Congestion Pricing Opens on the I-10, Hysteria on Hold

Image via Metro

This weekend, Express Lanes opened on 14 miles of the I-10 between Alameda Street in downtown Los Angeles and the 605 freeway. The lanes converted existing HOV lanes to HOV/HOT lanes during non-peak hours. This means solo-car commuters can buy their way into the carpool lane if they have a FastTrack transponder. Carpoolers will also need to purchase the transponder. This need is controversial.

But what hasn’t been controversial is the actual conversion. When New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed a congestion pricing fee for some lanes in New York City, the press and many community groups went into over drive. In Los Angeles, there were a handful of angry letters sent to the Metro Board of Directors, and there seems to be grumbling about the transpoder requirement for carpools. Other than that, the hysteria is on hold. Or even non-existent.

The worst coverage of ExpressLanes, and really the only negative mainstream coverage, came from ABC 7’s super reporter David Ono. Ono interviews presidents, travels to disaster zones, and is one of ABC’s anchors. I’m guessing at some point he’s going to look back at this story and regret it. Basically, Ono goes for a ride with a driver next to the I-110 ExpressLanes and does a “man on the street” story that is more than a little slanted against the project.

After the video, read on to see what Ono got wrong.


ABC7 in italics, Streetsblog in bold.

The new Metro ExpressLanes project along the Harbor Freeway has been going on since November 2012. It is in the early stages of a one-year experiment, so commuters are still figuring it out.

But there are some commuters who don’t like it for a number of reasons.

“I have seen this from where it was wide open to where now it is just a mess,” said Bill Snobeger.

Snoberger has been making his commute from Glendale to just south of downtown for 30 years, 20 miles each way. He’s not happy about the fact that it takes him longer now than ever before.

“It was bad, but it was bearable bad. Now it’s bad, unbearable bad,” he said.

This leads to the first problem with the story. It’s built around anecdotal information given by one person WHO HAS NEVER TRIED THE EXPRESSLANE. It’s also an article that’s about moving cars, not people. In other words, the congestion free commute of however many people are in the transit that has a faster trip isn’t taken into account at all. Also not mentioned? The federal aid that has been put into buying new buses and dramatically increasing transit access in the corridor.

A big part of his commute is the 110 Freeway where the new, experimental Metro ExpressLanes have been put into place.

“We’ve converted the carpool lanes to ExpressLanes,” said Stephanie Wiggins with Metro. “The way it works is every vehicle that’s going to use those ExpressLanes needs to have a FasTrak transponder.”

In other words, starting last November, you can’t use the carpool lanes unless you have a transponder. To get the device requires an initial $40 deposit.

It does require a deposit. However, it would be worth mentioning that the deposit becomes $40 that is used to pay the tolls. In other words, for a solo commuter such as Snodberger, the $40 would pay for his first trips in the ExpressLanes.

Snoberger thinks that has pushed people out of the carpool lanes and into the regular lanes, where he usually is.

He’s probably right. Of course, this is the kind of question that would be great to ask Stephanie Wiggins during a one-on-one interview. Wouldn’t it be great to know how many people were using the ExpressLane compared to the original HOV Lane?

“When we’re sitting in traffic, and we’re bumper-to-bumper with somebody, and the two lanes that are next to us here, there will be a car going by every five seconds,” he said.

Eyewitness News observed traffic on three separate mornings during rush hour. The ExpressLanes were barely used.

“That’s every day, every stinking day,” Snoberger said.

Again, we’re dealing with anecdotal information. You know what would be useful? Something showing the average amount of car commuters using the lanes now versus before.

But there are some benefits to the program. If you are a solo driver and have a transponder, you too can use the carpool lanes, as long as you are willing to pay a toll. Cars with multiple people are still free.

In theory, more people will have access to the carpool lanes under the program.

“What we found by talking to commuters and also, what we are hearing from our users, is they want the choice of travel time savings,” said Wiggins.

So if Snoberger wants to benefit, he’ll have to get a transponder and then pay an average toll of about $5 a day to use the fast lanes.

“I don’t want to do that,” he said. “I shouldn’t have to do that and I don’t have $200 extra a month to give to the state of California to use the freeways that we paid for.”

