fast track is removed and we can use the carpool the way it was before I’m not paying 40 for a transponder that ill be using maybe once a month I guess we staying at del amo mall better!

  • Hughjass0789

    State capitalism

  • Hughjass0789

    “I am from the Government and I am here to help”

  • mony

    april 2/2013 me and my brother are on our way to sanbernadino didnt even no about this new track lane or expressss he goes in it then exit out cus we where like whats this all about i look it up in google im ready all this is new seriously pay to be on express etc wow

  • mony

    lol is april 3/2013 mony……

  • Anonymous

    They’re going to drop the $3 monthly fee! Hallelujah!

    http://la.curbed.com/archives/2013/04/metro_drops_monthly_toll_lane_transponder_fee_on_110_and_10.php

    But only for six months…..

  • squiddy

    Signage is another issue here. (“violation rates on the existing carpool lanes are as high as 10%”) We need only look to entry ramps such as S. Del Mar Ave. West to realize how profitable it is for Metro to route non-ExpressLane members onto ExpressLane entry ramps and charge them penalties via the mail, as has just happened with my wife. The “violation rates” might be a lot lower if the signage didn’t intentionally deceive. If you see a big sign for Highway 10 West and that’s where you need to go, then that’s the ramp you’ll take.

    And if their response is that people should pay attention to the diamonds painted on the roadway, it doesn’t help if there’s a car blocking it.

  • S Petralia

    I went on the Fast Track entrance to the 10 Freeway at DelMar by accident. There was a CHP stopping drivers without the transponder immediately. My ticket was $238.00 + $2.00 toll charge and 50.00 penalty fee. Why can’t I register for traffic school? Will this be reported to the DMV?

  • BE informed

    Yes, I did the same thing & got $55 tkt in mail a month later!
    Lasat time I drove on 110 it ws only car pool! NO BS deception!!

    THERE WAS NO WARNING, NO EXPLANATION SIGNS!!

    They already count ahead of time the fine money they get from this trap & it is already spent before the people pass through & get tickets…IT IS/was still a premeditated TRAP!!

    I went to class to get out of tkt in past the cop told us that the car pool lane is big money maker the city absolutely depends on …when people cross the car pool lane to try to get out to their exit they get big tickets & it was designed with that in mind.SO they created more fine/false fee money!

    How cheap & simple would it be to clear the confusion & make big sings that say. PREPAID BY TRANSPONDER ONLY or else pay mailed fine!!
    We need to find our representatives who voted this in & COMPLAIN DEMAND FREE CAR POOL be restored!

  • BE informed

    Yes, I did the same thing & got $55 tkt in mail a month later!
    Lasat time I drove on 110 it ws only car pool! NO BS deception!!

    THERE WAS NO WARNING, NO EXPLANATION SIGNS!!

    They already count ahead of time the fine money they get from this trap & it is already spent before the people pass through & get tickets…IT IS/was still a premeditated TRAP!!

    I went to class to get out of tkt in past the cop told us that the car pool lane is big money maker the city absolutely depends on …when people cross the car pool lane to try to get out to their exit they get big tickets & it was designed with that in mind.SO they created more fine/false fee money!

    How cheap & simple would it be to clear the confusion & make big sings that say. PREPAID BY TRANSPONDER ONLY or else pay mailed fine!!
    We need to find our representatives who voted this in & COMPLAIN DEMAND FREE CAR POOL be restored!

  • Niall Huffman

    This is a typical sign that exists at every entrance to the Express Lanes on both the 10 and the 110. It says “FasTrak ONLY.” A smaller sign reads “All HOV must have FasTrak.”

    http://www.aecom.com/deployedfiles/Internet/Capabilities/Transportation/_images/I-10%20express%20lanes%20ribbon%20cutting%20main.jpg

    Caltrans and Metro put up electronic message signs for several months prior to the switch to Express Lanes that said “EXPRESS LANES COMING. GET FASTRAK. http://WWW.FASTRAKLA.NET” and “EXPRESS LANES COMING. CALL 511 FOR INFO.”

    If these don’t count as “warnings” or “explanation signs,” what does?

  • Niall Huffman

    Ask the people who run the program: https://www.metroexpresslanes.net/en/about/csc.shtml

  • Anonymous

    This is exactly what happened to me. I was visiting LA and found myself in one of these lanes, unsure of what it was. I immediately got out, but it was too late. I received a ticket in the mail a month later. Such bullshit.

  • Dennis

    I see what you mean. I got caught on Del Mar West too. No signage whatsoever to indicate an express lane entrance to the freeway, just abbreviated on the roadway letters further down the ramp. By the time you see that marked pavement it is too late. The entrance signage is exactly the same as the typical non-express way entrance signage. This should be criminal to operate like this. If this was a private citizen doing something like this to others, the courts would throw the book at them. I do not know what it is that will be the final straw that causes my leaving the state like many of my friends did. This is not the final straw but it is a straw.

  • Matt

    Did you end up getting a ticket? I just went on this ramp with the same problem, reading 10 W at night and by the time I saw the express lane i was already on the ramp. How much was the ticket? Did you contest the violation?

  • Jester1137

    The onramp from Del Mar is horribly signed. No one expects the carpool/toll only lane to be first, for one thing.

    My wife and I were both fooled by it (separately, the same morning) when we first moved to San Gabriel. Thankfully, that was years ago when they were much less effective at catching violators, and we were able to just take the first exit out of the express without getting caught.

    They’ve known for years that this on-ramp is poorly signed. They don’t care. It’s just a revenue generator for them.

