Top Story: Transportation
May 16, 2013
The Orange Line is feeling the squeeze. An immediate success upon its opening in 2005, ridership continues to surge on the San Fernando Valley’s dedicated busway, which runs from Woodland Hills and Chatsworth to North Hollywood. The line currently handles more than 30,000 passengers on an average weekday, making it the second busiest bus line in Los Angeles County. While that success is something to celebrate, elbow room is getting hard to come by.
“Yesterday it was pretty miserable,” said Mark Hill, who commutes between Sherman Oaks and downtown Los Angeles. “You had people letting the bus go because you could just not fit any more.”
Metro plans to relieve some pressure by adding additional service. Next week, the agency’s Board of Directors is expected to take action on an annual budget that includes $1.2 million for more midday buses on the Orange Line. More late night service was also added recently, and increased Saturday service is planned for late June.
Jon Hillmer, a 30-year veteran in Metro’s bus operations, said the popularity is due to the line’s speed and convenience.
“It offers rail-like service on rubber tires,” Hillmer said. “People board at stations, wait on platforms and pay their fares at machines.”
The line also provides important connections to other transit options. At Chatsworth station, it connects to Metrolink’s service to Ventura County. At the North Hollywood station, it connects to the Red Line subway, which provides access to Hollywood, downtown L.A. and the rest of Metro’s rail system.
While improvements are planned to handle the growth in ridership during off-peak hours, rush hour is a different story. One additional bus trip will be squeezed onto the back end of the peak traffic period but, after that, the agency is just about maxed out on how many buses it can run at a time. Among other issues, the line is constrained at intersections with north-south roadways, which are managed by the city of Los Angeles’ Department of Transportation.
“Running buses every 4 minutes during rush hour is the best we can do under the current traffic configuration,” Hillmer said. “The city is reluctant to go below the 4-minute frequency level.”
Jonathan Hui, a spokesman for the city agency, said it allows buses to pass through the intersections every two minutes, but they only get special priority—early or longer green lights—every four minutes. That preferential treatment is important to keep the line moving swiftly.
“Not everybody can get the green at the same time,” Hui said. “The Orange Line is obviously important, but so are drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists.”
The two agencies are currently working on a solution to the problem. Hillmer said possibilities include sending two buses in tandem through intersections, or getting shorter but more frequent green lights to enable more buses to get through.
While the rush hour fixes remain a work in progress, adding extra buses during off-peak hours should be a big help to riders who crowd the Orange Line before and after rush hour.
“At 7:45 p.m., there are still a lot of people waiting, ” said Isabel Barbosa, who commutes from her home in Woodland Hills to downtown L.A. Even at 8:30 p.m., “it’s usually standing room only,” said another commuter, Ian Tudor.
Most of the current rider congestion occurs between the station at Sepulveda Boulevard and North Hollywood, but as last June’s extension of the line to Chatsworth matures, Hillmer expects more growth on the western end.
Ridership probably hasn’t even peaked for the year. The months of September and October, when students return to school, are typically the busiest. The extra riders should push the line’s numbers closer to those of Metro’s busiest bus line—the 720 Rapid, which runs between Commerce and Santa Monica on Wilshire Boulevard and averages about 40,000 riders each weekday.
Despite the ridership boom, Orange Line commuters like Mark Hill say they appreciate the smooth, fast ride the line offers—even when it’s standing room only.
“The buses are nicely appointed,” he said. “There’s plenty of stuff to hang on to.”
April 18, 2013
Bruce Shelburne is hoping for the best. But he’s bracing for “a learning experience.”
As Metro’s executive director for rail operations, Shelburne will have his hands full this Sunday, when the hugely popular CicLAvia winds its way for the first time from downtown Los Angeles to Venice, promising to pack the rail system with riders headed to points along the 15-mile route. At the same time, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books and the Grand Prix of Long Beach will also be feeding crowds onto the rail lines.
