Metro releases latest report with preliminary data on ExpressLanes' performance on 10 and 110 freeways

ExpressLanes Performance Update-Prelim Report, July 2013

The Metro ExpressLanes pilot project publicly released its second performance report Monday morning, offering a statistical look at how the project is faring on the 10 and 110 freeways. This is a follow-up to the first report, released in March.

I’ll offer the same caveat we did in March: Metro and Caltrans officials stress that the data is preliminary and subject to change. The U.S. Department of Transportation has hired the Battelle Memorial Institute, a private nonprofit research firm, to conduct a full and thorough evaluation of the ExpressLanes and their overall effectiveness after they’ve been opened at least one year.

That independent evaluation won’t be issued until mid-2014. In the meantime, Metro will be releasing preliminary performance reports such as the one below in order to provide everyone a general idea of how the ExpressLanes are doing.

A few highlights from the new Metro report:

•In April, the average speed in the ExpressLanes on the 10 freeway was 64 mph during the weekday morning peak commute between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m. The average speed in the ExpressLanes on the 110 freeway was 65 mph.

•In April, the average speed of the general lanes on the 110 was 48.3 mph during the same morning peak commute. In April 2012 before the ExpressLanes opened, the average speed was 48.4 mph. The average speed of the general lanes on the 10 freeway was 51.6 mph between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m.; the average speed for the general lanes before the ExpressLanes opened is still being evaluated.

•Average work week trips were 57,256 on the 110 ExpressLanes in late April, exceeding the average volume of about 54,000 trips before the ExpressLanes opened. On the 10, the average work week trips were 24,613 at the end of April. That’s 88 percent below the pre-opening average volume of 28,000 but Metro expects the number of trips in the ExpressLanes to continue rising and exceed the pre-opening volumes sometime later this year.

•On the 110, 59 percent of those using the ExpressLanes are carpoolers and 41 percent are solo drivers. On the 10, users are 57 percent carpoolers and 43 percent solo drivers.

•There were 152,787 FasTrak transponders issued through the end of April.  As of June, the number has grown to 180,901. Some of those transponders are being used in multiple vehicles.

•Account holders by house income bracket are evenly distributed: 8.5 percent make less than $35,000, 19.9 percent make $35,000 to $49,000, 35.6 percent make $50,000 to $74,999, 21.3 percent make $75,000 to $99,000, 12.2 percent make $100,000 to $149,999 and 2.4 percent make over $150,000. In other words, it’s pretty much a bell curve and suggests the notion that the ExpressLanes are “Lexus Lanes” — i.e. only used by those with very high incomes — is not correct.

•Transit ridership on the bus routes using the 110 freeway was 14,137 boardings in April 2013. In April 2012– it was 12,920. In addition, there have been 58 new vanpools formed to use both corridors.

For those interested in getting a transponder in order to use the ExpressLanes, please click here. Through Labor Day, tolls during non-peak hours have been lowered to as low as 15 cents per mile, 10 cents lower than the usual base toll of 25 cents per mile.

Any thoughts on the ExpressLanes, Source readers? Please feel free to comment — and please keep comments brief and to the point so that other readers will actually read them!

41 replies

  1. Why do we keep talking about the maintenance fee? Do people not know that it has been waived through October 2013 for L.A. County residents? (And no, don’t insist that the fee is coming back. If you know anything about how government dishes out benefits, you know that it’s easier to go to the moon than to reinstate the fee.)

  2. Please give me back my carpool lane! That lane (viaduct and all) was funded under previous taxation! This policy essentially steals a critical piece of infrastructure and makes a pay-for-service.

  3. SOmewhere, somehow, the program on I-110 and then on I-10 will need to be evaluated, because, at least in theory, it is a one-year test. The FEDS gave METRO the money in the form of a grant to “test” the program. Theoretically, local officials could pull the plug, take back the transponders, tell “Xerox Solutions” to go back into the slimy cave they crawled out from, and let things revert to the “pre-test” transponder-less normal.

    In spite of widespread disgust with the roll-out, with the increased traffic and slower speeds in the “poor peoples’ lanes” and a general rejection of charging taxpayers to use lanes paid for by the taxpayers, will there REALLY be a forum, or fora, for The People to express their outrage at this fiasco? Will METRO advertise these public meetings (if they are ever held), and will everyone who wants to speak be allowed to? Will the METRO Board even listen?

