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Q & A: LOCAL GOVERNMENT

Planned carpool-lane fee is driving motorists mad

December 31, 2007|Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writer

A few weeks ago we wrote about a little plan being hatched by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority: They'd like to begin charging motorists to use carpool lanes on stretches of three freeways in Los Angeles County.

The idea is called congestion pricing and it would affect stretches of the 110 south of downtown and the 10 and 210 in San Gabriel Valley. Single-occupant vehicles would pay the most, with lower prices for carpoolers.

The price would vary depending on traffic. When demand is high, such as during rush hour, the cost goes up. Such programs are based on the premise that the laws of supply and demand can help smooth out traffic flow.

The MTA this week is sending an application for federal money to the U.S. Department of Transportation to put its plan in place. In the meantime, we asked readers for their thoughts . . .

And they all thought it was just a peachy idea, right?

No. Nearly every reader who e-mailed us said they hated it.

"Are city officials actually this stupid to suggest that the carpool lane become a toll lane? Punish the people that carpool and drive hybrids?" wrote David Adams of West Los Angeles.

"Most of the people who will use these new toll lanes probably won't even pay the fee themselves," wrote Jake Rikter, an ex-Angeleno who lives on Long Island, N.Y. "That expense will get passed on to the studio, the boutique hotel chain, the financial institution, the 'premium' sweat pants designer and anywhere else society's wealthy are working."

Former L.A. City Councilwoman Joy Picus also chipped in her two cents: "During the 16 years I was on the City Council, I was the major advocate for carpooling. But it was like hitting your head against a wall. A few people did carpool, including me, but it never really took off."

Picus said she believes in congestion pricing, but that it would be counter-productive to charge people who carpool.

These responses were just a warm-up for reader Russell Johnson, who said congestion pricing doesn't begin to tackle the underlying reasons for overwhelming traffic.

"The other big help would be a $2.00 per gallon tax on gas, so people would really think about where they had to go," Johnson wrote.

"Even this solution doesn't solve the ultimate problem, which is that there are too, too many people in L.A.," he added. "We need to stop big development, and give out lots of family planning advice and condoms."

Hmmm. That's a provocative idea -- pay a toll, get a condom.

On another traffic-related note, how well are traffic lights synchronized in the Southland?

We don't know -- and that's why we're asking for your help.

Syncing lights is, of course, a relatively simple way to keep traffic moving.

So, we'd like to know from consumers -- that's you, dear motorist -- which cities and counties do it well and which are technological nincompoops.

My e-mail address is below.

What recent court ruling in Texas should get the attention of public officials?

A state judge in October ruled that several city officials in Dallas must surrender e-mails from their personal accounts to comply with a public records request from the Dallas Morning News.

The Morning News asked for the e-mails to determine if officials were using their personal e-mail accounts to privately conduct city business -- in this case, the city was debating a tax abatement program that would benefit a local business.

This is a fascinating issue. Many people in many walks of lives have personal e-mail accounts, including public officials. But open government advocates have long feared that public officials were using those personal accounts to do the public's business in private.

The other advantage for elected officials is that it would presumably be hard for the public to ever get those e-mails from a private provider such as Google or Yahoo -- not to mention if the e-mails were sent from a home computer or personal cellphone.

"I can't think of any principled reason why e-mails shouldn't be public," said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press. "The way that most states are coming down on this when it's litigated is that if you are doing public business on e-mail, then it's a public record. Period."

As far as can be told, this issue hasn't been legally tested in California. So we recently asked the office of City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo what it would do if a member of the public submitted a public records request for e-mails from a Los Angeles official's private e-mail account.

"To our knowledge, this Office has never issued a legal opinion [on] this matter, and we do not feel it would be prudent for us to do so at this time," wrote Delgadillo spokesman Nick Velasquez in an e-mail.

Asked why an opinion couldn't be offered, Velasquez added: "Were we to be asked to provide our clients with a legal opinion on this matter, we would not be at liberty to discuss [it], due to attorney-client privilege."

And why's that an interesting answer?

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