Still, Shelburne, a 26-year Metro veteran, says he’s learned not to get overly stressed by the logistics and pitfalls of his job. “I’m learning to let go a little bit,” he says. “Otherwise you’re going to find yourself on the wrong end of a shovel, six-feet under.”
Shelburne expects one major CicLAvia hotspot to be the new Expo Line’s Culver City station, which, for now, is the closest stop to the sea. That end-of-the-line location will make it a major—and potentially clogged—entrance and exit point for people interested in traveling only along the route’s western end. Culver City’s elevated station might also complicate things because cyclists will have to carry bikes up and down stairs or crowd into elevators.
Increasing the potential congestion, CicLAvia has placed one of its “hubs” there to provide water, restrooms, and bike repairs, while Culver City and its businesses are planning a variety of entertainment options, including free massages and live music to complement food and shopping deals. A bike valet will help people make sure their wheels are secure while they browse the area.
Throughout Metro’s rapidly expanding rail system, Shelburne and his staff will also have to grapple with the reality that many CicLAvia passengers will be riding the rails for the first time and are unfamiliar with the agency’s TAP Card system, which can be confusing to the uninitiated.
“Trust me,” Shelburne says, “if that becomes a bottleneck, we’ll undo that real quick. We’ll address it with any means necessary to get people moving.”
Shelburne says that he sees CicLAvia and other major seam-stretching L.A. events as laboratories for lessons that can be applied in the future. For example, based on past CicLAvias, Shelburne says he’s doubling the number of trains on some lines. And while bikes are normally limited to two per train, Shelburne says, “we tend to look the other way on this kind of day.” In fact, Metro staffers will try to devote one car or maybe more per train to cyclists.
“It’s not all about the bikes,” Shelburne says. “We can’t take all the seats out. We have 100 million riders boarding the system annually and the majority of them don’t use bikes….The advantage is that bicyclists, especially the experienced ones, tend to work well with each other.”
(On Thursday, the regional rail service Metrolink announced it would be putting all 17 of its specially-outfitted “bike cars” into service on Sunday to serve the CicLAvia crowds. More information is here.)
While Shelburne is modest about his team’s successes managing past events, he’s particularly proud of one of his personal contributions—deploying Metro staffers to help people navigate the system and provide a human face to agency. Humor helps, too, he says. “If you’re not afraid to make a joke at your own expense, it goes a long way.”
On the future of bikes and trains in general, Shelburne sees a growing challenge and the need for a new relationship between cyclists and other passengers. “It seems like our bicycle ridership has really gone sky high,” he says.
Metro has already removed seats from older rail cars, and new cars will include additional accommodations for bicycles. But in the long term, Shelburne says, Metro will need to look at additional measures, such as arranging seats around the edges of cars to open more floor space.
While Shelburne admits he’s not one to jump on a bike very often, he does spend a plenty of time on the rails each day. He commutes from his home Oxnard to Union Station in downtown L.A.—a 70-mile trip that takes more than 90 minutes each way. On the way home, it’s a chance to catch up with work. But in the morning, he says, the smooth ride is the perfect opportunity for a pre-office nap.
“What rail buys,” he says, “is peace of mind and consistency. It just calms you down and you don’t have to worry about some of the idiots on the road.”
April 4, 2013
Every spring, it happens like clockwork: Vin Scully’s voice lilts across the metropolis, Dodger dogs become an essential food group and downtown L.A. resigns itself to 80-plus nights of traffic headaches.
This year, though, there’s an upstart rookie in town: a 1.5-mile dedicated Dodger Stadium Express bus lane running along Sunset Boulevard, aiming to revolutionize how the getting-to-the-stadium game is played.
With the Dodgers under new management and the stadium freshly spiffed up with a $100 million renovation, aggressive efforts are underway to crack one of L.A.’s thorniest traffic dilemmas—getting fans into and out of Chavez Ravine when most home games overlap with downtown’s always lively afternoon rush hour.
It paid off on the first day, he said: “I don’t think ever in Dodgers history we’ve cleared [stadium traffic from] Sunset on Opening Day before the first pitch…It was a huge success.”
