Too much life in fast lane91 toll hikes designed to reduce path's traffic
February 22, 2006
By PHIL PITCHFORD and MICHAEL FISHER
The Press-Enterprise (CA)
Several times per week, Richard Lewis rolls up Highway 55 from his job in Huntington Beach and, 25 miles from his Riverside home, makes a quick decision whether to lose his time or his money.
To the right is Highway 91, where travel is free but often achingly slow after 2 p.m. on a workday. To his left are the 91 Express Lanes, which promise smooth sailing along what experts say is the most expensive 10-mile trip in the country.
Lewis, a computer engineer for Boeing, typically spends about $500 a year to use the lanes, where prices vary according to the time, day, and direction of travel. Now, with the top toll increasing Monday from $7.75 to $8.50, he is starting to reconsider.
"I'm getting to a point where I'm just going to bail out of it," Lewis said. "There are probably going to be more times where I come up there . . . and decide to hang out with everybody else in the other lanes."
The Orange County Transportation Authority, which owns and operates the lanes, is counting on dozens of other commuters doing exactly the same thing.
The authority, which bought the lanes in 2003 from the private company that built them, relies on a toll policy that is becoming increasingly popular around the country.Known as congestion pricing, or value pricing, it holds that the more people who use the lanes, the higher the toll should be, in part to push some drivers back into the more congested free lanes.That means somebody trying to make it home to Corona for a child's soccer game at 5 p.m. on a Thursday, when traffic is heavy, will pay $8.50, while someone driving to Orange County for a late movie will pay only $1.10 because traffic is relatively light.Without toll increases, the theory holds, commuters would flood the lanes, creating congestion and making the toll lanes just as much of a mess as the freeway.That in turn would kill the possibility of a hassle-free commute and leave the toll lanes no more attractive than the free lanes, officials say."Our customers are paying for a faster, more reliable, commute, and having the lanes break down would defeat that purpose," said Daryl Watkins, the transportation authority's manager of toll road and motorist services.
The transportation authority's policy calls for higher tolls when traffic approaches the level the lanes can handle during a one-hour period for at least six out of 12 consecutive weeks.Time vs. Money
The lanes are attractive because of the crushing congestion that plagues Highway 91, the only freeway to offer a direct route between the two counties. The same 10-mile trip can take 10 minutes in the toll lanes or an hour in the free lanes.
Drivers might dislike toll increases, but studies show that they hate being stuck on the freeway so much that many of them likely will continue paying higher tolls until the one-way fee is roughly $17 one way, Watkins said.
The possibility that some commuters would abandon driving altogether and switch to the Metrolink commuter rail service and others would alter their work schedules to be on the freeway at less-congested times is fine too, officials said.
"We want people to change their demand a little bit," Watkins said. "Until we can get some relief out there on the 91, the best we can do is travel at different times."The toll-road charges more per mile than any other tollway in the country because it has been using this pricing policy the longest, said Bob Poole, director of transportation studies and founder of the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank in Los Angeles.
As a result, the lanes have been through several rounds of price increases designed to thin the horde of commuters.
"Southern California is really the congestion capital of the United States," Poole said. "It is not surprising that the highest tolls needed to keep traffic going smoothly would be here."A Model for OthersProjects under way in the Washington, D.C., and Houston areas will use the same pricing structure, and could eventually exceed the per-mile cost on Highway 91, he said.
"At the most congested time of the day, those lanes are the only thing out there that is actually working," Poole said. "The best alternative would be a world where all the freeways run smoothly at rush hour, but we don't live in that world."
Commuters decide whether to use the toll lanes according to how urgent their schedules are that day, said Edward Sullivan, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
He studied the 91 Express Lanes for Caltrans for five years in the late 1990s.
"I was amazed at how a lot of people use the lanes once or twice a week," he said. "Commuters are pretty savvy customers."
Sullivan, who said he supports congestion-based pricing, said such tolls will be implemented at a highway in Denver due to open this year and on extensions of highways -- Interstate 15 in San Diego and another project in Houston -- where congestion pricing already is being used.
Other projects are being proposed in Virginia, Minnesota, San Antonio, Texas, along Interstate 680 in San Francisco and in Seattle, industry experts said.
"Giving people the option to buy their way out of congestion is very popular," Sullivan said.
Sullivan doubts the higher tolls will dissuade drivers from using the lanes.
"Even if you charged $20 per trip, there would be some takers," he said.
Orange County bought the toll lanes for $207.5 million in January 2003 and uses the money to pay off bonds that were sold to raise money for the purchase of the toll lanes. Money from the toll lanes is also used for improvements to Highway 91.
In fiscal year 2004-05, revenue from toll fees amounted to nearly $27 million.
The county adopted the seller's "congestion management pricing" system in July 2003. Inland commuters have never had a voice on the Orange County board that sets toll policy, but several elected officials from Riverside County sit on an advisory board that makes nonbinding recommendations.