    Are the results of the “statistics” already cooked, the results already decided, and the “public comment” a mere farce to screen the bureaucrats obsession to keep this idiocy going indefinitely, taxpayers be damned?

    “It is tough being a cynic these days, because it is so much work to keep up.” ––Lily Tomlin

  4. B. Kuo,

    “Realistically, if you commute every day as a carpool, shelling out a one-time fee of $30-40 for a transponder so you can keep that right is a no-brainer.”

    Except for INFREQUENT carpoolers, they become subject to a recurring $3 minimum usage monthly maintenance fee. Add that up over 12 months and it’s an extra $36 per year tax for the sake of owning a transponder if it isn’t used more than four times a month.

    Not everyone has a need to use the 10/110 daily. There are 10 million people living in LA County. What percentage of that 10 million do you think uses the 10/110 on an infrequent basis?

    Think of how this affects say, a family or group of friends living in Torrance who goes to the Kings, Lakers, Dodgers game once a month. Or a Downtown LA business person who takes his boss or picks up a client to/from LAX once a month. The group of retirees living in Burbank heading off to the Normandie Casino in Gardena. An elderly couple who drove from out of state who visit their relatives in Los Angeles. The family tourist renting a car at the Hertz at LAX. You fail to consider all these vital economic activities that are done on an infrequent basis but are done by a large number of Angelenos every day. Do you think it’s alright to tax them $36 a year because even though they are carpooling, they are subject to that $36 tax because they don’t ride use the 10/110 more than four times a month?

    So if these activities happen on an infrequent basis, but are done by so many Angelenos and out of state (or even out of country – we have drivers with Canadian and Mexican license plates) visitors, out of 10 million LA County residents, how much do you think that’s going to affect the decision making if the FasTrak transponders which tacks on a $3 minimum usage monthly maintenance fee attached to it in addition to the one-time $40 fee for the transponder?

    You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure this out.

  5. The assumption that many carpoolers have been kicked out of the lanes because for some reason they don’t want to buy a transponder is a false one. Anyone who has driven the 10/110 corridor before the ExpressLanes program knows that the lanes were full or carpool cheaters who switched in and out with impunity. This program threw a lot of cheaters out or gave them a chance to “go legit” by paying.

    Realistically, if you commute every day as a carpool, shelling out a one-time fee of $30-40 for a transponder so you can keep that right is a no-brainer. The people who truly can’t afford it are taking buses. If you can drive, you can afford a transponder, and it’s just not as onerous as people make it out to be.

  6. calwatch,

    Yeah, but is Metro actively saying that to sell more transponders to infrequent users and move the carpoolers back from the general lanes?

    Metro hasn’t really actively promoted signage, billboards or even to open say in big bold letters “By popular demand: LA County residents = NO MINIMUM USAGE MONTHLY MAINTENANCE FEE.” All there is a small notation on saying it’s that it’s waived temporarily.

    And why did they even make this a temporary thing only until October? Why was it not done as a permanent thing? So government can do more useless studies?

  7. Again, if you have an LA County address the fees are waived until October. And, let your politicians know so that they can keep the waiver going permanently, or at least change it to something less onerous (like ten trips in a quarter, for example, which would eliminate snowbirds and college students from opening and closing accounts; or allowing excess trips in a given month to roll over and apply to future months’ minimum usage).

  8. Adam,

    You’re reading those statistics mistakenly. That’s 2.4% of the transponder account holders are making more than $150k a year. Another way of putting that is that 97.6% of the transponder owners/users are not “rich.” The people using the ExpressLanes are pretty broadly representative of those who use the roads generally. I do agree that the transponders should be free or very inexpensive though, especially for those who only use it for carpooling. Carpooling itself is still free though, so if you ever end up getting a transponder you can still carpool without paying a fee.

  9. Agree with adam and LA car culture that Metro dropped the ball big time with that “minimum usage needed or else a monthly fee applies” switcheroo without considering that many carpoolers in Los Angeles only use the 10 and 110 infrequently. “Infrequent buy many” is something they failed to consider and as the math shows, the carpool lanes are now worse off than before because it moved the carpoolers back to the general lanes. And even though Metro reversed their policy for the maintenance fees, very few people go back and research these stuff once the first impressions sucked.

