Are L.A.-area HOV lanes headed toward +3?

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Ah, the good ol’ carpool lane, often the saving grace on a hellacious cross-county commute. That is until your cruise past traffic comes to a grinding halt and you’re left wondering how the carpool lane is failing at doing its primary job — providing passengers who fill their seats with a faster ride.

This scenario of degraded HOV lanes is becoming increasingly common across the Southland, so much so that the Metro Board passed a motion in March directing the agency to explore the merits of raising the HOV minimum occupancy from two to three people. As a result, Caltrans has begun a Performance Impact Study (PIS) to assess the impacts of increasing HOV occupancy on the 105, 210 and 405 freeways (here’s an update to the Metro Board). 

Since carpooling has dipped in L.A. County in recent years, I was shocked that such a policy was being seriously considered. With each car trip averaging 1.3 passengers per car, wouldn’t mandating three or more passengers in the HOV lanes be a bit over ambitious and make carpooling more difficult?

And while such a policy might slightly speed up the HOV lanes and incentivize commuters to buddy up, will some carpoolers with only two occupants be dumped back into the general purpose lanes, further crippling already painful commutes?

As is often the case with these kind of traffic things, there is another (and wonkier) point of view.

If HOV +3 speeds up the carpool lanes, encourages more carpooling and allows more cars/people to actually use the lane (called “throughput”), that could be good for transit buses that use the lanes, as well as make things like Lyft Line and Uber Pool more appealing. Since these services offer decreased fares when users combine trips with riders along their route, people might be more likely to choose a pool over riding solo — if it means access to a faster HOV lane and less travel time.

I’m curious to hear from you. Should LA County HOV lanes increase their minimum occupancy to 3 passengers or remain at two? More importantly, do you think an increase would serve its intended purpose of speeding up traffic or instead lead to even more frustrated commuters stuck in traffic? Comment please! 

Related: here’s a 2015 report from Caltrans about slowing speeds in HOV lanes across the state. The report includes this map, which neatly makes the point most of us already have experienced: HOV lanes are slowing down. For those curious, “degraded” means that carpool lane speeds fell below 45 mph for 10 percent of the time during peak hours over a six month period. 

Also related: the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey also issues estimates of how workers 16 and over get to work. In 2005, the Bureau estimates there were 512,485 people who carpooled to work in L.A. County. In 2016, that number had fallen to an estimated 457,858. In the same time span, the number of people who drove alone to work rose from an estimated 3,084,995 in 2005 to 3,525,431 in 2016.

18 replies

  1. The freeway infrastructure of LA is poorly planned. Most modern freeways have 5 or 6 lanes for cars to flow, not 4. Even an underground freeway system for LA would heavily improve traffic, but no one bothers to suggest it. Increasing HOV to 3+ will do nothing to improve traffic. Might as well convert carpool lanes to bike lanes while they’re at it so they can fit “more” people.

    • More lanes equals more traffic. With more lanes those who were already carpooling start becoming single drivers thus packing the now 6 lanes. The 405 fwy has been widening since the 80’s and it’s still a problem. On the other hand carpool lanes have always shown to reduce traffic.

    • Instead of converting the carpool lanes into bike lanes why not convert them to LTR lines? Imagine the freeway infrastructure as rail lines; it would be an almost perfect grid. Some LA council member ran on that platform in the nineties of course he did not get elected.

  2. If you make it only accessible to those with at least 3 in the car not only would you have maybe 10 cars in the HOV lane, but you will have 3 times as many in the regular lanes. Whoever would propose something like this should consider a career as a Starbucks barista. You fix the problem, you don’t make it worse. The issue is 1 HOV lane does no good. Sometimes 2 lanes are not enough either, but if you made all HOV lanes Fas Trac, that would prevent slightly the amount of people using it. The Fas Trac lanes are not monitored as well as they should be. There are so many people use it that don’t even have the device in their car because there are no officers supervising it. I drive for a living and see it every day on the 110.

  3. Great idea, but it won’t work in Los Angeles. It’s very difficult coordinating a carpool with coworkers in the same area, working the same or close shifts. Some days it’s impossible to carpool. I agree something needs to be done to improve our commute, but this will only make things exceedingly worse.

  4. I don’t think this is a great idea. *Maybe* it would work to make the lanes 3+ at peak hours, and 2+ at all other hours. But I have doubts about that, as well.

