The toll lanes that promised faster freeway rides through Downtown Los Angeles may actually be creating more traffic headaches.
The Metropolitan Transit Authority converted the carpool lanes on the 110 and 10 freeways into toll lanes in 2012. The Metro ExpressLanes are basically carpool lanes, but solo drivers can pay to use them with a rate that depends on how bad traffic is at a particular time.
The goal is to improve travel times for all commuters by shifting single-occupancy vehicles into the toll lanes, thereby freeing up space in regular lanes.
But two years later, traffic in the paid lanes has grown by almost 20 percent, officials say. In fact, drivers tell the I-Team that cars in the toll lanes are often moving at a much slower pace than those in the regular lanes.
One commuter who’s noticed the change is Orange County resident Jeremy Simmons, who navigates his motorcycle along the 110 Freeway to reach his job in downtown Los Angeles five days a week.
"Since they’ve turned into express lanes, they’ve actually gotten a lot worse," Simmons said. "They used to be pretty free flowing."
To illustrate the difference, Simmons videotaped his commute right after the lanes opened in 2012, and the exact route a year later. The video shows a dramatic increase in the volume of traffic in the MetroExpress lanes in 2013.
He repeated the experiment a few days ago, and the slowdown appears to be even worse. According to Simmons’ calculations, it’s now taking him more than 3 minutes longer to get to and from work every day – and having the option of lane-splitting on his motorcycle, he gets to travel more quickly and nimbly in traffic.
He told the I-Team that, according to his observations, "for carpoolers it’s gotten really bad. Their commute has gone from 8 or 10 minutes to 20 or 30."
Under federal law, high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane drivers must be able to go an average of 45 miles per hour or faster during peak hours.
"Ninety percent of the time… express lanes are traveling well above 45 miles per hour," said Rick Jager, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transit Authority.
Jager said some drivers who pay to commute faster may find traffic at a standstill after accidents and occasional police activity.
"If indeed the lanes show that they were slower than the 45 [miles per hour], we’ll credit their account," Jager continued. "We’re not here to gouge anybody."
Right now, tolls range from 25 cents to $1.40 a mile, for a maximum one-way price of $15.40 along the 11 mile route.
Motorcyclist Simmons says he’s not looking for a refund; he’d rather see the toll lanes living up to their original promise.
"All those people [who] used to drive in the carpool lane to get to work fast aren’t getting to work fast," said Simmons.