Los Angeles Finally Snubs Electric Vehicles, Clean Air Cars Have to Pay for HOV Lane

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

California has been bending over backward to encourage commuters to adopt zero-emission vehicles. Los Angeles County even went so far as to offer EV drivers the opportunity to become certified to access the express lane, even when riding solo, free of charge. This immediately caused issues and transportation officials announced on Thursday they were going to have to eliminate the program to reduce congestion.

Apparently, giving zero-emission vehicles free access to the carpool lane created an influx of traffic that it was no longer able to meet the federally mandated minimum speed of 45 mph during peak hours. Officials had become concerned after over two-thirds of California’s HOV lanes couldn’t maintain the minimum speed in 2016. However, that’s not entirely the fault of EVs. Drivers who have opted to pay for use of the toll lanes without passengers now account for around half of its daily traffic, pushing it past capacity. LA is worried that frequent slowdowns has resulted in commuters becoming less interested in buses and carpooling.

The proposal to begin charging electric vehicles to use the express lane nearly passed unanimously. Only Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl voted against the plan, who claimed it had nothing to do with the environment. “We ought to simply admit that we really want to convert this to a toll lane, and we don’t really care about clean air … that all of the things that we adopted HOV lanes for in the first place, we’d like to abandon,” she said.

If more traffic in the lane results in idle buses and less people using mass transit, allowing EVs to ride free isn’t helping. However, allowing single-occupant vehicles to continue paying to use HOV lanes when they’re already full isn’t much of a solution either. Kuehl wants to see pay lanes eliminated entirely, prohibiting all access by lone motorists.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials said qualifying EVs with stickers would still be eligible for a 15-percent discount per trip. But they would no longer be able to ride free without passengers.

Although, none of this will matter much since LA County is pretty sure a large portion of drivers are abusing the system. Actively policing HOV lanes in rush-hour traffic is next to impossible. In fact, the Transit Authority’s current system actually had EV drivers using their FasTrak transponder devices to perpetually indicate they had three or more people in the car to avoid paying the toll — something which any driver could attempt if they were brave enough.

While the freeway camera systems would be able to spot a liar if this continued, plenty of drivers already cross into HOV lanes late to avoid cameras or have illegally tinted windows. Things like riding with mannequins or dolls in baby seats also aren’t uncommon. The California Highway Patrol reports dozens of cases involving false passengers every single year. It’s estimated that up to 30 percent of cars in the carpool lane during rush hour aren’t supposed to be there.

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • PandaBear PandaBear on Apr 30, 2018

    For those outside of CA, you have to understand population density is the problem here and you won't get cheap solution for local traffic problem. The original reason for EV able to do HOV lane, is because those lane were pretty empty during rush hours. People will blame politicians because they are empty and wasting space. How do you get that to fill up? Well, at the time hybrid was an innovation so they might as well give its access as a freebie, killing 2 birds in 1 stone. Then hybrid becomes cheap, so now let's make it CNG, EV, and plug in. But they totally didn't realize it will be so popular so fast, and so cheap. So now we suddenly have too many EVs involved. Now the same people complains that HOV lane is filled up and useless. Yup, the same people complains about everything unless it is perfect. If I remember right 2019 is when EV getting on HOV lane for free ends. By then I think they would have to switch it to toll lane or partial toll lane, and people will pay for it. $5 to cross a bridge daily hasn't stopped people from crossing it, nor will $5 to cut down your commute time for 20 mins each way. You just can't expect LA to be like Dakota, its density is going to get closer to NY and most other international cities. That's just how things will be.

    • Fazalmajid Fazalmajid on Apr 30, 2018

      Sure, but LA has remarkably few freeways for a city its size and population. The obvious solution to improve HOV lane utilization in a responsible way is car-pooling. The same technology Uber uses to combine riders going in roughly the same direction for UberPOP could be applied by the metro transit agency.

  • Blue-S Blue-S on Apr 30, 2018

    According to the LA Times (quoting numbers from the Metro Transportation authority), zero-emission vehicles amount to 6% of the traffic in the Express lanes. I don't suppose that kicking the EVs out will result in much improvement. If they were to require a 3+ person carpool and actually enforce the regulations that they do have - as seen on CA Hwy 91 in Orange and Riverside Counties - then there would be a significant improvement...and the EVs could stay.

  • 1995 SC How bout those steel tariffs. Wonder if everyone falls into the same camp with respect to supporting/opposing them as they did on the auto tariffs a few weeks ago. Doubt it. Wonder Why that would be?
  • Lorenzo Nice going! They eliminated the "5" numbers on the speedometer so they could get it to read up to 180 mph. The speed limit is 65? You have to guess one quarter of the needle distance between 60 and 80. Virtually every state has 55, 65, and 75 mph speed limits, not to mention urban areas where 25, 35, and 45 mph limits are common. All that guesswork to display a maximum speed the driver will never reach.
  • Norman Stansfield Automation will make this irrelevant.
  • Lorenzo Motor sports is dead. It was killed by greed.
  • Ravenuer Sorry, I just don't like the new Corvettes. But then I'm an old guy, so get off my lawn!😆