L.A.'s first toll lanes open; trips cost up to $15.40
Los Angeles County's first toll lanes opened shortly after 10 p.m. Saturday on an 11-mile stretch of the 110 Freeway amid hopes of faster commutes and early grumblings from some unhappy motorists.
The express lanes run between Adams Boulevard just south of downtown and the Harbor Gateway Transit Center near Torrance and the 91 Freeway. Officials aim to keep the lanes moving at 45 mph or faster. Solo drivers will pay an average of $4 to $7 per trip — and as much as $15.40 — depending on congestion and toll-lane demand.
"All commuters will benefit … because the express lanes will redistribute and clear traffic across all lanes of the 110 Freeway," said L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, a Metropolitan Transportation Authority board member.
Many academics, planners and elected officials tout the potential benefits of toll lanes. But some motorists already are objecting that government is again dipping into their wallets.
"I voted on a lot less important items last Tuesday than the conversion of carpool to express lanes," said Hans Koenigsmann, 49, of San Pedro. "Toll is about revenue and income, and toll roads are cumbersome, inefficient and a step back into past times."
Some have questioned the timing of the toll lane debut just days after voters cast ballots on Measure J, a countywide transportation tax extension. The measure is falling short of approval, but some ballots remain to be counted.
"As best as I can surmise, the date was pushed back to avoid clouding the favorability of the Measure J vote," Ridley-Thomas, who criticized the measure, said recently. Metro officials have denied any scheduling connection between the election and toll lane opening.
Either way, here are a few things motorists should know:
•Anyone who wants to use the lanes, including carpoolers, needs a transponder. They cost $40 if you pay with a credit/debit card, and that money can be used toward fares. If you pay with cash, the upfront cost is $75, $50 of which can be used toward fares. Discounts are available for low-income households. The devices can be purchased online at http://www.metroexpresslanes.net; at walk-in centers at 500 W. 190th Street in Gardena or at the El Monte Station at 3501 Santa Anita Ave.; and by printing out and mailing an application to Metro ExpressLanes, P.O. Box 3878, Gardena, CA 90247.
•Fines for using the lanes without a transponder run between $25 and $55. Although carpoolers and motorcyclists need to obtain transponders, they don't pay tolls. Transponders must be set to accurately reflect the number of passengers in the vehicle on each trip. Those caught setting a transponder to two people or more while driving solo will face fines of at least $341.
•Those with electric and hybrid vehicles also need transponders and will have to pay tolls until at least March 1, 2014, in order to use the lanes. At that time, they will need a special green or white sticker issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles.
• FasTrak brand transponders from other regions will work here, but motorists will be charged the same rates as solo drivers even if they are carpooling because their devices do not have the same settings.
Photo: Traffic crawls along the 110 Freeway through downtown L.A. Motorists with transponders now can use express toll lanes on an 11-mile stretch of the freeway. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times