Good news. There are, on average, 21 work days a month. That comes to $100 dollars. The other good news is he can continue to use the freeway “we paid for” without a congestion charge. He just can’t use the congestion lane. In other words, for Snoberger…nothing has changed.

And that brings up another sticky point for Snoberger.

“Our parents paid to have those freeways constructed with their tax dollars. And today we pay to maintain those freeways with our tax dollars. And for the state of California to take those lanes away from us that we paid for and then charge us to drive on them? That makes me mad,” he said.

This where I just get confused. They’re not charging Snoberger anything more than they on November 14, right before the HOV/HOT conversion. They are giving him the ability to pay for a congestion free commute, and in exchange he helps pay for the local transit system. If he doesn’t want to pay into that system he doesn’t. 

In fairness to Metro, it is way too early to judge the project. The latest numbers obtained by Eyewitness News Thursday show 45,000 cars are using the ExpressLanes daily, compared to 50,000 before the project.

This would have been great information about 12 paragraphs earlier. 90% of the original usage just a couple months into the pilot program is a success. Good work, Metro.

Wait, that’s not the point of the story, is it?

The 10 Freeway is next. ExpressLanes begin there later this month. After a year, the ExpressLanes project will be evaluated. 

(Copyright ©2013 KABC-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)
  • Erik Griswold

    “Our parents paid to have those freeways constructed with their tax dollars.”
    The money spent to build the El Monte Busway was not intended to build a facility that would be opened to cars one day, as it has been.

    http://metroprimaryresources.info/40-years-ago-this-week-groundbreaking-for-el-monte-busway-californias-first-multi-modal-system-the-worlds-first-bus-rapid-transit-station/2745/

  • Joe B

    Wait. Excluding a number of carpools from the carpool lane equal to (5000 plus the number of single drivers) is a success??? 

    Of course not. The project is a failure; a failure brought about by Metro’s ridiculous insistence that we are technologically incapable of letting carpools drive in the carpool lanes without transponders.

    This claim joins their many other recent ludicrous claims, such as:
    * We can’t sell tap cards on buses because it would take too long to board
    * Tap is incapable of implementing a cash purse system
    * Tap can’t do fare capping

  • Damien

    Considering they’re transponder requirement? Yeah, 90 percent of pretty good three months in.

  • Anonymous

    “Excluding a number of carpools from the carpool lane equal to (5000 plus the number of single drivers) is a success???”

    It could be. You really don’t want freeways to run at 100% of capacity because that’s traffic congestion. Read up on Levels of Service for more information.

  • Dennis Hindman

    Some of the streets in the draft EIR that went through community outreach meetings recently for the installation of bike lanes are a similar idea to having toll or HOV lanes on freeways. Want to avoid the congestion on the streets? Then ride a bicycle in the bike lane. If this is a fast, convenient and fits within a persons tolerance for stress imposed by traffic, then this could be an attractive alternative form of transportation. 

    Lankershim Blvd has two intersections between Ventura Blvd and Chandler Blvd operating at over-capacity at peak hours. Encouraging people to make driving their number one choice for speed and convenience is only making the situation worse.

    The LADOT is proposing taking away a north bound lane and repacing it with a bicycle lane. This is the direction that most drivers use to head home from work coming from the Cahuenga Pass. In the worst case scenerio, this would cause up to a 2 and half minute delay if you drive on Lankershim Blvd from Ventura Blvd to Chandler Blvd if no one changes their mode of transportation.

    Heading south on Lankershim Blvd there will no travel lanes removed for motorized vehicles and there will be an additional lane for bicycles. This will only increase the amount of people that will move along this street going south.

    Adding bicycle lanes makes sense in that there are two subway stops on this street. The 900 vehicle parking spaces at each of the two subway stations are filled to capacity during the day. There simply cannot be a significant increase in people driving to these subway stations during a weekday. Taking a bus on Lankershim Blvd is slower and less convenient than driving by having to walk to the bus stop, wait for the bus and ride in mixed traffic. Walking to the subway station is only attractive for most people if it no further than 2-3 blocks. Riding a bicycle is a door-to-door means of travel that can be fast and convenient, but its not attractive for many people if the level of safety is not improved.

