ExpressLanes basics reviewed

Metro’s third major project of 2012 is opening this weekend — the Metro ExpressLanes on the 110 freeway between Adams Boulevard and 182nd Street.

A few questions have come up, naturally, and I want to try to clearly and unequivocally answer the ones that I’ve been getting time and again. Here goes:

•The idea of the toll lanes is to better spread traffic out on the freeway. How? By selling extra space in the existing HOV lanes. That, in turn, may help pull a few vehicles from the general lanes. Toll money is also pumped back into transit service, giving commuters more options in the 110 corridor.

EVERY VEHICLE that uses the ExpressLanes must have a FasTrak transponder. There are virtually no exceptions and the very few that exist are for people such as the President of the United States and his security detail. One more great benefit to being POTUS, right?

•Commercial vehicles must have a transponder and will have to pay a toll if there is only one person in the vehicle.

•On the 110 ExpresLanes, carpoolers and motorcycles still get free use of the toll lanes. But to reiterate, carpoolers and motorcycles still must have a FasTrak transponder.

•Children count as a person in a vehicle. In other words, Mother or Father + Child = Toll Free Carpool Travel.

•The reason everyone needs a transponder: it makes enforcement by the CHP a lot easier. And good enforcement benefits carpoolers, transit users and those who pay tolls by keeping cheaters out of the lanes and helping them run at a minimum speed of 45 miles per hour.

•It doesn’t matter if you’re own a 100 percent electric car or one that runs emissions free on pygmy goat milk….if you’re planning to use the ExpressLanes, you have to have that FasTrak transponder and you pay a toll as a single motorist. The toll exemption for some low-emissions vehicles doesn’t begin until 2014, the result of a recently-signed state law.

•There is no deadline to get a transponder. You may want to wait and see how the ExpressLanes debut goes. When it’s time, you can order one online here, get one through AAA, visit a Metro customer center in Gardena or at the El Monte Station and — this just in, people! — at Costco stores now at Albertsons beginning tomorrow. Boom baby! How many cities allow you to pick up a transponder and t.p. all at the same time?

•Single motorists can use transponders from Orange County or other parts of California to pay tolls on the 110 ExpressLanes. But if you want to travel toll free as a carpooler, you will need to get a transponder with a switch on it that you will set to show how many people are in your car.

•The $3 maintenance fee for FasTrak accounts doesn’t begin until the ExpressLanes open on the 10 freeway, scheduled for early 2013. And it’s easy to avoid the fee by using the ExpressLanes or transit service in the 10 or 110 corridors four or more times a month. Tip: when ordering your FasTrak transponder, link the account to your TAP card. It’s easy!

•The maintenance fee, for those who are curious, goes to help cover the cost of administration of the ExpressLanes.

•The electronic signs along the 110 will clearly tell you what the tolls are for using the lane. Then it’s up to single motorists to decide whether they want to enter the ExpressLanes and pay the tolls.

•When traffic is on the light side, tolls will be less. When there is heavy traffic, tolls will be more to discourage too many people from trying to squeeze into the HOV lanes. When traffic is super gnarly, the ExpressLanes may close to single motorists in order to maintain 45 mph speeds for carpoolers and transit users.

There’s a media event Friday morning near the 110 freeway. I’ll post tomorrow about it. In the meantime, please use the comment board to ask any questions not covered above.


35 replies

  1. Joe,

    I think the mindset of Metro seems to be “motorcycles are small and agile enough and since white-lining between lanes are legal in CA, they really don’t need to be using the carpool lane to begin with.”

    No matter how horrible the traffic jam is on the 10/110, motorcycles can just squeeze through in between cars and get to a destination quickly as if there were no traffic jams at all.

    Or so that’s what Metro thinks.


  2. John,

    “Everyone get a scooter/motorcycle!

    Metro ExpressLanes is a one-year demonstration/pilot program during which existing carpool lanes (HOV) on the I-10 El Monte Busway (between Alameda St and I-605 – approximately 14 miles) and I-110 Harbor Transitway (between Adams Bl and Artesia Transit Center – approximately 11 miles) will be converted to High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes. Buses,
    MOTORCYCLES, vanpools and carpools that currently use HOV lanes will not be charged a toll. General purpose lanes will continue to remain toll-free.”

    Except motorcyclists still would need a toll tag (where to put it? lots of motorcycles don’t have windshields) and will be subject to the $3/mo. “maintenance fee” if they don’t use it 4 times a month.

    Shows how much poor planning Metro has done in implementing this without taking into account the real world issues. It’s like TAP all over again; poorly planned, poorly implemented, and a failure from the start.


  3. My friends are coming from San Francisco for thanksgiving and have a fastrak transponder from up there. Can they use it in the 110?

    I guess the more general question is can the fastrak transponders be used throughout the state? Are the accounts linked?

    It is very confusing with all the different rules for different freeways. It seems like all the hov lanes should use the same transponders and rules.


    • Hi Mike;

      The FasTrak transponders from other areas can be used by single motorists who are paying the toll. Carpoolers need to have a FasTrak transponder with the switch that allows them to show how many people are in the vehicle — otherwise they’ll be charged the toll.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source


  4. A couple of follow up questions … can I use the fastrak transponder I get in L.A. to pay for the Bay Bridge or other tolls taking fastrak? Also, if I can, will these uses count toward the 4 times per month to avoid a monthly fee? (ie. Are trips on the 10 and 110 Express lanes the only uses that count to avoid the maintenance fee?)


    • Hi Mike;

      Yes, you can use the ExpressLanes transponder elsewhere in the state to pay tolls. Using it elsewhere does not count toward the waiver of the maintenance fee.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source


  5. Steve, thanks for your response. Please let the powers that be know that this system really stinks. The rules really should be the same throughout the state; the maintenance fee is ridiculous; carpoolers and motorcycles shouldn’t even need transponders. Metro just gave everybody a big headache just in time for the holidays. I wonder how many unnecessary tolls and mega tickets they are going to hand out to the poor folks traveling for the holidays with the wrong type of fastrak transponder.


  6. Tolls yes; other things, maybe not. For example, a credit card-backed FasTrak transponder issued by BATA or TCA can be used to pay for parking at SFO. A Metro ExpressLanes transponder cannot.


    Click on “San Francisco International Airport (SFO)” then “I did not open my FasTrak account in the Bay Area. Am I eligible to use FasTrak to pay for parking at SFO?”

    This could be fixed…


  7. So, out-towner stay away from car-pool lane.
    Families use car-pool (10/110) lanes all pay $3/month to catch tollcheater.


  8. I have been using that lane for carpooling for over a decade now. Suddenly, I drive there and it is a “Fast Track” lane? I dont get it. I didnt even know and was carpooling in that lane without this transformer thing. Does that mean I am going to get some BS ticket in the mail? Seems to me to be like a trap for unsuspecting drivers.