    • Exactly the opposite is needed. During rush hour, most people are solo commuters, so the carpool lanes are useful. On the weekends the carpool lane on the 210 is practically the same as every other lane.

  5. This is a great blog topic. Outside the known infrastructure issues that plague traffic in Los Angeles and the South Bay, I wish someone would address the real heart of the issue: People who are not good drivers. Let’s face it, inexperienced, incapable, unaware, and distracted drivers are the source of traffic problems. How many times have you been STUCK in traffic and there is a lone vehicle, travelling 55 mph in the fast/passing lane, with nothing but open road ahead of them? What about the people whose heads are lowered as they drive slow while responding to a text or looking for a different Pandora station on their phones? And how about those rubbernecks who slow down because of an accident or a police stop on the opposite side of the freeway? And let’s not forget about people who are just not skilled drivers. All of these (and more) scenarios contribute to if not cause most of the traffic issues.

    How do we change/correct/improve it?
    Provide better public transportation options
    Increased DMV on the road testing and Behind the wheel training
    Technology in vehicles to disconnect texting and other phone options while the car is in motion
    Better enforcement of traffic violators and violations
    Better road quality

    The list is endless. Something has got to give. But I don’t believe making the HOV Lane for 3+ people is the ultimate answer. In the short term, it would only serve to cripple traffic more.

  6. Converting everything to ExpressLanes is the only way forward. It allows two-person carpools to have the option of splitting lower costs to travel in the fast lane, so it is not as restrictive as 3+ only, but still frees up room for faster speeds.

  7. Bare minimum: 3+ during rush hour. It works in The Bay, so why not here? I’m all for the switch. The majority of lanes on our freeways can’t be for single occupancy vehicles. It’s an inefficient use of our roads, and it’s unsustainable in the long term. Buses need to be able to run quickly and efficiently in mixed lanes, especially during the most congested times of day, and people need to be given a real incentive (saving time not sitting in traffic) to carpool and find ways to get to work other than in a SOV.

  8. No more special treatment for electric vehicles either, especially when only wealthier people can usually afford them.

    Why do we have the gas guzzlers cause more pollution waiting on general lanes?

  9. Make it happen! Or the other option is to convert all HOV lanes to FasTrak lanes and with the funds provide bus service like the Silver line. Many people do not realize how efficient that line is. Also, the fast track lanes should also charge a fee for 2 car riders on the 10 & 110 fwys during peak hours.

  10. Oh my goodness. I CANNOT believe that no one is noticing the big elephant in the room: all the single-occupant clean air vehicles in the HOV lanes! THAT is why the lanes don’t work anymore. The intent of HOV lanes is to carry more people per lane, not provide a perk to an increasing number of clean air drivers. Get rid of all clean air HOV decals that should never have been issued in the first place. This is a very simple short-term solution easily implemented. Increasing the HOV requirement for carpools without addressing this issue penalizes carpoolers and subverts the original intent of HOV lanes: to move more people faster. Do we want these lanes essentially to become clean air vehicle lanes rather than HOV lanes? Going to 3+ will make that the reality.

    After getting rid of the decals, we can then take an honest assessment of the situation. Yes, many freeways will still be congested (405, 210, others), but at least we will be addressing the real problem. Long-term, the best solution is to convert all HOV facilities to Express Lanes with 2 lanes in each direction (on most freeways). Also, there should be an effort to repeal the prohibition on HOV lanes on the Santa Monica and Ventura (101) Freeways put in place decades ago by political nay-sayers.

  11. It does not matter what the minimum is: since the CHP does not enforce the law as it is, nothing will change. Single occupancy vehicles travel the 605 and 210 all day long without any repercussions.

  12. I’m more in favor of converting HOV lanes to HOT (toll) lanes and possibly converting a general purpose lane to an HOV lane. The HOV lane would function just as it does now (for 2+ drivers) but eliminate the use of single-occupancy drivers with “clean” vehicles. The HOT lane would be free for 3+ drivers, charge slightly for 2+ drivers, and charge moderately for single-occupancy drivers (all depending on congestion levels). Creating a BRT system running on the toll lanes would be nice as well.

  13. I’m in favor of increasing the carpool requirement to four or more. By increasing the carpool requirement less carpoolers will be using the HOT lanes which will increase the speeds for paying customers.