Metro and Caltrans announce availability of FasTrak transponders for ExpressLanes project on 10 and 110 freeways

ExpressLanes / FasTrak® transponder

ExpressLanes / FasTrak® transponder

The news: the transponders that are required to use the ExpressLanes are now available online, at a new customer centers in Gardena and El Monte and through the Auto Club. A press event is being held this morning and all the details are below in the news release from Metro:

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Duarte Mayor John Fasana, both Metro Board members, at the new customer center in Gardena. Photo by Juan Ocampo for Metro.

With the debut of the Metro ExpressLanes along the I-110 Harbor Freeway poised to open this Fall and Metro ExpressLanes along the San Bernardino Freeway opening in early 2013, Metro and Caltrans officials today announced the opening of the Metro ExpressLanes Customer Walk-in Center in Gardena where the public can open a FasTrak® account and receive a FasTrak® transponder to enable them to enter the Metro ExpressLanes.

The new Metro ExpressLanes walk-in center is located at 500 W. 190th Street in Gardena, a facility that also houses the Metro ExpressLanes customer processing center, responsible for the distribution of FastTrak® transponders. The walk in center is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday. The center is closed on Sunday.

In addition, the public is encouraged to open their Metro ExpressLanes FasTrak® accounts either online at www.metroexpresslanes.net, by calling 511 and saying “ExpressLanes”, at either the Gardena walk-in center or a temporary walk-in center located at the El Monte Station, 3501 Santa Anita Avenue in El Monte or mailing their application available online to Metro ExpressLanes, PO Box 3878, Gardena, CA 90247.

metroexpresslanes.net

Screenshot of www.metroexpresslanes.net home page — where you can order a transponder.

“Today we celebrate the opening of this Metro ExpressLanes Customer Service Center and remind the public of the need to fill out an application, open a FasTrak® account, and get on board the Metro ExpressLanes,” said L.A. County Supervisor and Metro Board Member Mark Ridley-Thomas. “This is going to be an exciting ride for everyone.”

Metro, in partnership with Caltrans, is embarking on a one-year demonstration program that will convert 11 miles of existing carpool lanes on the I-110 (Harbor Freeway Transitway) between the Harbor Gateway Transit Center/182nd Street and Adams Boulevard near downtown Los Angeles and 14 miles on the I-10 (El Monte Busway) between Union Station/Alameda Street and the I-605 Freeway to express toll lanes.

“Thanks to a federal grant by the US Department of Transportation, Los Angeles County is about to enter the congestion pricing arena with the hopes of better managing our existing infrastructure while changing commuter behavior by offering real transportation alternatives along these two heavily traveled corridors,” said Duarte Mayor and Metro Board Member John Fasana.

The ExpressLanes program seeks to reduce congestion by improving travel choices in the two corridors. Solo drivers, currently not allowed to use the carpool lanes, will be allowed to use the lanes for a toll. Carpools, transit, vanpools, privately operated buses and motorcycles will travel toll free. The general purpose lanes are not tolled. Net toll revenues will be reinvested in the corridor where they are generated for transportation improvements. Toll charges will range between 25 cents and $1.40 a mile depending on demand. Everyone planning to use the Metro ExpressLanes must have a FasTrak account and transponder.

“The opening of the FasTrak® Customer Service Center is an important milestone in the ExpressLanes project,” said California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) District 7 Director Mike Miles. “In a short time, motorists will have the opportunity to experience congestion relief on the 10 and 110 freeways.”

Also announced today is a partnership between Metro, Caltrans and the Automobile Club of Southern California (AAA) to offer its members a 20% discount if they obtain a FasTrak® transponder through AAA. Members can open an account with $40 in toll value for just $32 by accessing this option at www.AAA.com/metroexpresslanes.

“The Auto Club is pleased to offer a discounted transponder price to our members to encourage them to use the new ExpressLanes,” said Steven Finnegan, the Auto Club’s government affairs manager. “Creative solutions to LA’s traffic congestion problems are sorely needed, and we hope that opening the I-110 carpool lane to toll-paying solo drivers will provide a new option and improve congested traffic conditions for everyone.”

As a typical example of costs, to open an account by credit card/debit card, $40 is initially required as a toll balance with the transponder deposit waived. As the individual uses the Metro ExpressLanes as a solo driver, they are charged a toll which is deducted from their account toll balance. There is a minimum balance threshold of $10. Those currently in a carpool or vanpool will still need to open an account, however, the Metro FasTrak® transponders has a switch on them that allows the motorists to indicate if they are in a car/van pool and will not be charged a toll to use the lanes.

Equity accounts are also available. Qualifying commuters receive a $25 toll discount during account set-up so they only pay $15 to get a transponder. They must reside in LA County and have an annual income at or below $37,060 (Family of 3). Limit one per household.

