The 110 Freeway’s carpool lanes have been open to solo drivers who want to avoid traffic for almost five years, however, the 11-mile toll route from the 105 Freeway to downtown Los Angeles can cost $20 or more during morning rush hour. One of the top issues for Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s traffic officials has been that over 25 percent of drivers in the toll lanes have been evading the single-driver toll. The high rate of people evading the toll has harmed the efficiency of the lanes, which is driving up prices and slowing down speeds for the customers who did pay to enter. Officials claim that most drivers who cheat are alone in the car and switch their transponders to a carpool setting to avoid the toll. Drivers with two or more people in the vehicle are not charged for using the toll lanes. Martin Wachs, a distinguished professor emeritus of urban planning at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs, states,
It’s a threat to the validity of the whole program. You can’t charge people to use a system that you’re not willing to enforce.
Los Angeles County toll lane drivers are charged a per-mile price that changes as often as every five minutes, based on the congestion in the paid lanes. As traffic slows down, the per-mile price rises until it hits a Metro mandated ceiling of $1.90 per mile. When the highest tolls have no effect on congestion in the lanes, Metro turns to “carpool only” mode, barring solo drivers from entering the lanes until travel speeds rise. The use of “HOV Only” status rose 15 percent over the last fiscal year, to 352 hours, an average of more than one hour per workday. All carpool and toll lanes that receive federal funds are required to maintain average speeds of 45 mph at least 90 percent of the time during peak periods.
According to Caltrans, currently, only one-third of the lanes in California meet that goal. Instead of investing in more CHP enforcement, Metro is developing an automated system designed to detect the number of occupants in a car and issue a ticket if the transponder setting does not match. Officials believe that the new system should be finished by next year. Hopefully this issue is fixed and the number of toll evaders decrease to make the toll lane more effective.