This is probably a bit premature, given that the ExpressLanes project has targeted opening dates of late 2012 for the 110 freeway segment and early 2013 for the 10 freeway.
But L.A. Streetsblog on Thursday had a good post about these charts about transponder fees, so I also wanted to publish them here.
First, the basics. The ExpressLanes project is converting carpool lanes on segments of the 10 and 110 freeways to congestion pricing lanes, also known as “HOT lanes” or “variable toll” lanes. The pilot program — funded mostly by the federal government — aims to increase speeds on the entire freeway in exchange for some motorists paying to use extra space in the toll lanes. With two toll lanes in both directions, bus service will also be beefed up and should be quicker.
On the 10, the ExpressLanes will begin just east of downtown Los Angeles and run to the 605 freeway. Vehicles with three or more occupants will continue to use the lanes for free while vehicles with two occupants will pay a toll during peak hours but use the lanes free otherwise. On the 110 freeway, the lanes will be from just south of downtown L.A. to the Artesia Transit Center. All vehicles with two or more occupants will use the lanes for free.
There are also a number of other improvements planned. Please see the map and chart at the end of the post.
As for the above chart, it shows the deposits, fees and minimum balances that Metro customers must pay to get transponders to use the lanes. Not exactly exciting stuff. The big takeaway from the chart is that it shows that as currently planned, Metro’s fees are in line with other regions that use transponders to track tolls. The real bottom line: for many commuters (i.e. credit card users), it will cost $40 to open an ExpressLanes account and get a transponder, with the $40 going toward tolls.
The second chart, shown above, lists the variety of fees that ExpressLanes may or may not encounter depending on how they pay (or — whoops! — don’t pay) for tolls.
What exactly are transponders? They’re small, square devices that stick to the inside of a vehicle’s windshield and electronically track when vehicles must pay a toll.
Why is this important? Because all vehicles must have a transponder to use the ExpressLanes. There won’t be toll booths — just electronic devices at regular intervals on the freeway that determine when a vehicle should be charged a toll via its transponder. Toll booths, of course, stop traffic while the numbskull in front of you looks for change under his floor mat. Transponders keep traffic m-o-v-i-n-g.
And where do commuters get the transponders? As noted in this recent Metro staff report, “commuters will be able to receive a transponder by opening an account online, over the phone, or at walk-in centers.” [UPDATE: Motorists who have an existing FasTrak transponder used on other toll roads in California do not need to get a new one to pay the toll on the Metro ExpressLanes].
In addition, the Metro Board’s ad hoc congestion pricing committee is scheduled next week to consider a promotional effort that would allow commuters to get discounted transponders from AAA. Here’s the report [pdf].
If this all sounds very complicated, it’s not. The transponders are used in many other regions with toll lanes. Closest to home, they’re used on the 91 Express Lanes in Orange County and they’re also used in the Bay Area, where tolls are quite common.
One other neat trick: the transponders will have a switch on them allowing motorists to “declare” how many people are in their vehicles. There will also be photo enforcement cameras and CHP officers to help catch those who dare use the lanes without a transponder.
Tolls on the ExpressLanes will vary between 25 cents and $1.40 per mile, depending on the level of traffic. When there’s a lot of traffic, the tolls will be higher to discourage too many motorists from using the congestion pricing lanes. The hope is that this supply-and-demand pricing will allow speeds in the toll lanes to remain at 45 mph or higher — which isn’t always the case in carpool lanes around L.A. County.
For tons more info on the project, I recommend checking out this FAQ on the project’s web page [pdf]. And below are a map of the project and a list of the many other improvements being made in the 10 and 110 corridors.