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.
Categories: Policy & Funding