    Think about it, if a Bank A tries to rip you guys off with hidden charges, what are you going to do? Move to Bank B. And even if Bank A, seeing that idea was a huge public relations disaster tries to reverse that policy later, no one is going to back to Bank A to see the fine print details again. The only way Bank A can repair its damage is through more costly advertisements saying they made a mistake, they’re not doing maintenance fees anymore and ask everyone to give them a second chance.

    ExpressLanes made the exact same mistake. The only way to fix this is for Metro to spend advertising fees to repair the damage. For example, like using those Amber Alert signages or run radio ads on KNX 1070 to say “FasTrak: No more maintenance fees” so that people driving on the freeway can give the ExpressLanes a second chance. But the bad part compared to Bank A is that if Metro were to repair the damage by running Amber Alert signs and radio ads, those costs have to come from taxpayer money.

    First impressions count. But if you fail at making a good impression, it costs a lot to repair the damage. Poor planning by government as usual at the expense of taxpayers.

  10. My wife and I took off work a recent Friday and drove to Vegas in the morning.

    It sucked, we were a carpool with two people in the vehicle but we are banned from using the carpool lanes anymore because you have to have one of those damn transponders. Otherwise we never use the two freeways that use them. And there was no point in us buying the stupid transponder because we only go to Vegas and use those freeways once a year, at most, so we’d quickly owe money from the monthly fees.

    Trickle Down Traffic doesn’t work. Trickle Down Economics doesn’t work, and neither will Trickle Down Traffic.

    Who on earth thinks that if we make traffic better for the rich, the better traffic will trickle down to the rest of us? The economic reality is that traffic will get better for the rich and worse for the rest of us.

    unless you’re in the special circumstances of New York or London, which have the density, and the financial sector, that there are enough rich bastards to comprise a worthwhile percentage of commuters, but as the above shows, only 2.4% of commuters are rich in LA, and helping out their traffic doesn’t help out the rest of us

  11. I’d love to see the average speed for all cars if we just opened up all lanes to anyone for a month.

  12. LA car culture,

    That definitely sounds like it could account for some of the loss of carpoolers. Information on these types of things tends to be low in my experience, too, so I think it’s very possible many people simply don’t realize that the lanes are still free for carpoolers, or they don’t know that there’s a grace period where you’re not fined if you don’t have a transponder (except for the normal cost of using the lane if you’re a SOV). I totally agree that this should have been a system that was designed with the customer’s convenience in mind, and instead it appears that they focused a little more on revenue than was warranted, at least at this early stage.

    Another thing I didn’t know about is that the Silver Line runs on the 110 (I’m moving to LA next month), and that the ExpressLanes were accompanied by an increase in Silver Line service. I imagine some carpoolers, and non-carpoolers, switched over to the Silver Line as a result of the changes. Numbers on how ridership has changed in the past year would also be nice.

    Thanks for looking into these things Steve!

  13. The traffic on the s/b 110 in the afternoon definitely looks slower to me than prior. I am talking about south of the USC area, where traffic was always slow. It used to open up after Gage. Now, many times, it is stagnant.
    Part of the reason perhaps is that you have a very valuable lane (the transition lane between going in and out of the car pool lane) that is basically never occupied. Each lane is so valuable, yet one whole lane is empty.
    Hey what do I know, you guys are the experts.

  14. Could you please explain how Metro obtained annual income information for those with transponder accounts? Those numbers are misleading because it does not reflect the frequency with which those account holders use the Fast Track lanes. It seems to me that if people are turned off by the $3 monthly maintenance fee, those in the lower income brackets would also be turned off from paying the Fast Track fee altogether, including car poolers.

  15. If you go to the Metro Expresslanes website, then to Account Maintenance, click on “Are there any monthly fees associated with having a FasTrak account,” it reads ” Yes. A $3 monthly account maintenance fee is assessed. The fee can be waived with a minimum of four one-way trips on the Metro ExpressLanes in a month. The one-way trips can be any combination of paying a toll, carpooling toll-free, or eligible transit trips.” That is not telling carpoolers that there is no maintenance fee.

