Drive Free…or Pay

At last there will be a toll road in Los Angeles. But it’s not like the freeways will stop being free.

In today’s New York Times, an article implies that Los Angelenos will have to give up their freeways. But that’s not the case at all. People who don’t want to pay for driving on a public road can still drive toll-free. The new toll lanes actually benefit solo drivers, at the expense of those who car pool.

The new toll only applies to drivers using the Express lanes. These lanes were previously only for high-occupancy vehicles (a.k.a. carpools), which solo drivers could never use without a pretty hefty fine. The new Fastrack lanes will now allow solo drivers to use these less-congested lanes, but they will have to pay for the privilege. High occupancy vehicles, such as carpools and busses, still get to use the lanes for free. Except now, single-occupancy vehicles can buy their way into these lanes. If such drivers don’t want to use them, they will have to use the general-use lanes or find their way into high-occupancy vehichle.

The only mandatory charge is for the FasTrak transponder. No matter how many people are in the car, all drivers using the Express lane must have a FasTrak transponder, which costs $40, and a billing account. It impacts car pool drivers more than solo drivers in general because they must now opt-in to the FasTrak program, where they did not before. Solo drivers can still opt-out by using the general-use lanes.

The new Express lanes do in fact take the free out of the freeway, but not for the single-occupancy vehicles that are the biggest cause of urban congestion. Those cars are still free to clog up the roads or, if they wish, buy their way on to roads reserved for vehicles that actually move people more efficiently and deserve refuge from the solo driver.

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