Carpooling Lanes: How Hot is a HOT Lane? (Part 2)

By Lucrecia Rivera, June 2014

The HOT Lanes

A High Occupancy Toll Lane (HOT) is a road pricing scheme that gives motorists in single-occupancy vehicles access to the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes (HOV). Tolls change throughout the day according to real-time traffic conditions, and are intended to manage the number of cars in each lane and keep our highways less congested.

The Money

Whether High Occupancy Toll Lanes will modify commuting habits will depend on their cost..

Carpool 2 part 2
Pricing can vary from $0.30 up to $4.75 per commute. But unforeseen driver behavior has complicated the model - over the last several months, drivers nationwide are willing to pay the maximum toll. Clearly, drivers are encouraged to drive in the HOT lane because of reduced congestion, but if everyone is willing to pay the toll, HOT lanes will become as congested as regular lanes.
To prevent HOT from slowing down, traffic managers may hike prices. John Ristow, Director of Planning and Program Development for the VTA said, "As long as freeways are free they will always be full."

The Impact

Implications of HOT lane policies were analyzed for North Virginia, and these were the findings:
  •  Single Occupancy Vehicle (SOV) drivers switch from the congested general lanes to the HOT lanes during rush hour. 
  •  Congestion was reduced on general lanes adjacent to HOT lanes. 
  •  Congestion increased on the new HOT Lanes, lowering speed and increasing trip times for those commuting in these lanes. 
  •  Drivers return to highways from side roads. Therefore, the total vehicle miles traveled falls as drivers take more direct routes to their destinations. 
  •  Because HOT lanes offer better travel opportunities to solo drivers, SOV increase and carpool trips decrease. 
  •  Wealthier households make more trips than others, using the HOT Lanes. 
  •  Poorer households benefit from less congested regular lanes and side roads. But also, this encourages low income drivers to take more car trips. 
Can the HOT lanes ensure fair transportation access to low- and middle-income families? Will HOT lanes turn into “Lexus Lanes” reserved for the wealthy to pay for faster transit? Can you imagine a highway system where all lanes are HOT, and every driver is charged to use the roads?

US 101 Hot Lanes Project

Bay Area Commuters traveling along US 101 may soon encounter HOT lanes. Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) is implementing the US 101 Express Lanes Project , which will convert 36 miles on US 101 to express lanes and expand the highway to add a second express lane. At some point, VTA may also allow single-occupancy drivers to pay to access the HOV lane, creating a HOT system along 101.
Kott Planning Consultants prepared a study, presented by Transform , claiming that the US 101 Express Lanes Project does not represent a sustainable approach to traffic control. The current 150 million dollar proposal to expand the highway will only encourage more drivers on the road. Even if an HOV lane is converted to HOT, the initial construction cost will offset any generated revenue.
Instead, Transform proposed another strategy for the US 101 Express Lanes Project: an “Optimized HOT” which converts an existing lane to a toll lane. In addition to generating revenue from HOT fees, the $18 million proposition would result in a substantial construction savings that could be to used to improve public transit and encourage alternative forms of transportation.
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     "Innovation Required : Moving More People With Less Traffic " , by Transform
Unfortunately, Transform’s Optimized HOT proposal will encounter bureaucratic roadblocks: “Currently, California law prohibits conversion of an existing highway lane into an express lane. Transform is working to build support for changing state policy and incorporating the Optimized HOT strategy into plans for the region’s express lane network.” You can sign up at to stay informed of the latest news and on how you can help authorities and community to choose the best option for the Bay Area.
Converting 36 miles of 101 to HOT lanes would help alleviate congestion in the Bay Area, but this isn’t a comprehensive traffic solution. We need innovation to solve our traffic problems! We are moving people with technology and equipment designed in the 1980’s.
For Silicon Valley to continue as a global hub of innovation, the problem of traffic congestion must be solved”, said Marianna Grossman, Executive Director of Sustainable Silicon Valley.


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