Posted by: shoji | September 11, 2007

The Car Pool Problem: Part II (HOT lanes)

HOT (High-Occupancy Toll) lanes are a variation of the more familiar HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes. The distinction is that a vehicle may use the HOT lane if it either (1) qualifies as “high occupancy” or (2) the driver pays a toll. The price of the toll may be based on traffic (i.e., congestion pricing).

According to the USDOT “The combined ability of HOT operations to introduce additional traffic to existing HOV facilities, while using price and other management techniques to control the number of additional motorists and maintain high service levels, renders the HOT lane concept a promising means of reducing congestion and improving service on the existing highway system.”

HOT lanes are not without controversy as they may be viewed as paying for convenience, and inevitably lead to a debate on class and fairness.

One important difference between HOV and HOT lanes relates to behavior change. HOV lanes are designed to change the paradigm of commuter travel: from single drivers to carpools. HOT lanes. on the other hand, permit a choice between carpooling or paying a convenience tax.

On a pragmatic level, I am in favor of HOT lanes. (I’m in favor of their HOV counterparts, too.) I recall hearing that certain HOV lanes in Southern California (Santa Monica?) were extremely underutilized; rush-hour commutes hardly carried any carpool vehicles. Commuters complained vociferously about the empty lanes, which were subsequently converted back into a regular lane. Had they been HOT lanes, commuters would surely have paid for the privilege of use.

I can understand how support of HOT lanes can appear hypocritical given my distaste for the hybrid permit, which I blogged about here. Unlike the hybrid permit, the HOT tax provides direct feedback (i.e., disincentive) to use the convenience and would still provide an future incentive to carpool. Hybrid permits, on the other hand, provide a moral veil to the single-driver culture, without the incentivization to carpool.

Virginia reaches HOT lanes agreement – Washington Business Journal:
The Northern Virginia plan would have a varying toll rate, depending on congestion levels. During rush hour, the average trip cost is expected to be between $5 and $6.

Critics have called HOT lanes a vehicle for the wealthy — they’re often dubbed “Lexus lanes” — but some research has shown that drivers of all income levels use the service. HOT lanes are in operation in California, Texas, Denver, Salt Lake City and Minneapolis.

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