But while ridership on the Dodger Stadium Express buses is up—9,750 so far this year, compared to 7,157 at the same time last year—general traffic downtown this week has been, well, foul.
“Obviously, when you take a lane away, it will have an impact,” Sahakian said, “but it’s also driver behavior. There’s some tweaking to be done.”
The new lane on Sunset, while a boon to game-goers who ride the express buses, is clearly confounding some drivers.
“It’s new to motorists; they don’t know what it is,” Sahakian said of the dedicated lane, which begins at Figueroa and runs through Elysian Park to the stadium.
Those used to driving in the curbside space now taken up by the new, 12-foot-wide bus lane will need to adjust by changing their lane choice, or their route, he said. And those headed to the game by car should give some serious thought to taking the bus next time. (The buses depart from Union Station at 10-minute intervals before each game, and every 30 minutes while the game is in progress.)
Other adjustments also are in the works. Sahakian is proposing that the city’s Automated Traffic Surveillance and Control system be up and running for all home games, as it was on Opening Day, so real-time adjustments can be made to traffic signals. Sahakian also is suggesting that cars carrying four or more people be allowed to use the special lane.
“We’re brainstorming,” he said. “It’s a challenge. The venue, the location, is a challenge for us.”
This year, enthusiasm about the team and its new owners means likely higher attendance, with 20 games already sold out, Sahakian said. And that means heavier traffic.
“We know attendance is going to be very high. We’re excited about it, but with that comes challenges.”
Renata Simril, the Dodgers’ senior vice president for external affairs, said the organization is heavily promoting Dodger Express bus ridership and the new dedicated lane, including on Scully’s popular broadcasts.
She said the Dodgers have also made adjustments to make it quicker for motorists to get into the stadium parking lots. “Ambassadors” now walk down lines of waiting cars to accept parking payment. (They’re still accepting cash only, but by next season should be equipped with mobile devices that will allow them to take credit cards.)
In addition, the ballpark is opening half an hour earlier before games—at 4:30 p.m. for a 7:10 p.m. start.
“Every little bit helps,” Simril said. “We’re trying to take a multi-pronged approach.”
The Dodger Express buses, which are free to riders with a game ticket and $1.50 each way for other passengers, run on clean-burning compressed natural gas and are funded by a two-year, $1.1 million grant from a regional air pollution reduction committee.
City officials and the Dodgers are hoping that increasing express bus ridership will reduce the number of cars coming into the stadium, and the dedicated lane on Sunset is seen as an important tool in persuading people to hop aboard.
“Taking one lane away is going to impact people driving to the stadium,” Sahakian acknowledged, “but at the same time, you’re incentivizing mass transit.”
Looking at the long-term picture, though, Sahakian thinks a bolder solution may be called for.
“My personal recommendation,” he said, “would be a monorail.”
March 14, 2013
It was 1913 when William Mulholland famously declared, “There it is. Take it.”
But it wasn’t until 1915 that thirsty folks down in the city of Los Angeles could actually take a swig of all that Owens River water pouring into the Los Angeles Aqueduct.
The missing link? The City Trunk Line, known at the time as the “San Fernando Syphon,” an underground water pipe stretching from Sylmar across the Valley (not yet part Los Angeles) through a tunnel in the Santa Monica Mountains to the Franklin Reservoir above Beverly Hills.
With the trunk line’s completion on June 6, 1914, and connecting pipes finished the following year, Mulholland’s aqueduct at last had a direct connection to the city whose growth it would fuel so explosively in the decades to come.
Now, 99 years later, a new generation of Angelenos is feeling its power. And not in a good way.
Commuters on Coldwater Canyon Avenue, a major thoroughfare between the San Fernando Valley and the Westside, recently learned that the street will be closing between Mulholland Drive and Ventura Boulevard for nearly five weeks, from March 23-April 25, so that the city’s Department of Water and Power can replace a 1.3-mile segment of the aging pipe. [Updated 4/24/13: Coldwater Canyon has been reopened, two days ahead of schedule, city officials announced. However, restrictions on left-hand turns are still in place through June 1.)
