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. 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.

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

  3. This is just dumb. A transponder for my bike and my car. One more thing to remember while risking near death for a simple carpool lane.

  4. 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…

  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. 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

  7. 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

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. So, let me understand this…

    I am a motorcyclist and don’t own a car. There’s no way I could ever have to pay a toll on the 10/110 express lanes. But I still have to give Metro an interest-free loan and pay $3 a month if I don’t take at least 4 (free) trips a month in the express lanes?

    I’m also not sure how it’d help CHP do enforcement, since it seems a lot easier to see whether there are 2 people in a car than use the equipment to read which setting the transponder is on.

    I’m not sure if Metro noticed, but the 15 in San Diego, the Bay Area’s I-680, and Denver’s I-25 all have HOV/Toll lanes. None of those require motorcyclists or carpoolers to have transponders. Even the 91 express lanes, which charges carpoolers at certain times, waives the maintenance fee for transponders used only by carpoolers.

    And the Bay Area’s FasTrak seems to work just fine without siphoning off $3 a month from its subscribers.

  11. California residents whose home toll authority isn’t LACMTA are forced into one of several unreasonable positions when driving a 3+ occupancy vehicle:

    (1) Expose their non-switchable transponder, and be inappropropriately charged a SOV toll;

    (2) Follow their native HOV intructions, which direct them to place their transponder inside a shielded mylar bag, and risk being cited as toll evaders (even when they’re not liable for paying a toll);

    (3) Switch to an ExpressLanes transponder, and be subject to “maintenance” fees for insufficient use (and possible additional penalties for running a majority of their tolls through an out-of-area account, not to mention possible sanctions for accidentally forgetting to set the switch back to the SOV position once they leave L.A.);

    (4) Don’t use the HOV lane.

    So, you have free HOV travel for Angelenos, and an erect middle finger for everyone else. We haven’t seen this kind of “us and them” segregation since the age of Jim Crow laws. And don’t try to convince me the “Equity Plan” is equitable. As long as you’re taking federal money, there shouldn’t be any preferential treatment for L.A. County residents. Open it up to everyone who meets the income requirements, or make it go away.

    Obviously, things would be a lot simpler if consistent rules were applied statewide. That’s what was intended when all FasTrak transponders were mandated to be interoperable. The technical details can be found here:

    One solution would be to make everyone in California with a non-switchable transponder turn it in for replacement, just like you force TAP users to surrender their cards after only three years.

    Or, you could simply “grandfather” the existing non-switchable transponders and issue toll refunds on request until MAP-21’s national interoperability requirement renders the entire issue moot.

    It’s unlikely California’s Title 21 is going to survive in its present form, and we may all end up getting stuck with ISO/IEC 18000-6 Type C RFID toll tags in less than four years.

  12. 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.

  13. Based on my family’s current usage, we are exactly the people that will be charged the monthly maintenance fee.  In any given month, our usage of the carpool lanes varies (we are on vacation, or our relatives come to our house, or we choose a different route home).  For infrequent users to be charged the monthly fee makes no sense.  All users should be treated the same.  Better yet, you should reward people like us who do not clog the freeways by commuting!  

    You state that the purpose is to cover the cost of maintaining the account. This is also illogical.  In our case, Metro will be holding on to $40 in prepaid tolls that we would never incur.  (When would we ever get our money back?)  In other words, we would be charged a monthly maintenance fee for Metro to hold our $40 in an account.  Accounts that you have to actively manage by counting their number of trips and tolls are not charged.

    We do not carpool as commuters because we acted responsibly by choosing to live near where we work!  You need not encourage people like us to try transit when our commute is less than 2 miles.  Moreover, people like my in-laws are retired and do not commute.  Do we have less of a right to use the freeway carpool lanes under the same terms as frequent commuters?

    As for your public meeting and website, information about the monthly fee is rarely mentioned or buried.  Take a look at the website.  When I went to order the transponder, I read many pages before I found the information about the monthly fee.  It is buried in a footnote.  I have also read articles in the newspaper and seen Stephanie Wiggins on TV several times.  Even today on KTLA she did not mention the monthly fee.