The Metro ExpressLanes program is a $290-million project funded by a $210 million federal grant by the U.S. Department of Transportation as part of the Congestion Reduction Demonstration Program. Nearly $120 million is going towards actual construction costs associated with the toll lanes. The remainder of the money is being used to improve various transportation hubs along the two corridors including the Harbor Gateway Transit Center along the I-110 freeway and the construction of a new El Monte Station along the I-10 freeway. In addition, 59 new buses have been purchased to provide additional bus service along the two corridors.

The ExpressLanes project is being constructed by Atkinson Contractors, LP under contract to Metro. The contractor was competitively selected to design-build-operate-and-maintain the ExpressLanes project. The Atkinson team included AECOM for design and Xerox for tolling integration.

24 replies

  1. Is there some clarification on how these will work with the Toll Roads in OC? I believe those work on a “send you a bill later” system, while these work on a prepaid system. Do we need to have two separate transponders and accounts for each? Is there any way to open an account as a “send me a bill later” system on the Express Lanes?

    • Hi Steve;

      I know you can use the same transponder for all FasTrak payments in the state but you need a FasTrak transponder with a switch on it — the one pictured in the post — to use the ExpressLanes for free. I’m not sure about the other part of your question. Let me see if I can get an answer from someone more knowledgeable. Here’s excerpt from FAQ on project web page:

      Can I use the FasTrak® transponder that I currently have?

      Yes, a standard FasTrak® can be used to pay a toll on the Metro ExpressLanes. For toll free access on the Metro ExpressLanes, a switchable FasTrak is required.

      Can the Metro ExpressLanes FasTrak® be used to pay a toll on other toll facilities in the state?

      Yes.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  2. I have one giant problem with this. What about all the people in drive into LA every once in awhile but not frequently enough to get a transponder? Today they can use the carpool lanes; according to this they will be barred from using the lanes in the fall because they don’t/won’t have a transponder? That is absurd. The express lanes in San Diego county (I-15) are also express/toll lanes and free users don’t need a transponder only toll paying drivers.

  3. Great, thanks Steve… the main thing I’m wondering is how the different ways the accounts charge you will work, with this being pre-parid but others being “bill me later” type accounts. Looking forward to any updates.

    • Hey Steve —

      So here’s your answer. If you have one of Metro’s ExpressLanes transponders and want to use (for example) the 91 ExpressLanes, you can go ahead and do that. Through an agreement between Metro and the 91 ExpressLanes, the toll is deducted from your Metro account. So no need to open an account with them or get one of their FasTrak responders. The same applies to other tolls billed through FasTrak in the state.

      To my thinking, that’s a benefit of getting a new transponder. Another example: I don’t have a transponder and I don’t use the 10 or 110 that often. Obviously I need to get one in order to blog about it, but the added benefit will be that I drive to San Francisco area at least once a year and now I’ll be able to pay bridge tolls with it.

      Hope that helps!

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  4. Ok, that definitely helps. Looks like I’ll be switching over to a pre-paid account with this transponder and ditching the one I had for the OC Toll Roads.

    I don’t really understand why these lanes couldn’t have worked on a “bill me after” system like the others do though… Especially if they allow you to use the other transponders on these lanes and then get billed through the other account. But oh well, thing’s don’t always make the most sense.

  5. Any “gotcha” fees like transponders expiring every three years and losing out on whatever money topped off into your account like TAP?

  6. Ouch. Sorry for so many posts on the subject, but I just noticed something that’s a big negative for infrequent users… There’s a $3 administrative fee per month unless you use the lanes at least four times during that month.

    This is definitely a negative for people who don’t use the lanes on the 110 or 10 that often (like you, Steve, or me… or others I know who may drive most often during non-peak hours/weekends and only want to have this just in case but won’t regularly pay the toll).

  7. Americans don’t like recurrent fees. We hated the banks when they tried to pull that off with checking accounts and they backed down. Didn’t you get the memo?

    Whether it’s $3 a month for a transponder or $2 every two years for TAP, people hate any fees that are recurrent PERIOD.

    Metro needs to go to business school and learn business skills. This transponder idea is dead from the start with this $3 administrative fee. People will continue to drive the 10 and 110 in the normal lanes and Metro will be scratching their heads why they spent billions of dollars installing this when no one uses the lanes.

  8. These “administrative fees” are terminologies that government agencies love to use as an excuse not to use the term “taxes.” In reality, they are nothing but yet another way to suck away more hard working Americans’ paychecks. “Taxes” or “fees” same thing.

    What ingenius “fee” will they come up with next? A $1 per month “electricity recuperation fee” for the digital sign boards? An ACH check clearance fee or 3% processing fee for funding your transponder with your credit card?

  9. Yeah, I don’t like the $3 monthly fee either. I went back and forth with the staff person who mans their Facebook page. It’s waiveable if you travel in the ExpressLanes at least 4 times or 2 round trips per month, and this includes riding buses that travel in the lanes, such as the Silver Line. You can provide your TAP card number when you sign up for the transponder and the system counts trips you take.