Clearly, the inconvenience will be sizeable. As Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky told reporters at a news conference this week announcing the closure: “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. And this is a pig of a project.”
But he and other local leaders emphasized that the work is important—and unavoidable.
Corroded and susceptible to leaks, a section of the trunk line burst sensationally in 2009, sending millions of gallons of water bursting through the pavement and damaging homes and businesses around Coldwater Canyon and Ventura Boulevard. Earlier, in 2002, the line ruptured in Pacoima after workers inadvertently scraped the pipe, hastening corrosion on that segment to the breaking point.
The Coldwater Canyon closure comes after some 35-45% of the old pipe already has been replaced; modernizing the entire trunk line is expected to take about ten years, said Susan Rowghani, director of the DWP’s water engineering and technical services division.
About 25,000 gallons of water gush through the trunk line on the average each minute. With a diameter ranging from 62 inches to 72 inches in various places, the pipe is smaller than the massive pipes of the aqueduct itself, which range from 84 inches to 120 inches and were photographed at the time of construction with automobiles and even horse-drawn buggies parked comfortably inside. Other than size, though, the pipes used in the aqueduct and trunk line were virtually identical, made of the same riveted steel that was the construction standard at the time, said Fred Barker, manager of water transmission operations at the DWP and the agency’s unofficial historian.
Despite the trunk line’s ripe old age, he said, it’s far from unique in the city’s subterranean water world, where 287 miles of the DWP’s 7,289 miles of pipe date back to 1914 or before.
There’s even a cast iron pipe from the mid-1880s that still runs under 7th Street downtown for six to eight blocks, he said. There are no plans to replace it at the moment. “It’s performing very well,” Barker said. “There’s no need to replace a pipe that doesn’t leak.”
Sadly, the same can’t be said of the venerable City Trunk Line. So it’s with a sense of respect for history that Barker marks its inevitable passing from the scene.
“We talk about this event in 1913, when Mulholland and 40,000 people were out there and the water came down the hill and he said, ‘There it is. Take it.’ But the only way they could take it was in little souvenir bottles…if you wanted that water, you had to go out to Sylmar to get it.
“They had to get it to the city. This is the pipe that did it.”
Now the riveted steel pipe of a century ago is giving way to modern day welded steel—which, Barker said, “is going to last at least as long—and maybe twice as long.”
February 27, 2013
As Metro officials prepare to latch the gates on L.A.’s subway system this June, they’ve had obstacles to overcome in familiarizing passengers with the TAP cards that are now mandatory for most travelers.
The final frontier, though, has been figuring out a way to allow Metrolink riders, who use paper tickets, to connect seamlessly with Metro trains once the gates are locked.
The solution: microchip-embedded paper tickets that will unlock gates for Metrolink commuters passing through.
Starting in March, that workaround will be getting a major tryout in the real world, with gates temporarily locking at Union Station’s West Portal during certain planned intervals as part of a joint project by Metro and Metrolink.
The object is to see if Metrolink riders and an in-house test group of passengers can navigate the gates smoothly.
Meanwhile, an intermittent series of locking tests has been rolling out elsewhere in the system to see how the TAP card-carrying public is faring—and how Metro employees are responding.
Recent tests at the Wilshire/Normandie, Wilshire/Western and North Hollywood stations have put staffers through their paces responding to patrons’ calls for assistance through the “Gate Help Phone System,” or GTEL, which is being installed at all stations with gates.
“This whole effort right now is to get our folks who man the GTELs some practice,” said David Sutton, Metro’s Deputy Executive Officer of TAP . “I don’t think they’ve had any questions they can’t answer.”
Sutton’s team also is grappling with occasional glitches like the bottlenecks that can crop up when a passenger’s TAP card doesn’t work, or a customer attempts to maneuver a bicycle through an emergency door.