  16. I’d be curious for Steve’s take on Joe B’s comments. My intuition is that those numbers don’t tell the whole story, since there’s no reasonable explanation that I can tell for why carpoolers would steer clear of the ExpressLanes after the change. It makes no sense on its face, so I suspect something else is going on. (One possibility is that many of the previous HOV lane users were actually SOVs using the lanes illegally, but I doubt it would account for such a disparity in number.)

    Oh, and 24,613 trips is 12 percent below 28,000 trips, not 88%.

    • Hey Shane and Joe B;

      I certainly appreciate Joe B doing the math. I’m also uncomfortable commenting directly on it until I’ve run the numbers past the ExpressLanes folks (may not happen until next week). The gist of the issue, as I understand it, is that more overall vehicles may be using the HOV lanes, but perhaps not as many people thereby raising the question: what happened to the former carpoolers?

      I do think that prior to the ExpressLanes there were people using the lanes illegally but I definitely don’t know if it was a significant number or not. I also think — and this has been discussed before on this blog — that some former carpoolers for whatever reason have not gotten a transponder even though they travel toll-free. Obviously, the maintenance fee was an issue for some although that fee was dropped for six months by the Metro Board in March.

      Give me a few days please and I’ll see what I can find out. Thanks,

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  17. I signed up for a Fastrak transponder in Northern California as an easy way to have the $5 bridge toll ready. I was impressed to find that for $26 I got $30 worth of credit–so buying the transponder was essentially free at Walgreens. Why isn’t that true in Southern California??

  18. Joe B,

    There’s no problem with LA or Metro using technology to do their jobs more efficiently. The problem always, and has always been, poor planning on roll out on their new technologies. The TAP roll out was a complete mess and we’re still have yet to use the full potential of them. And it’s been what, like five years since it was introduced?

    The FasTrak transponder is the same thing. Great concept, people were for it, except poor planning.

    I know a lot of folks who were interested in the FasTrak and were interested in getting a transponder, but down all the way tucked in the bottom, that “$3 maintenance fee applies for infrequent users” stuck out that made everyone lose interest. A lot of folks in LA don’t use the 10/110 that often.

    I myself only use the 10/100 only two times a month at most, and that’s only two times in one direction (from Glendale to 105). I use the freeway as a full circle: northbound 405 to eastbound 101 to Burbank & Glendale. Then return, I go southbound on the 5 and 110 then to westbound 105 on the return trip back home. Many people do this but the maintenance fee alienated those who use the freeway system exactly like this way.

    It would’ve been more successful and probably had a better start had they not had the infrequent use maintenance fee. What were Metro thinking? That people don’t read fine prints?

    This “infrequent user maintenance fee” tarnished Metro’s public image much like Bank of America’s image was tarnished when they tried to implement the monthly maintenance fees for having checking accounts.

    First impressions count and Metro blew it. They tried to undo this by getting rid of the maintenance fee, but the damage was done. It will take quite some time to regain the trust from the public.

  19. So, before the lanes opened there were 54,000 carpools using the 110, with at least 2 people in each car, for a minimum of 108,000 carpoolers.
    Now, there are (57,000 * .59 =) 33,600 carpool cars, for a minimum of 67,200 carpoolers, plus (57,000 * .41 =) 23,300 solo drivers, for a total of 90,500 people.
    So, the express lanes project has driven over 40,000 carpoolers out of the carpool lanes and into the general lanes, and replaced them with only 23,300 solo drivers.

    And Metro calls this progress.

    It’s time to dump the requirement that carpoolers use transponders. This is a bad requirement that’s bad for LA, set into place by a Metro that’s more interested in gadgetry than they are in getting people quickly to where they’re going.

  20. How is Metro determining income level? How many businesses are subsidizing their employee’s transponder and carpool lane costs? Also, my casual, non-empirical data suggests different results. On Sunday afternoons when I travel to my in-laws, from Pasadena to San Pedro, virtually no one is in the carpool lanes. The other lanes are stop-and-go, especially near USC.

    • John, we also need to know if government agencies or cities are reimbursing their employees or elected officials for the toll fees. And if government agencies or cities are the ones purchasing the transponders. Many government offices are in low income areas, therefore skewing the Zip Code Tabulation Areas figures.

