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Metro Considering Higher Passenger Minimums, Higher Tolls For Carpool Lanes

The 7th Street bridge over the 110 Freeway. (Photo by Andy Sternberg via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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Faced with slower speeds in carpool lanes and toll lanes, L.A. County and Metro voted Thursday to research possibilities of either raising tolls or imposing higher passenger minimums, according to the LA Times. Carpool and toll lanes that receive federal funding must maintain speeds of 45 mph at least 90% of the time during peak hours, and most lanes in L.A. County fail to meet this requirement.

The toll lanes on the 110 freeway were introduced in 2013 and within two years faced almost equal congestion as the regular lanes, leading Metro to impose higher tolls to minimal effect. Officials have also tried switching toll lanes to carpool only during peak hours, but current enforcement tactics are not effective enough to prevent carpool lane "cheaters" who switch their toll transponders to carpool despite being alone in the car.

Expensive toll lanes often bring arguments of instilling class divides on accessible transportation, leaving low-income riders to sit in traffic as privileged drivers zoom past in the toll lane. Raising the toll price has the potential to allow larger populations to reap the benefits, however, by discouraging driving and funneling money into public transportation projects. The LA Times cites the London model of charging all drivers entering the city during peak hours, which has paid for $1.7 billion in walking, biking, and public transportation improvements.

Pricing is only half of the equation, however, and the Metro board of directors have differing views on how extreme to take the passenger requirement. Paul Krekorian, Metro director and L.A. City councilman, wants to consider the possibility of restricting carpool lanes to exclusively high-occupancy vehicles like buses. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl argues against raising the minimum to three people, as she believes that two-person carpooling still has an appreciable effect. L.A.'s growing population and economy means this problem won't go away unless Metro implements new tactics. With self-driving cars still facing major safety roadblocks, and new public transportation projects still years away from completion, methods of handling L.A.'s traffic are still urgent concerns.