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Metro Is Happy With Its Toll Lanes Experiment, The 405 Could Be Up Next

An arty view of our most-loathed freeway (Photo by Kris via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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Metro is pretty pleased with its experiment in converting 25 miles of carpool lanes into toll lanes. The board considers it such a success that it wants to make those toll lanes permanent and consider expanding the program to the other 435 miles of carpool lanes in the county. The next carpool lanes in its sights? The 405.

The 110 and 10 freeways converted certain stretches of its carpool lanes into toll lanes over a year ago. Only users with a transponder in their car—which isn't free—can use those lanes. Carpoolers with a transponder can ride in the lanes for free, and single drivers have to pay for the privilege to ride in those lanes with rates that vary depending on traffic. Rates start at a quarter a mile and go up to $1.40/mile.

The goal of the program was to keep those toll lanes moving at least 45 mph, and, well, raise some money for Metro. It's been successful on both of those counts and it even unexpectedly drove some people to use public transportation, though it hasn't improved driving in the free lanes much, according to a report released by an independent group that came out earlier this week. The report found that people in the toll lanes were able to go about 18 mph faster than they could during the morning commute on the 10 freeway. Drivers in the free lanes on the 110 freeway in the morning ended up inching along at the same rate as they had before the toll lanes opened up. Since the toll lanes opened, boardings on the Silver Line that goes from the San Gabriel Valley and South Bay to downtown went up a whopping 27 percent. About 260,000 people signed up for the program—more than double what Metro hoped for. The program also helped Metro raise $23 million over 14 months, funds that will be used for pedestrian, transit and vanpool improvements around the freeways.

It sounds like the program is doing its job and making Metro money, so it's no shocker that the Metro board voted unanimously to lobby to make the program on the 110 and 10 freeways permanent. It's not their call—they'll have to wait on a state senate bill to continue and expand the program, according to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.

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The 405 freeway, whose 10 miles of carpool lanes is slated to open next month, was floated as the next freeway where this project could expand. This isn't the first time: last year county supervisor Mike Antonovich proposed the 405 freeway be next given that the construction project has gone over budget. Antonovich has said he is against congestion pricing, but doesn't mind the idea of Westsiders paying their own way for a project that the whole county is on the hook for. (Constituency over principles!)

In any case, it sounds like there's little standing in the way of more toll lanes besides a state senate bill. "We've had a very, very successful project that I think is going to do nothing but grow," said county supervisor and Metro board member Gloria Molina.

The one bummer is that despite all the money Metro has brought in with this project, it decided not to waive fees for the transponders for anyone, according to the Los Angeles Times. Sure, it's not a lot but the $1/month for having a transponder in your car could be off-putting to drivers (especially low-income drivers) who carpool regularly or drivers who would just like to be able to cough up $15 when they're in a rush to get to LAX a couple times a year. Earlier Metro waived the fee for people who used the transponder four times a month, but those people will have to pay those fees now, too.

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