NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Paying For "HOT" Lane Privileges

July 6, 2001

High-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) lanes reserved for carpooling commuters are chronically underused, traffic experts report. So some states have opened their HOV lanes to cars carrying no occupants other than the driver -- for a fee, of course.

The High-Occupancy-Toll, or HOT, lanes would seem to be just common sense. Drivers willing to pay benefit, as do other commuters as those cars are removed from their traffic lanes. And states collect the extra revenues.

Unfortunately, Maryland officials refused to adopt a solution which other states have found useful, claiming that "Lexus lanes" would be reserved for the rich and would discourage carpooling.

But studies of three pilot programs in Texas and California destroy such arguments.

  • On two California highways, carpooling actually increased -- by as much as 13 percent on one of them -- during the first two years of an experiment that turned HOV lanes into HOT lanes.
  • As for accommodating only affluent drivers, nearly 20 percent of those using HOT lanes in Orange County, Calif., made less than $40,000 a year.
  • The fear that toll lanes would become as congested as regular lanes hasn't materialized -- perhaps because congestion pricing has allowed fees for HOT lanes to be raised or lowered depending upon the volume of traffic, varying between 50 cents and $8.
  • Moreover, illegal use of the dedicated lanes has decreased significantly and rush-hour traffic has evened out.

Money raised from the tolls can be used to finance public transportation projects in poorer areas.

With more than 15 percent of old-style HOV lanes running under capacity, the concept is vulnerable. New Jersey abandoned them altogether in 1998. And lawmakers in at least three other states are trying to kill them off.

Source: Editorial, "States Stuck in Slow Lane," USA Today, July 6, 2001.


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