In another reflection of the weakening economy and the growing unemployment rate, the price of an Express Lane commute between Orange and Riverside counties is being reduced in a bid to attract more paying customers.
Orange County transportation officials Thursday announced reductions to the tolls to enter the 91 Freeway Express Lanes, citing less traffic due to unemployment and the soured economy.
Starting Wednesday, the cost of the 10-mile commute will drop 50 cents during seven time slots throughout the day, ranging from $1.25 during the lightly traveled nighttime hours to $9.55 for a rush hour commute to Riverside. At rush hour, the toll on the Express Lanes is one of the highest per-mile rates in the nation.
Trips along the commuter-heavy corridor have dipped nearly 15% over the last eight months, with revenue falling 12.5%, officials said.
The hope is that the price break -- the third on the route in five months after nearly half a decade of rate hikes -- will encourage more drivers to veer into the lanes, along the middle of the freeway from Anaheim to the Riverside County line.
"You have significantly fewer jobs in both Orange County and Riverside County and the need for using the toll lanes has dropped," said Joel Zlotnik, a spokesman for the Orange County Transportation Authority.
The Express Lanes' so-called congestion pricing changes throughout the day and allows for price adjustments as often as four times a year. If the rate is set too high, not enough people use the lanes. If set low, the Express Lanes become clogged and lose their appeal.
The Transportation Corridor Agencies, which oversees Orange County's 51-mile toll road system, has also seen a drop in traffic but does not use congestion pricing.