    Other streets that have been proposed for bike lane installations which would make similar connections to a train station are along Westwood Blvd, Sepulveda Blvd and Bundy Dr. All of these streets have intersections that are operating at over-capacity during peak hours. Taking away a through lane or parking for motorized vehicles and replacing that with bike lanes will give people an incentive to ride a bicycle for local trips or to bypass the congestion to take a ride on the Expo light-rail line instead of driving on the I-10 freeway.

  • Brian in Koreatown

    LA Streets blog is soooooo silly. You do know that Metro banned Electric Vehicle from the express lanes, in clear opposition to the purpose of state law: to support the adoption of green energy? You do? Right? 

    Ridiculous…. I didnt know this blog was just propaganda for Metro’s anti-green policies. Bleh…..

  • Brian in Koreatown

    Let me add, traffic is MUCH worse in the regular lanes than it was before. Much worse. You can ask me, you can ask any of my friends who I have asked (over 20), you can check the polls on this website: https://www.facebook.com/CaliforniansAgainstTheExpressLanes

    This is not just some anecdote to pass around, the complete bungling of this project by metro has left wealthy Angeleno’s with a fast lane, and the regular folks stuck in traffic that is much worse than before. We thus pollute more, use more gas, and often (I do this now, NEVER did before) use side streets instead of the 110 or 10. This program is a total failure except in 1 specific regard: if you are willing and able to pay you can now get around quickly without carpooling using any gas guzzling car.

    Why on earth would LA Streetsblog propagandize for this?

  • calwatch

    No it isn’t. Although I am extremely busy in both work and my personal life over the next few weeks and so can’t do a writeup of the analysis now, I invite anyone to look at the traffic data on the Caltrans web site – http://pems.dot.ca.gov/ – and run the numbers yourself. Traffic volumes in the regular lanes have not significantly changed. 

  • calwatch

    But it added more seats to the El Monte Busway and more importantly the Harbor Transitway and added a crucial extra lane on I-10 which has helped free up traffic considerably. The monthly fee issue needs to be addressed, absolutely, since there is a nice loophole for anyone who wants to use it – the minimum toll on the Express Lanes is 30 cents from Fremont Avenue to Eastern Avenue westbound on the 10, even at 7:30 am in the morning. Drive through that four times, for $1.20, and you’ve satisfied the travel requirement, which is unfair to those who can’t take advantage of that option. 

  • Erik Griswold

    I was just making a dig on the BRT aspect.  

  • Brian in Koreatown

    Sorry calwatch, traffic on the 110 and 10 in the Poor People lanes is much worse. Go drive it and see. I do almost everyday. 

  • Matt

    A lot of people say the 110 is back to what it was before the conversion after having more congestion initially.  I imagine the 10 will be the same, although to a lesser degree since it was only 3 plus carpools.

  •  No matter how many people you ask, you’re only getting anecdotes.  If any of you actually used a stopwatch to time how many seconds your commute was before the lanes, and time it after, then we’d be talking data.  Also, you have to measure not just one day, but many days, both before and after, because we all know that traffic doesn’t behave exactly the same from day to day.

    People are notoriously bad at estimating how long it takes to drive somewhere.  I especially imagine that people who are visiting a Facebook page that is against the Express Lanes will be likely to overestimate their drive time on days when the Express Lanes existed and underestimate the drive times they had a year ago.

  • Peeeeceeee

    Same reason LA Streetsblog propagandized for red-light cameras and vehicle impoundment for the unlicensed (read: undocumented), probably. Two wheels good, four wheels bad, never mind the details or the consequences.

  • Reluctantpopstar

    I think every freeway in Los Angeles County should be a Carpool Only Freeway from 6-9 a.m. and 4-8 pm., Monday to Friday.  How’d ya like THEM apples? 

    Exceptions for commercial vehicles, police vehicles, ambulances, transit vehicles and taxis, wnich are all more likely to have more than one person in them.   Before anyone brings this up, the commercial vehicles would have to be registered as such, not just SUVs and pick up trucks that Mom hauls the kids to school in.  Delivery vans, plumbers’ trucks, semi-trucks and the like.  Not vans or trucks that are personal vehicles.

    The best part about this is that it requires no construction, no road painting, no transponders, etc.  Just a rather small budget to post large road signs announcing the policy.  And a HUGE volume of income for tickets from violators.