Image from Zach Behrens/LAist and Damien Newton/Streetsblog LA
Following several months of intense wheeling and dealing, Los Angeles County's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has finally settled on a tentative congestion pricing plan that would convert high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes (i.e. carpool lanes) on two freeways into high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes -- with a twist. As Streetsblog LA's Damien Newton wrote about a month ago, the watered down plan would allow most vehicles, including hybrids, van pools and, in some cases, two passenger cars, to still use the HOV lanes for free, thus blunting most of the criticisms about equity concerns that had dogged it. In a further effort to distance itself from more conventional congestion pricing schemes, Metro even dropped the "HOT" term, adopting the more benign-sounding "Fast Lanes" in its stead. Which begs the question: To what extent will this plan actually help modify commuter patterns? Newton noted at the time that:
Unless there is a re-striping of part of the I-10 between I-605 and I-710, there won't be any opportunity to "buy-in" during rush hour on the I-10 and limited ability to "buy-in" on the I-110. Materials handed our during the meeting indicate that the I-110 is almost full in peak hours and cars would only be able to buy-in during limited times when space is available. Fear of angering anyone has led to a program that has no plan to preserve HOV lane capacity during peak hours. Wasn't the reason for this plan to protect the HOV lanes from congestion?
In other words, if you were expecting this proposal to change commuting patterns, you're going to be upset. If you drive your kid to private school or happened to buy the right kind of hybrid to qualify for the state's sticker program five years ago, you're going to be thrilled.
As with all small ideas, Metro promises small rewards. Metro expects to raise $3-$4 million in funds over the first year of the program along the I-110, barely enough to pay for operating costs and $10 million on the I-10. Parsons engineer Darren Henderson also promised a "slight improvement in speed" that would lead to an "incremental improvement" in air quality.
Another cause for concern is how Metro will spend the $210 million that it receives from the federal government. In short, they don't know.
While I originally criticized Metro's more fleshed-out proposal for the very same reasons that most commentators panned it -- the equity issue -- I backtracked after being taken to task by fellow Angeleno, and blogger, Siel, who pointed out that the cost burden would be relatively small, even for low income drivers. It remains to be seen how effective this new plan will be in reducing congestion though I now have my doubts.
Just this past week, Newton reported on Metro's funding priorities for the plan, which indicate that the I-10 and I-110 will be the beneficiaries of the $210 million federal allotment. While the "Fast Lanes" aspect of the plan may do little to reduce congestion on LA's bloated freeways, Metro hopes the funds it will invest in new transit projects will alleviate the region's horrendous traffic situation.
With public transit ridership on the rise nationwide -- I've definitely seen a drastic uptick in the number of riders during my morning/evening commutes -- Metro may have just made a very shrewd decision in focusing on creating new projects. Only time will tell, of course.
Via ::LAist: Congestion Pricing Coming to LA (blog)
More about congestion pricing in Los Angeles
::Revisiting the Los Angeles Congestion Pricing Plan: Good Idea After All?
::Is Congestion Pricing Right for Car-Happy Los Angeles?