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Car Congestion

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.)

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