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    No FasTrak device? No problem, as LA Metro allows all drivers to use freeway toll lanes
    • July 7, 2023

    A decade of pay lanes on the 10 and 110 freeways in Los Angeles County have pleased millions of riders in a hurry, even as sticklers criticize the loss of “free” ways that are deemed a California legacy, and even as inadvertent ExpressLane users balk over high tolls, fines and fees.

    On June 22, the LA Metro board made it easier to use ExpressLanes by eliminating the need for a FasTrak transponder, or the need to sign up your vehicle. Now  any motorist can use the lanes without a transponder or a Metro account and simply be billed for a congestion toll plus an $8 processing fee per trip — avoiding penalties.

    Those carpoolers with two or more occupants can still use their transponder to signal overhead beacons, and the occasional CHP patrol, that they are riding free and will not be billed for the trip, or cited. Carpool occupancy restrictions apply on each freeway.


    An action led by Fourth District Supervisor and LA Metro board member Janice Hahn that was approved June 22 by an 8-0 vote eliminated the $25 penalty charged by Metro each time someone drives in the ExpressLanes without a transponder, even if they did it unknowingly.

    The action also means a CHP officer cannot pull someone over for not having the device or not having an account with Metro, a citation that costs $250, according to Hahn’s office.

    Hahn, who said this will make the Metro system “less intimidating,” said the impetus was to open the toll lanes to the occasional user, or those visiting Los Angeles.

    “I felt some people thought about it at the last minute,” she said at the Metro meeting in June. “Or say someone was on their way to the hospital. Can we help them out? I think we will see more people taking advantage of the ExpressLanes when they need them.”

    (William Wilson Lewis III, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

    FILE – Toll lanes going up on the 91 Express Lanes. Photo taken south of Corona. (The Press-Enterprise/William Wilson Lewis III)

    110 ExpressLane signage in the Harbor Gateway area of Los Angeles on Friday, Apr 13, 2018. (Photo by Scott Varley, Contributing Photographer)

    A driver enters the 110 ExpressLanes at the Harbor Gateway Transit Center in Gardena on Friday, Apr 13, 2018. (Photo by Scott Varley, Contributing Photographer)




    Exactly 10 years ago, LA Metro received federal dollars to convert a 14-mile stretch of bus and carpool lanes along the 10 Freeway and an 11-mile stretch of the 110 Freeway into pay lanes called ExpressLanes. The 10 Freeway lanes run in the west San Gabriel Valley from the 605 Freeway to the 101 Freeway in downtown Los Angeles. The 110 Freeway lanes run from Adams Street in South Los Angeles to the 91 Freeway in the South Bay.

    Reports in 2018 showed single-occupancy drivers escaping bumper-to-bumper traffic by moving into lanes previously available only for carpoolers and buses — and paying to do so. Of all ExpressLane users, 65 percent were solo drivers with a transponder.

    From March 2020 until recently, Metro conducted a pilot program allowing solo drivers access to the ExpressLanes as long as they paid congestion tolls and a $4 processing fee, but no penalties. That $4 fee will be raised to $8 in the next few weeks, Metro officials reported.

    From September 2021 to August 2022, Metro reported an additional 899,954 trips on the two ExpressLanes systems. “The data support the conclusion that the (pay-as-you-go pilot) resulted in more ExpressLanes trips by drivers that did not have the FasTrak (transponder),” according to a Metro report released last month. The report estimated the pilot program produced a 2.4% increase in trips.

    Riders going to and from LAX may be more apt to move left, out of crowded, regular lanes and pay the congestion tolls on the 110 Freeway ExpressLanes. Others traveling east on the 10 Freeway on a weekday late afternoon may use the 10 ExpressLanes. One of those is transit-watcher Carter Rubin, who lives in Santa Monica and does not have a transponder, but may jump into the pay lanes on the way to the Claremont Colleges.

    “When I do occasionally drive out to places like Claremont and my alma mater, Pitzer, I would be more likely (to use ExpressLanes) now that the transponder isn’t required, since I don’t own a transponder,” he wrote in a message.

    An overhead camera system takes a picture of the pay-as-you-go user’s license plate. The congestion toll plus $8 processing charge is then sent in a bill by mail to the car’s registered owner. If not paid on time, delinquent fees are added, spiking the bill.

    Likewise, the camera detection system assesses the carpoolers by determining the number of people in the vehicle and compares that to the switch setting on the transponder.

    On the 10 Freeway, carpoolers with three or more occupants ride toll-free all hours, while cars with two occupants pay a toll during peak hours but ride toll-free during off-peak hours. On the 110 Freeway, vehicles with two or more occupants ride toll-free all hours.

    Using an algorithm, congestion tolls vary and are set higher when traffic is greater. Conversely, the toll is less when traffic is lighter. A congestion toll ranges from $0.30 to $8, according to Metro. The average toll between March 2022 and February 2023 was $2.92 per trip, said Patrick Chandler, Metro spokesman.

    “We try to control volume by the pricing in the tolls. The busier it is, the more the toll. That is the tool we use,” said Mark Linsenmayer, deputy executive officer overseeing the Metro ExpressLanes. Tolls are also adjusted by distance traveled in the lanes.

    There are 60 express toll lanes across the United States, according to the Reason Foundation. Metro’s first entry into congestion pricing 10 years ago could be followed by more ExpressLanes on other freeways, plus other iterations.

    Metro is studying a plan to add a toll to certain roads that lead into Downtown Los Angeles or Westside communities. Traffic would be reduced by 24 percent if vehicles were charged a $4 toll during peak hours to travel the freeways and major roadways entering West Los Angeles and Santa Monica, according to a 2019 Southern California Association of Governments study.

    Most transit agencies in the state require a transponder, with LA Metro breaking the trend.

    Eli Lipmen, executive director of Move LA, a supporter of transit, said he uses a transponder to travel freeways in Orange County and the Bay Area and on the Golden Gate Bridge. All the toll lanes in Orange County require a transponder, often a thin sticker with a bar code.

    Motorists on the future 405 Express Lanes in Orange County between the 73 and 605 freeways must have a transponder, as do drivers  using existing 91 Express Lanes, Joel Zlotnik, spokesman for the Orange County Transportation Authority, told the Orange County Register. The 405 lanes are scheduled for completion later this year.

    Trains, buses — and charging solo drivers — are tools to reduce driving miles, traffic and air pollution, Lipmen said.

    He agrees with getting more use out of Metro’s ExpressLanes and with congestion pricing in general.

    “Do I pay $5 or $10 for the faster trip? Or do I take public transit next time? You are making a decision,” he said, adding, “The only way to manage or reduce traffic is to charge for it.”

    Related links

    When the 405 Express Lanes open up, some motorists will avoid the toll
    110, 10 Freeway ExpressLanes are slowing down and officials aren’t sure of the fix
    On 10 Freeway, cheaters and solo drivers clogging ExpressLanes may prompt big changes from Metro
    LA supervisor wants to ‘decriminalize’ Metro’s Express Lanes on 110 and 10 freeways by letting drivers use them without first registering
    If you are forced to pay $4 to drive into West L.A., traffic would be reduced, study says


    ​ Orange County Register