    This isn’t ideal for me; riding in the lanes was always free as a motorcyclist and this is just additional hoops I have to jump through to continue to get it for free. Though, I wonder if enough people leave messages for them, they’ll rethink their $3 monthly policy. Perhaps a fixed cost for a transponder and then a yearly fee or something?

    Here’s their Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/expresslanes

  10. I don’t drive on the 110 often, but when I do, I carpool.
    ^Say that in the dos equis man voice.

    This is sad to be because now I won’t be able to use the carpool lanes. I don’t take 4 trips per month (one every week) in order to waive the $3 monthly fee and $40 deposit just to carpool, something that used to be FREE.

  11. Steve: Given your usage patterns, what is your plan to avoid the $3 monthly fee? I find it ironic that these account maintenance fees are illegal for gift cards and other private equivalents in the state of California, but apparently fair game when it’s a government agency.

    I’m all for getting a transponder and think that most motorists should get one as hopefully congestion pricing appears on more roads, but that $3 fee is the reason I won’t. I just don’t drive enough to begin with, let alone on those particular freeways. But when I do, I’m usually in a carpool. It’s crazy that there’s a disincentive for use of the system built in, particularly given the one-year evaluation period where they are trying to show how well it works!

  12. Oops, gotta correct one of my previous comments… looks like my account for the OC toll roads is already on the pre-paid “charge me when I get low” kind of plan and not “bill me later” like I had thought. I’m a secondary vehicle on someone else’s plan, so that’s why I was mistaken.

  13. Steve,

    “I’ll pay the $3 when I’m charged it. No other choice.”

    No, even as a government worker you have a choice; Metro doesn’t own you even if you work for them. You don’t like the fees as with others, the refuse to buy a transponder. Refuse to use the ExpressLanes. Deal with traffic jams on the 10 or the 110. Use the Expo or Blue Lines instead of the 10 or the 110. Take a motorcycle safety course, get over your fears and learn how to ride a motorcycle on surface streets; you end up getting there faster on a bike on surface streets than taking the freeway on a car anyway.

    Simply said, make the ExpressLanes at the way bottom of your list of choice. The only way for them to get that ExpressLanes is not working to bring in extra revenue is to make it fail miserably.

    The more people do this, the more they will realize that the $3 monthly fee does more harm than good to city revenues and they will eventually have to go back to the drawing board just like how the banks did when they tried to pull that same BS off.

    Why do you think the VISA TAP ReadyCARD is a total failure? Same thing, it comes with a account maintenance fee and simply put, Americans hate recurrent fees.

  14. Design question about the card–why on earth is the 1/Single Rider selection in the middle between 2 and 3? Why not have that on the far left, 2 in the middle, and 3 on the right for the switch? The current layout seems unnecessarily confusing.

  15. That $3 fee sounds awful! I think I would find myself late in the month having only ridden in the lane two or three times, and might just drive with my partner down to Long Beach in order to not pay the $3 fee. These things were supposed to make you pay if you *use* the lane, but the fee now means that you have to pay if you *don’t* use the lane. This is the opposite of congestion pricing!

    Also, what purpose does this fee serve? All I can see is that it would discourage occasional users like me from ever getting a transponder. But that just means less revenue, not more.

    I thought that having to pay $40 to get a transponder to keep carpooling for free was ridiculous, but now having to pay $3 for every month that you don’t use the lanes is even stupider!

  16. So, if I have an Orange County TollRoads transponder, do I need to cancel that account and sign up for the 110/10 ExpressLanes switchable transponder to use the 110/10 ExpressLanes? I certainly don’t want to have two transponders AND pay two $3 monthly “administrative” fees.

  17. Answered my own question. Per the FAQ’s on Metro’s site:

    I have an account with another toll agency; can I use my FasTrak® transponder on the Metro ExpressLanes?
    Yes, your existing FasTrak® transponder will work on the ExpressLanes. You will be charged the Single Occupancy rate. If you would like to use the ExpressLanes as a carpooler and not be charged, you will need to obtain a switchable transponder. If your account is with the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) also known as the Toll Roads in Orange County, you may ask them to issue you a switchable transponder. If your account is with one of the other toll agencies, we suggest you open a Metro account to obtain a switchable transponder.

  18. Metro can keep their transponders and see their ExpressLanes project fail because I’m not paying $3 a month in BS fees.

  19. Just wanted to voice my opinion that I do not support the $3 maintenance fee. The fee discourages infrequent users from carpooling, which is extremely disappointing and even frustrating.

  20. I have been using the carpool lanes on the 110 since they opened. I think making carpoolers buy a stupid transponder is ridiculous. I have no need to ever use one as I only use the carpool lanes when the two of us visit a relative in the South Bay. Why, if it is supposedly free if there are two or more in the car, why should those of us who don’t use the lanes daily be penalized?