“Customers are on a learning curve, that’s true, but they seem to be getting it,” Sutton said. “Even at North Hollywood, which is a very, very busy station, they’re getting it.”
February 7, 2013
As Los Angeles learns the ins and outs of its first toll roads, the agency behind the pilot project is taking a look at who the early adopters are.
And wondering why folks in Tenafly, New Jersey, Peoria, Illinois and Peterborough, New Hampshire saw fit to purchase one of the new transponders to drive on the 11-mile stretch of ExpressLanes on the 110 Freeway south of downtown L.A.
“Maybe they’re business travelers. Maybe they’re the parents of students going to school out here,” said Stephanie Wiggins, who manages the ExpressLanes project for Metro and says she expects to learn more about the out-of-town phenomenon as research continues.
As it stands now, people from more than 400 cities and towns in California and across the country as far away as Honolulu have purchased FasTrak transponders since the program started in November.
Most, however, are from Los Angeles County—where Metro’s ZIP code analysis shows that Los Angeles residents are the top transponder buyers, followed by people in Torrance, Redondo Beach and Long Beach. The Top 10 also includes residents of more northerly communities like Pasadena and Glendale.
Some 88,000 transponders were in circulation as of Tuesday, putting the project on a fast track toward reaching its goal of 100,000 in its first year of operation.
A second set of toll lanes, running for 14 miles on the 10 Freeway between Alameda Street in downtown Los Angeles and the 605 Freeway, is set to open on Feb. 23.
As Metro and Caltrans prepare to roll out the lanes on the 10, they’re analyzing what they’ve learned so far and how to apply it.
For example, outreach is being stepped up to include 230 religious institutions along the 110 corridor, where brochures will be distributed and “pulpit presentations” are planned, either by clergy or ExpressLanes representatives.
“Faith-based organizations are a powerful forum for getting information out to community members,” Wiggins said.
They’re also a good place to get out the word about the program’s “equity plan,” in which low-income households can get a transponder for $15—instead of the $40 usually required. Smaller discounts for transponders, which work on toll lanes throughout California, not just in L.A. County, are available when purchased through the Automobile Club of Southern California, Costco and Albertsons.
There have been no accidents attributed to the ExpressLanes, but officials are increasing signage to make sure motorists know the rules of the road. Wiggins said there have been reports of “near-misses” on the 110 involving drivers who have dangerously crossed the double white lines between the toll lanes and regular lanes, perhaps trying to avoid a fine for getting caught on camera without a transponder.
Another side effect of the toll lanes: traffic has gotten more congested in the freeway lanes next to them. Wiggins said that traffic should eventually revert to normal as motorists become familiar with the stretch and the influx of CHP officers now patrolling it.
On another front, Metro’s Board of Directors is considering whether to scrap the program’s $3 monthly maintenance fee, which is charged to occasional users who drive in the lanes fewer than four times a month. Supervisor and Metro Director Zev Yaroslavsky contends in a motion that the fee should be dropped as a matter of fairness.
The ExpressLanes replaced what was formerly a high-occupancy vehicle lane on the 110. But Metro’s analysis shows that carpoolers—who ride for free in the new lanes as long as they purchase a transponder—still represent 62% of the customers so far and have been using the lanes most heavily between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m.
Solo drivers, who pay tolls when they use the lanes, make up 38% of ExpressLanes users and are out in greatest force between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m.
Overall, the number of daily trips is increasing, from 39,820 in mid-November to 43,900 by mid-January.
For those overseeing the pilot project, though, the most important number is 45—as in miles per hour. That’s the minimum average speed the lanes must achieve to be considered a success, under the terms of the $210 million federal grant that’s paying for them.
So far, they’ve been up to speed 100% of the time.
December 13, 2012
As L.A. motorists adjust to the county’s first ExpressLanes, they’ve had to get up to speed on a new world of transponders, infrared enforcement cameras and pay-as-you-drive pricing.
