ExpressLanes Quietly Open on I-110, Media Finds “Grumbling”…But Not Hysteria

In 2008, when Metro first proposed experimenting with converting High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV Lanes) lanes to High Occupancy Toll Lanes (HOT Lanes) a casual observer might have thought the future of the Republic was endangered. Editorial boards sounded the alarm, the Times’ Tim Rutton wrote a series of semi-coherent opinion pieces, Metro Board members warned of class warfare and a group of Congress Members made a silly video (no longer available online) and warned they would pull Metro funding if they went forward.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Metro Board Member Richard Katz at the Express Lanes Groundbreaking. Photo:##http://www.metro.net/projects/expresslanes/##

This Saturday, ExpressLanes opened along 11 miles of the 110, starting just north of the 91 Freeway to Adams Boulevard, just south of the 10 Freeway. Single passenger vehicles will now be able to buy their way into the former HOV lane with the zero-emission cars, carpools and transit vehicles if the lane is not already congested. Drivers will need a transponder purchasable through Metro.  By accepting federal funds for the program, Metro was able to purchase clean buses, refurbish the El Monte Bus Terminal and make other improvements. Metro is also planning on a second pilot program on the I-10 early next year.

Metro’s fact sheet is available here.

Not only is the Republic safe following the opening, but the naysayers were nowhere to be found. The only politician throwing cold water on the day was Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who wondered if Metro timed the opening to occur after the vote on Measure J earlier last week. The San Gabriel Valley Tribune wrote a pensive editorial asking, “Are Toll Lanes a Slippery Slope,” but their intent was not to bury the project before it had a chance to succeed. The SGV Tribune stated:

This is an innovative attempt to ease congestion on two of the most troublesome commutes, and a worthy exercise for a region beset with myriad traffic problems. But it’s another step on what could be a slippery slope for Southern California toward pay-as-you-go highways. It may be the best solution for our roads, but it’s a decision that must be made with full public buy in.

To be sure, most of the media coverage that did occur found drivers willing to grumble about the toll lanes even as Metro officials and Mayor Villaraigosa gushed about the lane openings. As one would expect, most of the comments betrayed a lack of basic civics understanding. A sample of the comments can be read at the coverage of the Times, ABC7 and NBC4.

Most of the comments are by solo carpoolers, who now have an option to buy a congestion free trip that they couldn’t before. In other words, most of the people who are complaining will not be impacted by the new program.

From Annenberg TV News:

“Look at all the tax fees we’re paying already,” carpooler Lisa Lavine said, “then they’re coming out with this.”

Of all the people that complain about ExpressLanes, carpoolers are the only group with a legitimate gripe. For years they’ve been told that carpooling is the key to saving the environment and they should be rewarded. Now they have to obtain a transponder to use the lanes. As we’ve outlined before, “casual” carpoolers may find this to be more than an annoyance, but once the transponders are obtained, this complaint could end up being minimized.

But all in all, it was a quiet opening. Does this mean that Angelenos got their rage about the HOT Lanes out of their system, or has the mood about transportation costs changed in the last few years? Or maybe, because the political opposition disappeared to this set of lanes there was nobody to lead the opposition. Or maybe the “freeways should be free” portion of the populace was just tuckered out after fighting ballot initiatives last week.

We’ll find out more when the ExpressLanes on the I-10 open next year, but for now it’s clear that Congestion Pricing is a lot less divisive issue in Los Angeles than in some other places in the country.

  • Erik Griswold

    These are not HOT lanes.  They are ExpressLanes.  HOT lanes don’t require a transponder for HOVs.  State law had to be changed in order for Metro to require transponders for HOVs on this project.

    Not to nit-pick, but I feel it creates a 3rd type of facility.

  • There should be outrage against this. Casual carpoolers and carpooling tourists? Screwed. Regular carpoolers? Now have to pay a monthly fee and a purchase fee.

    At least they werent as transparent as the Atlanta people in screwing over carpoolers. Over there, you must register your trip in advance.

  • Joe B

    About one in four of the comments from Metro’s “Live Chat with Stephanie Wiggins” was from carpoolers (or motorcyclists) objecting to having to buy a transponder. And these comments were edited; I have little doubt that Wiggins picked as many softballs as possible.

    http://thesource.metro.net/2012/11/02/live-chat-transcripts-are-posted/

    In the (presumably unedited) comments responding to the thread, fully HALF of the comments from the general public were from carpoolers objecting to having to buy a transponder.

