First look: transponders for Metro's ExpressLanes project

And there it is above: the transponders that motorists will need to use the future ExpressLanes on the 10 and 110 freeways.

The project is converting the carpool lanes on sections of both roads — see the map after the jump — to “High-Occupancy Toll” lanes, known more commonly as HOT lanes.

Those who currently use the carpool lanes won’t be charged a toll. When traffic is moving and there’s sufficient space in the lanes, other motorists will be able to use the lanes in exchange for a toll. The price of the toll will rise and fall depending on the level of demand.

There will be two HOT lanes in each direction on both the 10 and 110 and the hope is that this one-year experiment — funded by the federal government — will help speed up traffic and transit use across the entire freeway by better distributing vehicles across all lanes. The ExpressLanes on the 110 are scheduled to open in the early fall of 2012 with the lanes on the 10 to open in early 2013.

A map of the ExpressLanes project. Click above to view a larger image.

Transponders are used around the U.S. to electronically collect tolls from motorists — it’s a lot faster than making everyone stop at a toll booth. Metro’s transponders are unique because of the switch on them that motorists must set to tell electronic sensors along the ExpressLanes how many people are in their vehicle.

A couple of examples of how this will work:

Let’s say you’re a motorist who carpools with two other people on the 10 freeway. Before entering the ExpressLanes, you would need to flip the switch to “3.” That tells the sensors and law enforcement officials that there are three people in your car and that you should not be charged any tolls because you are carpooling.

Another example: Let’s say you’re driving alone on the 110 freeway and would like to use the ExpressLanes to escape heavy traffic in the general lanes. In that case, you would flip the switch to “1” and the sensor would charge the motorist a toll.

And how much is the toll? Again, it will depend on the level of traffic — the more traffic, the higher the toll to discourage too many people from using the ExpressLanes. Tolls will range from 25 cents per mile to $1.40 per mile. Overhead electronic signs will inform motorists of the current price of the tolls, so they can make a decision about whether they want to spend the money to enter the ExpressLanes or not.

How to get a transponder? They will be available beginning this spring for those who want to open a pre-paid account, which includes a deposit for the transponder and some money to cover tolls. It costs $40 to open an account with a credit or debit card, $75 for those paying with cash or check and $15 for qualified low-income commuters.

The transponders also work on other toll roads using the FasTrak transponder system, including 91ExpressLanes, the TollRoads in Orange County, the I-15 ExpressLanes in San Diego County and Express Lanes and bridge tolls in the Bay Area.

We’ll be writing a lot more about different aspects of the project in the coming weeks and months. There is also a lot more information on Metro’s ExpressLanes web page. Here are a few key links:

Frequently Asked Questions (English and Spanish)

Benefits to Carpoolers

ExpressLanes dynamic pricing

28 thoughts on “First look: transponders for Metro's ExpressLanes project

  1. I have to echo the concerns of JJJJ and others. My wife and I rarely drive the 110 Freeway (less than once a month), but when we do, we’ll be in the carpool lane. With this required transponder, what used to be free is now going to have an upfront cost of $40, plus an annual cost of $36.

    It seems to me the ones who have to pay the toll (solo drivers) should be the only ones who are required to own a transponder.

  2. @ Y Fukuzawa:

    Doesn’t matter what plates one has. Use the ExpressLanes with no Transponder and you will be either sent a fine (to the registered owner) by a camera or pulled over by the CHP, plates run, ID checked for any outstanding warrants, car searched if deemed probable cause, etc., etc. In other words just like a regular traffic stop.

  3. What will be fun is when travelers/commuters from San Diego come up to L.A. with their FasTrak transponders and think they can follow the same rules here as they are supposed to there. It’s the same state, right?

    Check out: http://fastrak.511sd.com/GettingStarted.aspx

    Under “What is FasTrak?”
    “…Carpools, vanpools, motorcycles, and permitted zero-emission vehicles can use the [Express Lanes] at no charge. Remember, if you have a FasTrak transponder in your vehicle, place it in the Mylar® bag that was provided to you when you signed up for your account so you don’t get charged for your trip if you have two or more people in your vehicle!”

  4. @Erik G.

    And that’s where the problem lies. Does Metro’s ETC system have the capability to even search license plate databases and cross reference with other agencies spanning across state or even international lines? For example can the camera even send a fine to a Maryland plate? A Baja California plate to Mexico? Or an Alberta plate to Canada? Where’s the money for that going to come from?

    In the case of rental cars, where does the fine go to? The rental car agency or the person who rented the car? Is there a system in place that if it goes to the rental car agency, that the cost of the fine will be passed along correctly to the person that rented it? Is there an option for rental car companies to place transponders on them on a per-request optional basis?

    Again, this whole thing is flawed from the start. Usually those that implement ETCs still have at least a single lane that’s still staffed for cases like these. It’s the same thing with our turnstiles, Metro only implemented an “all or nothing” solution; it’ll take TAP but won’t take paper passes. The same mistake is happening here; it’ll take FasTrak tags, but nothing else without consideration that Angelinos aren’t the only ones using our freeways.

  5. Frank M

    Steve, it’ll be greatly appreciated if you could answer Y Fukuzawa’s points on how the ExpressLanes project will collect tolls from those that don’t live in LA. I have a family living in Arizona who comes to LA frequently so it’ll be nice to know what my family can expect the next time they come and visit me. Will my family be automatically fined for going into an ExpressLane because they don’t have an RFID tag? How will this ExpressLane project work with their Arizona license plates?

  6. Hi Frank;

    They will need a transponder to use the ExpressLanes. Anyone can get one, including customers of other toll roads/agencies who want the switch option if they carpool on the ExpressLanes. It is also important to note that part of the initial transponder fee is a deposit that is refundable upon return of the transponder (the rest of the fee goes to your tolls). If your relatives use the lanes often, it may be worth getting one as the lanes will hopefully move traffic better than the current carpool lanes. The 10 will now have two carpool lanes in both directions.

    Steve Hymon
    Editor, The Source

  7. Just FYI: carpoolers pay bridge tolls in the Bay Area and can pay using cash or a transponder. Also, the ExpressLanes here represent a challenge as the 10 segment is free for 3+ riders in peak hours and the 110 is free for 2+ carpools at all times. Thus the transponder with the switch to help with enforcement.

    Steve Hymon
    Editor, The Source

  8. Pingback: Santa Monica & Westside Real Estate | Kristin Kanan | The Commute: Behold: Metro ExpressLanes Congestion Pricing Transponder!

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