Thousands of fare evasion citations already have gone out to drivers caught in the new lanes on the 110 Freeway—inadvertently or on purpose—without the required transponders. And although fines were waived during an introductory trial period, motorists face hefty penalties of $154 or more for driving without a transponder—and $401-plus for solo drivers who fudge the setting on their device to indicate they’re carpooling and thus entitled to a free ride.
But it turns out that even motorists attempting to play by the rules by obtaining a transponder and paying required tolls have an additional price to pay—a $3 monthly maintenance fee levied on occasional users who drive in the lanes fewer than four times a month.
That seems unfair to Supervisor and Metro Director Zev Yaroslavsky, who has introduced a motion, to be considered at the Metro board’s January meeting, that would eliminate the monthly fee.
Penalizing the occasional user by levying a fee discourages participation in the pilot program and sends the wrong message, Yaroslavsky said in the motion.
“This fee is unfair and discourages new users,” the motion said. “We should treat all subscribers equally.”
November 27, 2012
The free ride is over for thousands of motorists who’ve been driving in Los Angeles’ first toll lanes without paying their way.
The new ExpressLanes on the 110 Freeway opened November 10, and as of Monday, Metro had mailed 12,297 citations to motorists caught on camera without the required FasTrak transponders. Collectively, the first batch of toll lane scofflaws owes $18,358 in outstanding fees—a total that’s expected to rise as more citations go out in the weeks ahead.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that, for now, offenders are only being asked to fork over enough to cover their tolls. They aren’t yet being hit with any fines for rolling into the new pay-as-you-go fast lanes that used to be reserved solely for carpoolers and motorcyclists. (They continue to ride for free but, like everybody else who uses the new lanes, still need to have a transponder. Here’s how to get one. Read more about the rules of the road here or consult the project’s Frequently Asked Questions page.)
The Metro fines for those driving in the lanes without a transponder—$25 plus a $30 penalty if you pay late—kick in beginning December 10, when the pilot program hits the one-month mark. In addition, the California Highway Patrol has the authority to issue tickets of $401-plus for solo drivers who evade fares by placing their transponders on a carpool setting, and penalties of at least $154 for those driving in the lanes without the device. (To help CHP officers know who to pull over, there are sensors along the 11-mile route, along with beacons to signal to officers whether cars have transponders and whether they’re set to correctly reflect how many people are in the vehicle.)
As motorists adjust to a huge change in L.A.’s freeway culture, there’s a certain amount of confusion out there, said CHP Sergeant Terry Liu, ExpressLanes supervisor for the agency.
“A lot of [drivers] don’t understand that every vehicle has to have a transponder regardless of whether or not you satisfy the car pool requirement,” Liu said. “We are seeing people crossing over the double white lines, and then, when we pull them over, we notice they have no transponder.”
At this stage, Metro’s primary goal is not to punish violators but to get more people on board with the program, said Stephanie Wiggins, the project manager for Metro.
“When we send out the [toll citation] notices, we also send out an application” to get a transponder and set up an account, Wiggins said. “If they apply, they can get a waiver of the penalty. We want good customers, good transactions. It’s partly a marketing tool.”
Wiggins says the fine-free grace period also is an attempt to acknowledge that, despite outreach efforts, there was no way for Metro to engage the attention of every potential driver on the busy freeway. She also said that some confusion was to be expected initially. Once drivers start receiving citations and word spreads, she expects more people to fall in line. An electric sign with travel times and toll amounts, due to be unveiled this week, should also help ease some of the confusion.
There’s no way to immediately determine how many violators are gaming the system or are merely confused. Wiggins noted, however, that some of the citations are going to repeat toll lane offenders. But not for long, she predicted.
“Once they get tickets and understand that we do have a way to monitor them, we expect more compliance,” she said.
Overall, Wiggins said, traffic speeds in the ExpressLanes have exceeded the agency’s goal of 45 miles per hour. In fact, average speeds during peak traffic have been 63 miles per hour in the northbound lanes and 58 miles per hour in the southbound lanes, she said.
