California has been bending over backward to encourage commuters to adopt zero-emission vehicles. Los Angeles County even went so far as to offer EV drivers the opportunity to become certified to access the express lane, even when riding solo, free of charge. This immediately caused issues and transportation officials announced on Thursday they were going to have to eliminate the program to reduce congestion.
Apparently, giving zero-emission vehicles free access to the carpool lane created an influx of traffic that it was no longer able to meet the federally mandated minimum speed of 45 mph during peak hours. Officials had become concerned after over two-thirds of California’s HOV lanes couldn’t maintain the minimum speed in 2016. However, that’s not entirely the fault of EVs. Drivers who have opted to pay for use of the toll lanes without passengers now account for around half of its daily traffic, pushing it past capacity. LA is worried that frequent slowdowns has resulted in commuters becoming less interested in busses and carpooling.
The proposal to begin charging electric vehicles to use the express lane nearly passed unanimously. Only Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl voted against the plan, who claimed it had nothing to do with the environment. “We ought to simply admit that we really want to convert this to a toll lane, and we don’t really care about clean air … that all of the things that we adopted HOV lanes for in the first place, we’d like to abandon,” she said.
If more traffic in the lane results in idle busses and less people using mass transit, allowing EVs to ride free isn’t helping. However, allowing single-occupant vehicles to continue paying to use HOV lanes when they’re already full isn’t much of a solution either. Kuehl wants to see pay lanes eliminated entirely, prohibiting all access by lone motorists.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials said qualifying EVs with stickers would still be eligible for a 15-percent discount per trip. But they would no longer be able to ride free without passengers.
Although, none of this will matter much since LA County is pretty sure a large portion of drivers are abusing the system. Actively policing HOV lanes in rush-hour traffic is next to impossible. In fact, the Transit Authority’s current system actually had EV drivers using their FasTrak transponder devices to perpetually indicate they had three or more people in the car to avoid paying the toll — something which any driver could attempt if they were brave enough.
While the freeway camera systems would be able to spot a liar if this continued, plenty of drivers already cross into HOV lanes late to avoid cameras or have illegally tinted windows. Things like riding with mannequins or dolls in baby seats also aren’t uncommon. The California Highway Patrol reports dozens of cases involving false passengers every single year. It’s estimated that up to 30 percent of cars in the carpool lane during rush hour aren’t supposed to be there.