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THE NEXT LOS ANGELES / TURNING IDEAS INTO ACTION : Getting Around : Are we creating a transit system that makes sense or simply a costly edifice that most Angelenos won't use? : Solutions : Expand Car-Pool Lanes

July 17, 1994

FROM: Robert W. Poole, president of the Reason Foundation, a nonprofit educational organization, and a transportation consultant who has worked for the state and federal government.

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Poole believes we must expand our existing network of car-pool lanes and experiment with some, allowing single-occupant drivers to use low-volume car-pool lanes if they pay a fee.

During rush hour, the fee would be double the amount charged during non-peak travel times. At 20 cents a mile, a ten-mile trip during rush hour, for instance, would cost $2, a price many motorists would pay if they were in a hurry or tired of sitting in traffic.

"It would stimulate greater use of higher occupancy car-pooling and, by allowing more people to use these lanes, it would potentially reduce political opposition to them," Poole said.

Forty-three percent of Southland car-poolers travel with members of their own households, according to one study. Experts say these folks would probably share rides even if there were no car-pool lanes. In an effort to remove a greater number of single-occupant cars from our roads, officials could launch an experimental program and limit car-pool lanes to vehicles with three or more people.

To ensure success, the existing 66-mile network of car-pool lanes must be rapidly expanded, Poole said. (Caltrans currently plans to have 305 miles of car pool lanes open by 2003).

On freeways like the Santa Monica, where there is no room to restripe and create car-pool lanes, transitways--or elevated structures like the one being built on the Harbor Freeway--could be built. Revenue generated by fees paid by low-occupancy vehicles could help offset the cost of building such structures.

REALITY CHECK:

Launching this car-pool lane program would mean restriping highways to create more car-pool lanes, which cost $2.5 million a mile; and building elevated transitways, which cost $20 million per mile. About $30 million would be necessary to set up an automatic electronic toll system to charge low-occupancy vehicles on 50 miles of car-pool lanes.

The program, however, would not be without risk. Current car-poolers might be dissuaded from sharing rides if they have to accommodate three in one vehicle. Or they might decide that they prefer to pay the fee to drive solo, further increasing the numbers who drive alone. Historically, some Southlanders have vehemently opposed car-pool lanes, saying they hamper an individual's freedom. They are not likely to be won over by this program.

QUOTE:

"We must stimulate more serious car-pooling. We should not be providing a windfall for people who would be car-pooling anyway. This would enable us to get more utilization of those lanes and to accommodate more vehicles by allowing paying customers."-Robert W. Poole

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