However, traffic in the free lanes has gotten more congested, she added, attributing the problem in part to motorists slowing down to try figure out the new program.
The toll lanes on the 110 run from the 91 Freeway to Adams Boulevard in downtown L.A. In January, 14 additional miles of ExpressLanes are set to open on the 10 Freeway between the 605 Freeway and Alameda Street downtown.
November 1, 2012
In the city known for its freeways, things are about to get a little less free. Toll lanes are coming to the 110 Freeway starting November 10, when Metro’s new ExpressLanes pilot program shifts into gear, dramatically changing the way motorists operate on a major roadway south of downtown Los Angeles.
The program is aimed at reducing congestion on the 110, a major route for commuters who work, live or pass through downtown. For the first time, solo drivers will—for a price—be able to travel in what were once lanes dedicated solely to carpoolers.
“Status quo isn’t working, and that’s the reality,” said Stephanie Wiggins, the project manager. “Traffic is at such crisis proportions that we need to make a change.”
But Wiggins acknowledges that the logistics may be confusing, at least initially, in an L.A. motoring culture that for generations has cherished the “free” in its freeway system.
So buckle up your seatbelts and pay attention. Here’s what you need to know.
Everybody who wants to use the express lanes needs to get a transponder for their vehicle and establish an account, with an initial deposit of $40. Everyone also will pay a $3 monthly maintenance fee, in addition to fares charged for driving in the lanes, which will vary depending on how heavy the traffic is. The more congested, the higher the price per mile. Fees range from 25-cents to $1.40 per mile.
Real-time pricing will be displayed on electronic signs along the freeway, and sensors will communicate with on-board transponders to deduct fares automatically from the pre-paid account.
Now—stay with us—here’s some of the fine print.
Carpoolers and motorcyclists will still be able to use the lanes without paying fares. But to do so, they’ll need to open an account and get a transponder, which costs money. (Applicants can, however, apply for an income-based “equity plan,” which reduces the initial deposit to $15 and waives the monthly fee for those who qualify.)
The system is based on the transponders’ ability to read how many people are traveling in a vehicle. So drivers will have to set the switch on their transponders to 1, 2 or 3—indicating how many people are onboard. If it’s set to “1,” the fares for solo drivers will be triggered; otherwise, it’s a free ride for carpoolers.
Drivers can sign up on the program’s website, at Metro customer service walk-in centers or by calling 511. It can also be done at local Automobile Club branches, where full accounts will be offered at a 20% discount.
The transponder will work on FasTrak toll roads across California, including those already operating in Orange, Riverside and San Diego counties. In Los Angeles County, the lanes will start on the 110 between downtown and the Harbor Gateway Transit Center, near the 91 Freeway in the Carson area. Come January or February of next year, they’ll also open on the 10 east of downtown. See this map for more detail on the L.A. County lanes.)
Law enforcement and cameras will make sure everyone is paying the proper fares. California Highway Patrol will issue $341 citations to FasTrak users who have set their transponders to indicate the wrong number of riders. Camera enforcement will be used for those without transponders, with violators receiving fines equal to the toll they would have paid plus a $25 penalty.
The pilot program is being funded by a $210 million grant from the United States Department of Transportation. The grant underwrites the program, road improvements and increased bus service in the corridor, using 59 new clean fuel buses. To encourage more people to try the bus instead of driving, Metro is waiving monthly account fees for registered TAP card users who make four one-way trips along the corridor.
As is probably evident by now, there are a lot of moving parts to the express lanes project. Yet Wiggins remains optimistic, citing the success of similar programs in other parts of California and nationwide.
“All the other cities have experienced a ramp-up,” said Wiggins. “There is a period where the customer takes time to adopt it.”
Metro is partnering on the project with Caltrans, and has contracted with FasTrak, a private company, to produce the transponders. After the one-year pilot period has ended, collected data will be analyzed and presented to the state legislature. Then, Metro’s Board of Directors will decide whether to continue the program or scrap it.