Will Metro Rue the Day It Decided to Require Transponders for ExpressLanes Access

A banner from The Transit Coalition's ##http://www.thetransitcoalition.us/a_better_inland_empire/proj_hot.html##"We Want Toll Lanes Done Right"## page for the I-91 in the Inland Empire.

On November 10, the I-110 ExpressLanes, a type of “congestion pricing” or HOT Lane System, will open on the I-110 from just South of the 91 Freeway going north all the way to just South of the I-10. Early next year, the similar lanes will open on the I-10. In both cases, single-occupancy vehicles will be allowed into what are currently high occupancy or low-emission vehicle lanes (HOV Lanes) for a small cost per mile which will vary pending congestion conditions. If there is too much congestion in the ExpressLane, then it will be closed to all but the carpoolers.

“Everywhere it’s been tried, congestion has gone down,” Mayor Villaraigosa told Streetsblog in our July interview when discussing Metro’s ExpressLanes plan. The Mayor also pointed to the over $200 million Metro received to be a test case for HOV to HOT lane conversion that allowed Metro to refurbish the El Monte transit center, increase bus access along the corridor, purchase 100 new vans for its van pool program, and a laundry list of other improvements.

Yet, many in the transit community fear the coming ExpressLanes, worrying that a “less than smooth” implementation could set the idea of road pricing back a generation in L.A. County.

Nicholas Ventrone, with The Transit Coalition, is one of those that is worried. He warns that by requiring anyone that uses the ExpressLanes, even those doing so “for free” because of a carpool, to have a transponder; Metro is creating an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy and undermining support for the project.

“HOT Lanes certainly need to be well enforced to keep violations at a minimum; however creating a ‘Nanny Lane’ system discourages ridesharing,” argues Ventrone. “Mandating carpools to register for a FasTrak account creates a bureaucratic transportation system and expands unnecessary government control over the public.”

FasTrak is the company that will collect tolls for Metro through the transponder system.

In addition to requiring a transponder for carpools to enter the lane, there is a monthly charge to have a transponder unless you ride in the ExpressLanes four times per month. Others, including the Sierra Club, worry that the requirement will kill casual carpooling. A faster trip is a solid reason to choose a carpool, but there are few people who will purchase a transponder for a family trip to Disney Land or for the Dodgers vs Angels annual “Freeway Series.”

“Public officials need to encourage ride-sharing in the HOT lanes, not make it harder,” he explains. “Free access to a dedicated lane on the freeway is advertised as an incentive to freely carpool. Registration requirements hamper that effort.”

Ventrone, a supporter of congestion pricing, studied how congestion pricing is working in other cities around the country and discovered a correlation between transponder requirements and public support. He has compiled a list of studies on congestion pricing for The Transit Coalition’s “We Want Toll Lanes Done Right” webpage.

Last November, InsiderAdvantage and WSB-TV commissioned a poll on attitudes towards congestion pricing programs in the greater Atlanta region. Nearly half of the region’s commuters believe that the I-85 Express Lanes has made traffic worse for the corridor. To enter an Atlanta Express Lane, one must both have a transponder in their vehicle and register their trip ahead of time with information that includes the number of people in the car.  The I-85 is the least popular congestion priced road in the country, and it happens to have occurred in the area with the strictest transponder requirements.

Other studies point to a decrease in carpooling directly associated with an HOV to HOT conversion. A 2011 study by the University of California at Berkeley showed a marked decrease in carpooling when toll lanes were installed on the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge. However, there was a reported 15% increase in transit usage. With the increase in buses and other transit infrastructure, Metro could be well-prepared to capture those willing to give transit commutes a second look.

In the end, the plan is for more and more L.A. County highways to have a congestion free, toll lane, option. “The goal is to one day have congestion pricing on all freeways. Studies show that it reduces congestion…but it’s a hard sell to people,” Villaraigosa told us in July.

The question is, with the transponder requirement, is Metro making the “hard sell” even harder.


  • Givememyfreelanes

    Metro is the agency that loves it bureaucracy.  Transponders, we don’t need no stinking transponders.  It is the lack of vision we have and ultimately an expensive failed lesson.  Casual/weekend carpooler’s are going to use the lanes and get ticked.  People are going to be pissed and carpool usage will fall off.  Then what we have is Mitt Romney lanes.  If you can afford to buy a lane you will.

    Why is there mistrust of the carpool honor system that is working today?  Metro should ditch the transponders for carpooler’s. 