    Finally, I took a look at the Express Lanes program in the Bay Area.  There, not only do they not charge a monthly fee for anyone, they not not even require carpoolers to buy a transponder.    

    I hope Metro will reconsider this ill-conceived fee program.  Thank you all for you time and consideration.

  14. “Eduardo A. on November 9, 2012 at 1:57 PM said:


    If that were the case, then a school bus with one adult bus driver and full of kids that have not yet the age to obtain a drivers license would not count as a carpool either.”


    Mass transit vehicles, such as buses, are a different situation and there is no problem with them using the carpool lanes — I was referring just to individual cars with children. Fifty children packed into a school bus take up a lot less physical space than 50 children each in an individual car. Plus, the bus driver is just doing his job and not getting any special perk by transporting the children. I have friends and acquaintances with children who, when they have to take a quick trip downtown, place one of their children in the front seat just so they can use the carpool lanes. To me, that defeats the purpose of the carpool lanes.

  15. TomW

    If that were the case, then a school bus with one adult bus driver and full of kids that have not yet the age to obtain a drivers license would not count as a carpool either.

  16. I just want to give my thanks to metro (Sarcasm) for forcing me and my wife out of the carpool lanes. We don’t live in the 110-10 corridor but do occasionally drive on the 110-10 to appointments during rush hour (but almost never more than one trip a month). I think allowing solo drivers to pay to use the lanes is a good idea…however at the expense of carpoolers is unacceptable. I understand that the transponder makes it easier for CHP but let’s be honest, they have to already check to see if the motorist is being honest with the number of occupants so they must already check every car during enforcement…San Diego county has these lanes on the I-15 and carpoolers don’t need a transponder….only toll paying customers. If they really want to make everyone have a transponder at least make the fee waiver 4 trips on ANY toll road in California, that would make it a lot easier to avoid getting charged the maintenance fee.

  17. “•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?”

    I’ll believe it when I see statistics that all state and local politicians and those that work for state and local governments (that includes law enforcement, fire fighters, governor, State Senatores, State Representatives, mayors, city council members, LADWP vehicles, Metro employees in their own personal vehicles, etc. etc.) also abide by the same laws and fined as the rest of us.

    I’ll believe it when I see statistics that rental cars, cars registered out of state, even cars registered in Canada and Mexico (Canada and Mexico license plates are also used here as Canadians and Mexicans visit the US) also abide by the same laws and are fined the same way as the rest of us.

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

    I don’t understand why children would count as a member of a carpool. The purpose of carpooling is to take vehicles off the road and since a child doesn’t drive, there is no reduction in vehicle traffic. A carpool lane full of parents with infants in car seats, for example, doesn’t do anything to ease traffic congestion. I seems like the requirement should be that there must be at least one secondary person of driving age in a car before it qualifies for free carpool travel.

  19. I’m not buying the $3 maintenance fee for not using enough excuse either. There should be no minimum use requirements at all.

    Should voters pay $3 if they didn’t vote in the past three elections as a basis for maintenance fees at the County Registrar?

    Should transit riders pay a $3 monthly fee for not using their TAP cards more than four times a month?

    Should we add a $3 monthly fee for all phone numbers for not calling 911 more than four times a month?

    It’s ridiculous to make up excuses to rationalize these bogus fees because anyone can come up with any lame excuse on anything to tack on more fees by using the “minimum use requirement” and the magic phrase “maintenance fees.”

  20. Ugh. VIP lanes. How come DC can do carpool lanes without making people buy transponders?

  21. So, I drove the 110 HOV today. Most of the vehicles on the other side did not have transponders on their dash. This was confirmed by watching the lights on the other side. My prediction is that traffic will get worse on the 110 next week (starting on Tuesday, since Monday is a holiday for some). The week after, Thanksgiving week, the traffic will be so so. On Wednesday afternoon and on Thurday CHP will have their hands full with occasional carpoolers going into the lanes.

