Monday, February 20, 2012

Metro, please fix the HOV pricing and hours

This has been a long time in coming.  The first HOV to HOT conversion has opened on 45S, allowing single-occupant vehicles to pay more to join the buses, vans, and HOV cars in the underutilized lane.  The other HOV lanes will make the same conversion over the next year.  This is a fantastic amenity for the city.  Yes, few people will want to lay out the money on daily basis, but at least you will have the option to use it when you really need it: to catch a flight, to pick up your child before late fees kick in, to attend an important meeting or event when you're running late - whatever.

The other benefit: top executives at downtown firms who can afford the high tolls will feel better about keeping their companies downtown, instead of pulling an Exxon and consolidating everything to a far suburban campus.  That keeps Houston's core, and tax base, healthier.

But there is a major flaw:
Inbound lanes will be available to solo drivers Monday through Friday, between 5 a.m. and 11 a.m., except for the 7-8 a.m. hour when the lanes will remain open only to drivers with passengers due to anticipated heavy congestion, Metro said. 
Outbound HOT lanes will be available weekdays from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m., except between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.
...
Solo drivers who try to avoid paying the HOT lane toll face a $75 penalty. Single drivers who use HOT lanes when designated for HOV use only will be issued a citation and required to appear in court. The current fine is $170.
This is a major problem.  First, it removes the option right when people might most need it at the peak of rush hour.  Second, it just pisses off the previously mentioned executives, pretty much on a daily basis.  Third, if you're running a few minutes late around 7am/4pm (or a few minutes early around 8am/6pm), you just went from a $4.50 toll to a $170 ticket and a court date!  That's just vicious.  I understand capacity is tight at those hours, but why not just price it appropriately to keep demand down, even if that's $20 each way?  $20 will certainly sting if I miss my timing, but it's a heck of a lot better than $170 citation and a court date.  And just wait until the first accidents happen as people slam on their brakes - or even back up! - to avoid entering the lanes when they're closed (not unlike what happened at the red-light camera intersections).

Metro, you've got a great thing going here.  Just tweak the hours/pricing a little bit and you've got a home run.

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8 Comments:

At 5:48 PM, February 21, 2012, Blogger Rail Claimore said...

Seems like they think price ceilings are good...

 
At 7:59 PM, February 27, 2012, Anonymous awp said...

To be fair this is what Metro has to deal with in the voting pop.

"I think the HOT Lanes are a great idea!" Alisha Doan wrote on Facebook. "Closing them during peak hours and charging more for more congested times of the day ... that sucks!!!! What is the point?"

but yeah, I never understood the inability to take that last jump once the price mechanism is understood. How is anyone better off with closure and super high fine, than just a very high price. That jump from 4.50 to 170 is quite unfair.

 
At 8:40 AM, October 24, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I use the 45 N HOV lane each day. There were a few people using it in the past without a passenger. It seems, now that it will change to a HOT lane, the number of single occupant cars have declined. I am waiting to see if people with passes will use the South bound HOV between 7-8 am and North bound between 4 and 6 pm. These will probably be the same type of people that used it in the past without a passenger. Now there seems to be a lot of flashing in the morning while passing the booths. In the morning it is hard to smile while getting my HOV picture taken!

 
At 7:14 AM, April 26, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I started using the HOV HOT lanes this week because I started working at U of H downtown. My only complain is the HOT lanes are sometimes showing closed when they should be open. For example, on Monday the entrance at Dixie Farm said closed at 8:15 AM. I got on it anyway because there was too much traffic to make a last minute decision to change lanes. Yesterday the entrance at Eastwood was "closed" at 6:00 pm. I sat there and waited a few minutes until my iPhone clock showed 6:04. I decided to go ahead and get on it anyway. According to HCTRA, I went through at 5:59. Now I'm worried I may be charged a fine. When I call Metro, nobody can give me an explanation as to why to HOT lanes are closed. Are there clocks off??? This is very frustrating.

 
At 9:24 AM, April 26, 2013, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Anon: I passed this issue on to a contact at METRO, and they're looking into it. Thanks for posting.

 
At 9:59 AM, April 26, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Tory. I reviewed the FAQs (http://www.ridemetro.org/Services/HOTLanes/FAQs.aspx) again and found this - "If speeds slow, single-occupant vehicles are not allowed in the HOV Lane.", so it looks like they can close the HOT lanes at any time. Oh and here's another little tidbit. If you are caught using a HOT lane when it's closed, you have to make a court appearance and the fine is $170, but if you use the HOV as a single driver, the fine is only $70 and you don't have to go to court. So does that mean if you inadvertantly get on the HOV lane when the HOT lane is closed, it's better to declare yourself an HOV driver? Also, how do they catch you? Is it done electronically or do you have to be pulled over and issued a ticket?

 
At 10:12 AM, April 26, 2013, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Good questions. I don't know. I think they have to pull you over.

 
At 10:17 AM, April 26, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I stated the toll violation fee incorrectly in my previous comment. It's $75, not $70 ("A single driver using a HOV verification lane is considered a toll violation, and METRO Police will issue a violation notice. As an option to avoid automatically sending violators to court, METRO allows the violator to pay a $75 administrative fee rather than the maximum court fine of $250.")

 

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