  • chakal

    The carpool lanes are a scam. We always carpool on the 110 5 days a week and we get tolls 5 days a month. They purposely make it difficult to contest them or they say that ‘We have the switch in the wrong place.” Fastrak should be forced to pay back all fines until they fix it or do away with their broken system.

  • Alex Brideau III

    While I now like the 110 Express Lanes, the 10 Express Lanes leave much to be desired. Poor signage is not just present at the Del Mar onramp, but dangerously bad approaching and departing Union Station, with inaccurate curve speed warnings and last-minute, too-small exit directional signs. Even the striping needs improvement in that area. Let’s hope at least some of the income from tolls goes to help remedy the situation.

  • J German

    Who are the politicians who made this big brother BS legal?! Are you kidding me with this? Everyone should throw there transponders in the trash and refuse to pay any “fines”. My wife just got the bill for $120 with the invitation (requirement) that she sign up. Then she’ll get her “fine” reduced to $5. But then she’ll have a f***ing device in her car that keeps track of her and bills her credit card. Again, are you people kidding us with this garbage??! This is creepy. We’re not paying these people a nickel!

  • Why that would be Mr. George W Bush as it was under his watch that this program was created for Metro to sign up for.

  • Here are more details on how the Tolling on the Carpool lanes came to be:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/03/16/AR2008031603085.html

  • xymox

    These transponders are flawed, as is the system that is supposed to monitor these things. Every month I get dinged for either not having one or for driving alone when there never is less than one person in the car. Contacting them is aggravating. They are neither attentive nor understanding. They talk to you like they have heard all the excuses before, and you’re just trying to get out of paying the toll charge(s).

    It becomes frustrating having to call them and remain on hold for 30min listening to some recording that tells you “your call is important to us”. Obviously, they play the wait game in hopes you just give up and pay the toll, which is peanuts for one, but probably thousands of dollars for them when a lot of people just give up and pay it.

    They tell you you can dispute your toll online, but even the website is designed the same way, to discourage you from fighting what’s rightfully yours because the website keeps kicking you out forcing you to log in again and again.

    The irony is, there are more violators now driving south on the 110 than before, especially on the south 110 overpass. It never fails to see 1 or more vehicles speeding down that section then zip out just before the first meter read to get a jump on those on the 110.

    The carpool lane worked better when it was on the honor system, rather than the greed system.

  • clark

    just another scheme that a big company is getting rich from at tax payers hands!

  • LaK

    So, I just read some of the details on the website and is it true that if you only use the carpool lane once in a blue moon to visit relatives or the airport, you have to pay a $3/month minimum to have a fast-track transponder just for that odd time you utilize the carpool lane???? That’s BS!! If you’re a carpool, you should be allowed to go with or without a transponder– or they should make the transponders FREE!! EFF THAT!! LA, I love ya, but this is really infuriating. Furthermore, I just hopped on it after my daughter and I drove my husband to the airport and there were points when the express lanes took up 3 lanes of the freeway– AND, there was a cop on the bridge that slowed the down the whole lane anyway. Plus the signs are super confusing so I ended up getting dumped off the freeway by mistake– making me super late to where i was going after all. I’m appalled at this system. Basically, if you’re not a regular commuter there’s absolutely no benefit for paying $3 per month. forget that.

  • Niall Huffman

    Old article. Metro has changed the account maintenance fee policy so that there’s now a $1/month fee that applies to everyone whether they use the transponder or not.

    I agree that it would be better to let carpoolers use the lanes without a transponder. Metro has said that this would make enforcement infeasible, though.

  • LaK

    Thanks Niall. You’re right– they reduced the charge to $1. I just called them. The very sympathetic lady on the other end also said that transponders cost $35 to get started. Forget it. I calculate I use(d) the carpool lane probably 3 times a year. This is the lamest, most cumbersome system imaginable. They’ll be lucky if the system manages to pay for itself considering the complexity of the system. Plus it’s only designed for the everyday commuter in mind– Yes– making it easier for commuters to drive to work is just what we need to make the traffic better in this city! lame.
    Has anybody actually done a traffic comparison to see if the traffic has gotten worse or better since the system was put in place? I thought the point was to improve congestion, not give an elite few an easier drive to work from the suburbs.

  • LaK

    The good news is she said that you can get the first violation waved if you call in.

  • LaK

    Maybe they should let a person “violate” the transponder rules one time per year. You get a ticket in the mail and then you can call in and get it waved if you haven’t had a violation in the last year. At least that would help out the poor schmos like me who only need the carpool lane once in a blue moon.

  • Joe B

    Yes, Metro did a before/after comparison. They found that traffic was moving slower in the free lanes. Which makes sense, since they kicked a bunch of carpoolers out of the carpool lanes.

    The clear enforcement solution is to have the system treat a vehicle without a transponder exactly the same as a vehicle with a transponder set to “carpool”. In both cases, you check for a carpool: if it’s a carpool, ignore it, and if it’s a solo driver, then mail a ticket.

  • Schleima

    I’ve been following this story for a long time. You don’t really “buy” the transponder– you borrow it, and any money you put down goes towards toll credit.

    If you have an AAA membership, you pay $32 and they loan you a transponder loaded with $40 of credit, so you’ve already got 8 months of those $1/month fees credited.

    Also, if you refer friends to take their occasional marketing surveys, they award you $5 or $10 in free credit. I’ve done this several times. I got my transponder about 1.5 years ago and have yet to dip down past the $32 I invested (I’m still at about $37). When I turn in the transponder, I will receive a refund for any leftover value up to the $32 I laid out.

  • mazz

    This is literally highway robbery, I got a $25dollar ticket and the screen said it’s only 5 dollar and some cents , I notice many cars avoiding the cameras, this idea is stupid and is not helping with traffic nor the environment