For whom the lanes toll

By Aaron Blevins, 12/20/2012

Citations swell as drivers adjust to new 110 Freeway lanes


If residents receive a citation letter for driving in the new high-occupancy toll lanes on the Harbor (110) Freeway, don’t fret just yet — the grace period has been extended on the new Metro ExpressLanes.

The lanes are part of a one-year pilot program by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) that began collecting tolls on Nov. 10. Since then, approximately 12,000 people have been cited for driving in the lanes without a transponder.

“It’s a learning process for everyone involved,” Metro spokeswoman Anna Chen said.

To use the ExpressLanes, one must have a fast-track transponder that can be set to however many occupants are in the vehicle. Single-passenger vehicle can still use the lanes, but they must pay a toll. Vehicles with multiple passengers can use it for free, but motorists must have the transponder to avoid citations.

While Angelenos continue to rack up tickets, officials have extended the grace period until the high-occupancy toll lanes open on the Santa Monica (10) Freeway early next year, Chen said. In the interim, the citations are requesting payment of the toll, which can cost from $.25 to $1.40 per mile, depending on the time of day. The average toll per is $5.40 thus far.

Chen said Metro has been conducting various methods of outreach in order to inform residents of the changes. She said it may take motorists some time to adjust, which is why the grace period was extended.

“This is new. We don’t have toll lanes in Los Angeles,” Chen added.

When the grace period is over, motorists without transponders who are cited will be charged the cost of their toll, Metro spokesperson Rick Jager said. If the toll is not paid within five days, a $25 fee will follow. If that total is not paid within 30 days, a $30 fee will be added. However, if caught by California Highway Patrol officers, the cost could jump to $400, Jager said.

Chen said the idea behind the ExpressLanes is to relieve congestion and promote carpooling and public transportation in Los Angeles County. It is too early to tell if the lanes have assisted that goal, she said.

“We’re trying to change the way the city commutes,” Chen said.

She said there are no other plans to create high-occupancy toll lanes in the local area. Chen said the “unique” program targeted the 110 and 10 freeways due to their respective traffic issues.

“There’s a lot of interchanges in these two areas, so they tend to have the worst congestion,” she added.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, 3rd District, said he believes the project will offer people who carpool an alternative to being stuck in traffic. He said the ExpressLanes are the first of their kind in Los Angeles County.

“This is something that is being done across the country,” Yaroslavsky said. “We’re really late in the game. On the whole, it’s an idea worthy of testing.”

He said he has not heard many complaints about the new lanes, aside from a $3 maintenance charge applied to people who have a transponder but only use the lanes less than four times per month. Yaroslavsky said he’s trying to get the fee rescinded, and the Metro board will discuss the issue in January.

“It discourages participation,” he said. “It adds a negative disincentive to this program. It’s not appropriate. It’s not logical. It’s not fair. …I think there’s a good likelihood the [Metro board] will reconsider that fee.”

The new lanes have been installed on 11 miles of the 110 Freeway, between Adams Boulevard and the Harbor Gateway Transit Center. The 10 Freeway lanes will run for 14 miles, between Alameda Street and Interstate 605.

To receive a transponder, drivers must open a Fast-Track account, which requires a $40 deposit. The transponder is then shipped or picked up from Metro customer service centers in Gardena and El Monte, and tolls are deducted from the initial deposit. The devices are fixed to vehicles’ windshields. Jager said approximately 68,000 motorists have ordered transponders thus far. To order, call 5-1-1.

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