Express Lanes Spread on California Freeways

Tom Warne Report, 21 December 2012

USC Digital News – December 18, 2012

A solo driver heading northbound on Interstate 110 through South Central Los Angeles can choose to pay a $1 toll on a given afternoon to travel the three-mile stretch in just a few minutes, rather than waiting in gridlock on the freeway. The newly re-branded Express Lanes, also known as High-Occupancy Toll lanes, are spreading across the state of California, giving other drivers the option to pay to use the lanes formerly reserved exclusively for car poolers.

“When you pay with time, no one gets any revenue,” Brian Taylor, head of the transportation studies institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, recently said on KCRW. “When you pay with money, you can get revenue, you can then produce parallel bus service, and you can do a variety of other things to try to upgrade and improve the facilities. So that’s one reason why we’re converting that time spent to money spent.”

Between July 2012 and June 2013, non-car poolers in California are projected to pay $54.7 million to drive in Express Lanes, according to public budget documents and interviews with project managers. The majority of this revenue will be spent on operations of the automated toll facilities.

Two new Express Lanes projects in California, including the 110 freeway, bring the state total to five. The nationwide total of 14 freeways with Express Lanes is expected to double, maybe even triple, over the next decade.

HOT Lanes are the simple economics of supply and demand. They will continue to proliferate as people express the value they place on time with their payment of fees to use these lanes. References to “Lexus Lanes” are common but unfounded in fact. In addition, it is not uncommon for governments to assess an additional fee to expedite routine services such as permits or plan reviews for developments. DOTs often pay resource agencies by either providing personnel or funding to get their environmental documents reviewed more quickly. That’s a fee for premium service. My personal favorite premium fee for enhanced government services right now is the $100 application fee I paid last year to be qualified for the TSA’s Pre line in airports. It means I don’t have to take off my shoes or light jacket or remove anything from my bags. And there is rarely anyone in the line. Fees for premium government services are here to stay and HOT lanes are yet another example of how they can influence behavior. TW

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