  21. Thank you Henry for that information. I was thinking it was odd that people would give Metro information about their personal income in order to purchase a transponder. How accurate is the Zip Code Tabulation Areas to use in Metro’s statistics?

  22. You need to be very clear that the household income bracket is assumed based off the account holder’s zip code – as the application never collects the income of the applicant (unless they apply for the Equity Plan, and even that is assumed based off eligibility for the discount). They are based off “Zip Code Tabulation Areas” of the zip codes reported by the account holder.

  23. It’s free for carpools. I wonder how many carpools are using the 10 & 110 Express Lanes

  24. Above you wrote: “Account holders by house income bracket are evenly distributed: 8.5 percent make less than $35,000, 19.9 percent make $35,000 to $49,000, 35.6 percent make $50,000 to $74,999, 21.3 percent make $75,000 to $99,000, 12.2 percent make $100,000 to $149,999 and 2.4 percent make over $150,000. In other words, it’s pretty much a bell curve and suggests the notion that the ExpressLanes are “Lexus Lanes” — i.e. only used by those with very high incomes — is not correct.” Do you have any figures as to how often these income classes use the express lanes? The reason I am asking is that my niece and also my son and daughter in law have transponders for the Orange County toll roads but none of them use the roads often, my niece because she said it would cost her too much to do so but she will use them occasionally. My son and daughter in law when they travel to Las Vegas or Laughlin.

    • Hi Peggy;

      I don’t have those figures, but that’s certainly a good question — for other readers, what Peggy is basically saying/asking is that it’s one thing to sign up for a transponder, it’s another to actually use the lanes. At this time, the only stats I have are the ones that Metro provided to me in the report.

      As the post says, and I want to emphasize, this is preliminary data and there will be a more thorough and robust review of the ExpressLanes done next year after the 10 and 110 lanes have been running for a full calendar year.

      I will certainly relay questions such as these to the ExpressLanes staff so they know what the public wants to know about the program.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  25. You write above: “In April, the average speed of the general lanes on the 110 was 48.3 mph during the same morning peak commute. In April 2012 before the ExpressLanes opened, the average speed was 48.4 mph.” If the idea of the express lanes was to speed up traffic on the general lanes, then obviously this has not occurred. Was there another reason to put in the express lanes? Or is it concluded that without the express lanes the general lanes would be even slower?

  26. I think a way I would understand the average speed would be if the figures were presented so: number of minutes taken to travel the 11 miles of the 110 Express Lane in both directions at different time intervals. Between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m., there shouldn’t be any difficulty in maintaining 65 mph which equals about a 5.9 minute travel time. It would be helpful to know the travel times at 7:30 a.m., 8:00 a.m., 8:30 a.m., etc.

  27. I think there’s a mistake in the math here: “On the 10, the average work week trips were 24,613 at the end of April. That’s 88 percent below the pre-opening average volume of 28,000.” I believe that should say “12 percent below” or “88 percent OF” the pre-opening average…

  28. I was thinking that you had taken the average of all the speeds obtained on the individual express lanes and then average them to come up with the average speed. So I looked up “average speed”: “The average speed of an object in an interval of time is the distance traveled by the object divided by the duration of the interval.” Is this how you obtained the “average speed?”

  29. Account holders by house income bracket may not be what it seems. Do you know how many of toll fees are being reimbursed by companies or government agencies? Also, your statement: In April, the average speed in the ExpressLanes on the 10 freeway was 64 mph during the weekday morning peak commute between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m. The average speed in the ExpressLanes on the 110 freeway was 65 mph. Does that mean that speeds of more than 64 and 65 mph were being obtained to even out to that average, i.e., the express lanes were encouraging illegal speeding?

    • Hi Peggy;

      No, it means that the average speed of motorists in the ExpressLanes was 64 mph on the 10 and 65 mph on the 110. I’m not sure where you get the part about ExpressLanes encouraging speeding.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  30. Hard to believe that the average speed in the general lanes is 48 mph! Whenever I’ve been there in the morning, it seems a lot slower than that!

  31. What’s the current percentage make up of infrequent riders of the 10/110 that was the debate of monthly maintenance fees?

    • Hi Frequent Flyer;

      I don’t know; I only have the info that was included in the staff report. Remember, this data is mostly only through April — just after the Board dropped the maintenance fee for six months.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source