    Some employers (like mine) refuse to purchase the FT units, because they see the potential for abuse (employees taking them home or using them when they are not carpooling), or they don’t want to make the up front payment and the maintaince fee. I know that in my case, over the course of the trial, some months, a fee would get charged, some months not, but overall, just for the benefit of the time saved using the lane (only as a carpool), and the 110-405 flyover, the up front charge would be saved in saved labor costs.

  22. Metro please don’t implement the $3 account maintenance fee!! Too many hurdles for users already by requiring a transponder for carpoolers. The rare carpool user heading to the airport or OC or Downtown or out-of-towner shouldn’t be forced into general purpose lanes or pay a $3 monthly fee.
    What does a $3 account maintenance fee to do what exactly?…Maintain a data base?
    I am a huge transit supporter, voted for Measure R and J, and actually thought the ExpressLanes was a great idea for unused capacity in the corridor. The project is great and I hate to say it, but Metro has missed the mark on this fee big time.
    Will there be an evaluation/public input at the end of the one year demonstration project?


  24. Why is the $3 monthly fee only charged to people who make less than 4 trips (even if they are a 3 person carpool) if is is supposed to be to cover the cost of administering the program? It seems like people who use the lanes more should pay, not the ones who use it less. It should be called the VIP lanes.

  25. Great info! It makes me smile (sarcastically) how the media exaggerate everything. The radio station this morning started by saying …. “will people be willing to pay $30 a day to use the freeway?” I guess they quoted the maximum toll when traveling the entire stretch of the Expresslanes. Then they interviewed a guy who is always driving solo on the 110 and asked him whether he would pay $30 to use the Expresslanes. Without surprise, he said no with an angry voice. Then they quoted the maximum fine of using the carpool lanes solo and without a transponder. I mean, come on, media! If someone is always driving the Harbor Freeway solo, then it is unlikely he will change the habit anyway. If someone violates carpool lane occupancy rules now, he/she is subject to the fine anyway, regardless of the existence of the Expresslanes. Well, I guess that is how the media works.

  26. We are planning on taking the 110 on Monday, 11/12 for a doctor’s appointment in LA. There will be at least three people in the car and we might use the HOV if traffic is bad. Hopefully, it is not since Monday is Veterans Day. Do we still need to get a responder? If yes, is there a charge for the one day use? Normally, we take public transportation
    since we both retired from the MTA.

    Thank you.

    • Hi Kelly;

      Yes, you will need a transponder. The ExpressLanes will be in operation 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The 110 ExpressLanes are scheduled to begin on Saturday night, weather permitting.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  27. Sorry, Steve, but I’m not buying your statement that says, “The maintenance fee … goes to help cover the cost of administration of the ExpressLanes.” Those costs should be placed totally on those single-car drivers who will use the lanes. It shouldn’t fall on the occasional carpooler who won’t meet the monthly minimum times needed to avoid the usurious $3 monthly charge, or the tourist who will get gouged by car rental companies to have a transponder (if their experience equates to what I faced in Chicago). The “maintenance fee” is analogous to having to purchase TAP cards. First we’re asked to use automation to cut down on Metro’s costs (personnel and otherwise) and then we’re asked to pay for the privilege whether we use the system or not. Both are thinly disguised rip-offs.

  28. I am confused. I currently have Orange County transponders in my cars. Do I need to get an LA County Transponder or a new one from OC that indicates how many folks are in my vehicle?

    • Hi Thadd;

      The transponder from OC can be used on the 110 if you want to drive as a single motorist and pay the tolls. If you plan to carpool on the 110 and thus be exempted from tolls, you will need one of the ExpressLanes transponders that has the switch to show how many people are in the vehicle.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  29. Asked this before and did not get an answer, so asking again

    It was briefly mentioned in the article that for every 32 tap-enabled toll trips we take, we will get a $5.00 credit. Can someone please clarify how this works? Do we have to take 32 trips in a month and then we get $5.00 in our FastTrak? Or do we have get credited to our TAP card?

    Basically, if someone takes the silver line 32 times, they’ll get $5 in account credit. Correct?

    • Hi Collin;

      Let me run your question by staff at tomorrow morning’s event so I get the correct answer. I’ll try to get reply on comment board by early afternoon.


      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source