    That’s more than “a little grumbling”, I’d say.

    What bugs me most is that there’s no good reason to require carpoolers to buy a transponder; it’s just bureaucratic overhead that Metro decided to add. If they had a good reason (for example, if the transponders themselves were to detect how many people were in the car, eliminating the need for visual verification from CHP), well, then at least there would be a cost savings involved.

    First the TAP rollout fiasco, where Metro refused to sell TAP cards on buses, instead requiring us to take time off work to go find some little office during bankers’ hours just to buy a card. Now this. Metro has some smart and productive employees, but the Metro leadership is in need of some serious pruning.

    And it’s really sad, because HOT is a great idea, and Clipper-style cards are a great idea. Unfortunately, Metro has been working hard to botch both of them.

  • Matt

    You need to read up on this a little more.  The $40 transponder fee is a deposit – you get your money back and there is no monthly fee if you actually use the lanes as a carpooler.

  •  @e4d880df81a9a038e06454ce94379045:disqus  There is a monthly fee if you dont use it enough. That is….metro is encouraging people to drive more or else they get charged.

    How on earth does that make sense?

    If you avoid driving as much as possible, and then ONLY drive in a carpool….guess what, youve just been excluded or have to pay up. Congrats for doing the right thing!

    Meanwhile, Mr Mercedes who drives 100 miles a day? Welcome!

  • LA LAME

    METRO are you listening!!! Get rid of the “account maintenance fee” for infrequent carpoolers and ditch the transponder requirement for carpoolers all together. They are a regressive steps. No one is buying your double-speak

  • PC

    Correct on all points. Not sure why Streetsblog is choosing to practice Metro boosterism on this issue, other than the usual “four wheels bad.”

  • Roadblock

    HA! Now that they’ve finally finally finally got a contiguous “carpool” lane installed – after billions of our tax dollars and gazillions of traffic hours of construction delay… they are pulling the ole SWITCHEROO and handing those lanes over to  “officially recognized” rich people and carpoolers… Casual carpoolers be damned? Now you have to PAY to enjoy benefits of carpooling? WOW.

  • Our main point was that both the media and the public at-large are not going after congestion pricing as we’ve seen in other areas…and that many of the issues that are popping up have to do with the transponders not congestion pricing itself. I think we’ve said quite a bit about whether or not the transponders are a good idea and TAP cards for that matter.

    I think there’s a lot of issues with ExpressLanes, the largest one to me being that double passenger vehicles are treated as HOV’s. But today’s story wasn’t about that but about how the opening was covered. Given the holy wars I’ve seen in NYC over congestion pricing the local coverage was positively mild. And that’s a good thing.

  • Bigchiefjordan

    I don’t get why LA can’t do simple things.  TAP is just plain silly, and so is charging for one lane of a freeway.  Growing up driving on the NJ Turnpike or Garden State Parkway, everybody had to pay a toll to use those wide, fast roads.  Period.  Simple, fair, worked.

  • Most of the time I drive — to CSUN — I’m solo. I would love it if all of the freeways were tolled, especially if rates were determined by congestion. Economically it makes sense to pay our share of freeway maintenance based on how far we drive rather than how efficient our car is. It would also keep our freeways running at least somewhat more efficiently.

  • Most of the time I drive — to CSUN — I’m solo. I would love it if all of the freeways were tolled, especially if rates were determined by congestion. Economically it makes sense to pay our share of freeway maintenance based on how far we drive rather than how efficient our car is. It would also keep our freeways running at least somewhat more efficiently.

  • Anonymous

    Why can’t carpoolers split the cost? It’s still a better deal than sitting in traffic.

  • My casual observation is that the HOT experiment is a complete and utter failure.

  • Mr_A

    Less divisive, because it’s hard to know who to complain to. The “feedback” and “contact us” parts of the website do everything except encourage feedback (well, they do have 6 questions about whether you can sign up or not). The gangstas and tax rebels wil bide their time and simply tear up the cameras at night, if we’re lucky. If any of them come before me in a jury, I’ll totally let them off. If they come out into the open as politicians, I’ll vote them into office to replace our current crop of fools.

    It’s definitely the road to take the free out of our freeways, with little-to-no benefit in the end.

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