The first comprehensive analysis of Los Angeles County's experimental toll lanes indicates the pay-to-drive routes made some rush-hour commutes faster and less painful, both in the toll lanes and in the free lanes, but made little to no difference for many drivers battling morning traffic.
According to an independent report prepared for federal transportation officials, the toll lanes along the 110 and 10 freeways didn't significantly change overall traffic speeds during peak periods for drivers using either the tollway or the general lanes.
But for individual drivers on the freeways at certain times, the experimental lanes may have made a significant difference: Drivers heading west on the 10 Freeway toll lanes at 7:30 a.m. may have driven up to 18 mph faster than they could have before the tollway opened, the report said. But on the northbound 110 Freeway at 8 a.m., commuters in the free lanes crept toward downtown Los Angeles at 21 mph, the same speed as before the lanes opened.
A summary of the report will be presented at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's downtown board meeting Thursday, when directors will consider whether to extend toll lane operations beyond next January.
The 110 and 10 toll lanes are Los Angeles County's first attempt at "congestion pricing," or charging solo drivers varying prices to use carpool lanes. The fees increase as the toll lanes become more crowded. Tolls begin at 25 cents a mile and can go up to $1.40 a mile.
If Metro extends the life of the 110 and 10 toll lanes, it could signal the dawn of a congestion-pricing era in Los Angeles, experts say. Metro has had public hearings on a similar program proposed for the 5 Freeway, and some say solo drivers could eventually be charged to use most or all of the county's 453-mile network of carpool lanes.
Many drivers have praised the new toll lanes for shaving minutes off their commutes, and for providing a new option along a freeway network that is largely built out. But the lanes, which critics call "Lexus lanes," have drawn complaints from those who say many commuters can't afford to pay as much as $15 for a one-way trip.
More than 80% of trips taken by low-income toll lane users were toll-free because they were carpooling, the report said. It went on to say that a Metro program that gave low-income households a one-time $25 toll credit was most popular in ZIP Codes where fewer people overall signed up for the tolling program.
Others say the program discouraged carpooling. Although drivers don't have to pay tolls if they have two or more people in the car on the 110, or three or more people on the 10, they were originally required to pay $3 a month to keep their electronic tolling accounts open. That requirement has been temporarily waived, and Metro directors will consider Thursday whether to eliminate it.
The volume of buses, vans, trucks and cars that used the 110 Freeway during morning rush hour rose, the report said. But the number of people who moved through the corridor during the same time fell sharply, a possible indication that more commuters were driving alone.
Metro collected more than $23 million in tolls over 14 months, the report said, and will reinvest the funds in pedestrian, transit and vanpool improvements in the areas surrounding the freeways.
Some of the toll profits paid for improvements to the Silver Line, an express bus that links the San Gabriel Valley and the South Bay to downtown Los Angeles. Monthly boardings significantly increased after buses began arriving more frequently and began using the toll lanes, the report said.