  • Anonymous

    They ought to allow people in vehicles without transponders to pay an exit toll. Vehicles with transponders can bypass the toll booths. People paying the exit toll would pay nothing if enough people are in the vehicle.

    The problem with encouraging carpooling is that even carpooling isn’t the most environmentally friendly way to commute. The most environmentally friendly car is the one that stays in the garage.

  • calwatch

    There’s no room for toll booths. My main concern with Expresslanes is this haphazard, only in LA implementation (like TAP with their wacky TAP on transfer rules for rail). Fundamentally I don’t have much of an issue with requiring everyone to have a transponder – that was the model used on the 91 lanes (which was an existing carpool lane). But some places use a switch, others make you drive through a certain lane, others make people use Mylar bags to self declare carpool status. It’s a mess.

  • Davistrain

    Then we have the folks who are afraid that “the guvmint” will use transponders to keep tabs on citizens.  Out where I live, when I’ve used the 210 freeway with my wife (2 people in the car=a carpool on the 210) during afternoon rush, the HOV lane usually doesn’t run any faster than the regular lanes.  Last time we went to Azusa for
    an evening musical event, I gave up on the freeway and took Foothill Blvd.  The band should have included “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” in their show.

    And I agree with the criticism of TAP cards–there must be some “gadget freaks” in the Metro planning dept.

  • Anonymous

     That’s why HOV lanes ought to be HOT lanes.

  • Chris Rider

    Being a Transit commuter to downtown via the I-110 with the occasional use of the Carpool lanes, I was worried about the monthly charge on the transponder as well. I make maybe one carpool lane usage a month, not four. 

    Then I was told that the Monthly fee would be waived for tying my tap card to my transponder account, which seemed great (for me at least)

    Now I’ve been transferred to a great, closer office that doesn’t require me to go downtown via bus, meaning I’m back at square one, basically being unable to make use of the carpool lanes for my occasional jaunts to downtown/hollywood/mid-wilshire with friends/family. Very dissapointing.Luckily this is a one year demonstration project, if it fails as miserably as I think it will they can turn off the transponders but we still get the infrastructure benefits (including more silver line buses, great of them to increase weekend service for USC and laker/clipper games)

  • Haley

    Oh please, all of you are like the people who make an excuse for having open gates on Metro’s train system. Too difficult to pay for a fare! Let’s just let everyone on for free! Please, let’s just be quiet and follow the success of FasTrak in the Bay Area. If you don’t have a transponder, then too bad, you will be stuck in the traffic in the general lanes. 

  • thedoctor

    The human population is beyond stupid, there is no carpool lane, there was never supposed to be. There is a toll lane that ALLOWS (for now) carpools to pass. Why are people so stupid as to not see through the scam? If a carpooling person cannot enter the lane without a toll pass, THEN IT ISN’T A CARPOOL LANE, but a toll lane that gives temporary permission to pass on a road they cannot be charged to use by a little thing called the constitution!

    The whole carpool lane rouse was put in place to allow a workaround for the freedom of travel problem the government has on interstates. The carpool was the trojan horse, to allow for toll roads that the public will accept. Lane one is toll for now, watch for lane two coming VERY soon, and it is a lawful as long as at least one lane is free. And as the traffic gets awful, due to soon to be endless repairs and other flow inhibotors, folks will be paying double to drive on the roads the already paid for and must be allowed to travel on for free. Private roads are not covered.

    The populace are stupid sheep that deserve all they get because the just eat up PR without any serious discernment and can’t seem to remember the basic reality – they should stop accepting the notion they MUST be charged to do anything at all, and charged over and over and over again.

  • calwatch

    Except this isn’t the same as the Bay Area Fastrak system. The Bay Area either uses dedicated lanes (the bridges) or the Mylar bag method (I-680 and SR-237 HOT lanes) to declare carpools, not this ham handed switch method. San Diego uses the Mylar bag, while Orange County has the dedicated lane. 

  • David D.

    This is a failure-in-the-making for MTA. Instead of following the demonstrated HOT lane systems in the Bay Area and San Diego, it has decided to take a heavy-handed bloated-nanny-government approach to this roadway facility. I hope MTA suffers severe consequences from State and Federal highway officials for purposely designing a system that is incompatible with the majority of HOT lanes in California.

  • PV Guy

    For me this is a terrible idea.  I am completely baffled by it.

    Almost always when I am on the 110 it is with my wife.  Sometimes we take the carpool lane.  Now I have buy a transponder and pay a monthly fee to keep it so I can continue doing what I am doing now.  So I am not helped at all by the idea.

    At one I carpooled daily on the 110.  So regular carpoolers will need to buy and pay a monthly fee for the transponder.

    The only ones helped by this are single drivers.  We should be everything we can to discourage them, not making their life easier.

    Horrible idea.

  • Jay

    What about those of us with HOV decals on our alternative fuel vehicles (electric, natural gas, propoane, hydrogen fuel cell)?  We have HEAVILY invested in these “cleanest” of cars and purchased the HOV decals and have had this taken away?!  Did any of the HOT planners announce why they weren’t issuing Free Transponders to those with HOV decals on their cars?  It’s not too late Metro for you to do this…

  • From the ExpressLanes FAQ:

    Will alternative fuel/hybrid vehicles with stickers qualify to ride in the Metro ExpressLanes free of charge?

    No. Driving alone in an alternative fuel/hybrid vehicle helps reduce pollution, but it does not reduce congestion. Alternative fuel/hybrid vehicles will be treated like all other vehicles.


  • The blame belongs with the Bush era USDOT right-wing technocrats that crafted the program that is funding this. I only blame Metro for chasing money that in my opinion is too expensive to be worth having…

  • Erik Griswold

    At an unstaffed station, yes, it certainly can be “Too difficult to pay for a fare”:


    And these comments are coming from, AFAIK, “able-bodied” folks.

    What do you say to those amongst us who are less fortunate in their physical and menta;/cognitive abilities?

  • Erik Griswold

    But why should you get an all-you-can-eat-buffet pass Jay, just because you can afford it?  This project is about measuring and managing congestion, not emissions.

    (That’s also the best argument I can make for requiring Transponders of all vehicles; data collection) 

    But don’t worry, once the experiment is over in early 2014, you’ll be able to jump back into these lanes, and you have the ability to use HOV lanes elsewhere of course.

  • Livecrazed

    Which law was enacted, and when was the law enacted that allows the government to charge it’s citizens to use the infrastructure that their taxes already paid for?
    The income collected by the city to then maintain said infrastructure is supposed to come from enforcing speeding laws, cell phone use laws, changing lanes without a turn signal laws, single drivers in the HOV lanes in violation of the law, driving without proper registration (tag checks), and many other enforcible laws.
    Instead, someone was allowed to buy the right to “run and maintain” these lanes & bridges. Naturally, no enterprising businessman would touch this without a neat profit. Whoever allowed this to happen betrayed us, the tax-payers who pay his salary including benefits, and retirement benefits.

  • Paul

    s t

    This FasTrak scheme is a total scam. Congestion reduction? Really? Complete bs. I have been riding the I10 with my Fastrak transponder since it opened in Feb. 2013. There are few taking advantage of paying the option for having a faster ride to work. The number of cars riding in the fastrak lanes are not many. The average speed in the lanes is almost as fast as you want to drive until you come upon a slow Metro bus or the numerous Metro tow trucks they have cruising at rush hour. I drive 65+ and get passed by cars going 80+. The ride west bound from the start at just past the 605 interchange to the end at Alameda takes from 11 to 13 minutes. With this fast ride you’d think more would take advantage. I think those sitting in non fastrak lanes, completely stopped in sections, inching along inexorably to work are the smarter ones. They don’t have to pay the $95 to $125 a month it costs to enjoy the fastrak.

    When I first look at the advertised rate of 25cents a mile it seemed attractive. Then there was the congestion pricing. The idea was simple enough. It raised the rates up to $1.40 per mile to discourage those not willing to pay and who would opt of fastrak into the regular lanes thereby reducing the congestion in the fastrak, keeping the traffic moving at a minimum of 45mph.

    The problem is Metro is engaging in price gouging. The advertised trip time posted on the Metro fastrak sign is 12 to 13 minutes from the 605 to Alameda. It has been this way since it opened in Feb., yet the amount being charged keeps inching up. I paid $2.75 in Feb for the same trip time that now they charge $5.30. The bottom line is there is no congestion in the fastrak but they charge whatever they feel like charging. As for the lame ass quote from Mr. Villar’ “Everywhere it’s been tried, congestion has gone down,” I invite him to ride in the congested I10 lanes westbound at 7AM every morning. It is the same as it has always been if not worse. I will be leaving earlier and will take the regular 2+ carpool 210 route to work. The congestion pricing is having an unintended consequence. People will just refuse to ride and pay and the lanes will be empty except for those who can afford.

    moving at least 45 mph.


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