The opportunity for government officials to meet regularly to discuss the project is "a dramatic improvement over what we had before," said John Standiford, spokesman for the Riverside County Transportation Commission. The commission had no such relationship with the private developer of the lanes.
Lewis, the computer engineer, has a bit more flexibility than most commuters. He gets to work at 5 a.m. and is on the road home by 2 p.m., before the worst commuting hours of 3 to 7 p.m. His children are grown, so he does not have to rush home to attend games or recitals.
And his employer allows him to work from home a few days a week.
But, he said, everyone he knows makes the same choice every day they drive the 91 freeway.
"There are a lot of times where you look at that price and think 'It's just not worth it' and you bail into the regular lanes," he said. "It's becoming a pretty expensive piece of real estate for commuters."
Reach Phil Pitchford at (951) 368-9475 or ppitchford@PE.com
____________ SurveyHow much would you be willing to pay to drive in the 91 express lanes and avoid commuter traffic? Comments:I live in Houston,Texas and we are being faced with the same "Scam to Skim" as you all are.One of our Harris County Commissioners,Jerry Eversole,called our Harris County Toll Road Authority(HCTRA)and it's system of toll roads "the most lucrative money-maker the county has ever had".However,the PUBLIC funds are being spent to provide access to PRIVATE developments and thus help Wealthy developers market thier properties.HCTRA spent a lot of taxpayer's money and the local paper,the Houston Chronicle, provided "Propaganda" articles to push congestion pricing on us.They promised reductions in traffic congestion while staying "revenue neutral".About six months later a study showed a drop in traffic of only 0.06 percent,a paltry amount,as compared to an increase in revenue of a whopping 26.0 percent.At this time they admitted the true purpose of the increase was to obtain more funds to build more toll roads.This kind of double-speak and corruption will continue as long as we,the people,allow it.THROW THE RASCALS OUT!!!_____________Our transportation system is an embarassing joke.2.5 million dollars just to do a study if a lane is possible? Of course its possible. There's probably enough room for two lanes. This is rediculous. 2.5 million dollars for a study? Something's wrong here.Anyone notice all the people who cut into the lanes after the toll plaza. Dangerous? Yes. But a great way to stick it to the OC.Notice all the people with no plates on their cars? Illegal? Yes. But another great way to stick it to the OC when blasting thru the toll plaza.With the original deal with CalTrans to not expand the regular lanes, and the constant unreasonable toll increases, I'm surprised more people don't cheat their way thru the lanes.Little known fact: They even send violation notices to police/fire agencies who have on-duty marked vehicles using the lanes without a transponder (and, no, they will not waive the fines).________________Here is the key to this riddle:(Quoted from the article): The toll road has generated roughly twice the amount of money that some experts had predicted, Avila said. The authority forecast revenue growth of about 7.9 percent this fiscal year, but it is nearly 19 percent so far, records show. "It's quite amazing how the road has performed," Avila said.Now then: OCTA should use the unexpected excess funds to add a lane to the outside free lanes. This would relieve congestion in the non-toll lanes, speeding them up some. A certain number of toll lane customers would notice the faster pace in the free lanes, and choose not to use the toll lanes, leaving them to those who pay. The Toll lanes would then be less congested, and move faster, as well. Everyone happy -- except OCTA, because there would be fewer tolls collected.So, who thinks OCTA will choose to add another lane? They already stated what they intend to do with the excess revenue: pay themselves first, relieve congestion last. They already said it.Guess what led to the toll lanes being sold to OCTA from the private company? Too much heat from too many frustrated drivers being applied to too many county rep's and public officials.Now you have a choice: What are you willing to do to help yourself? Write a letter? Make a phone call? Contact your elected's? When you answer that question, you will also know the future of the 91 toll road. Think about it...then act...__________________Why is it taking so long for anyone to do something about the 91 fwy? They are making almost a million dollars every week, and still cannot do anything to relieve the congestion on the 91. Even the yellow "cones" along the FasTrak lanes are old and often times missing. Where is all the money going? The politicians must not commute in and out of the IE, because if they did they would understand how insane the drive is. I am boycotting the FasTrak and I will do whatever it takes not to put another dime in their coffers._________________The OCTA is corrupt!!! When they purchased these lanes they gained the support of the Orange County and Riverside (County) because they convinced everyone that the private company had engaged in a deal to block (Highway) 91 improvements. The OCTA promised to make the necessary improvements and now they are going back on it and making record profits. People are actually dying on this freeway in fatal car crashes each month. The freeway cannot accomodate the growth. For the OCTA to say they need to pay themselves back first is so outragous. They sound more corrupt then the original private owner. Please start investigating these decision makers and expose them for what they are!________________Since we cannot exit the lanes until we reach Green River (Rd), we should not be charged when the speed of the traffic outside the lanes exceeds 100% of the speed within the lanes at the toll collection point.________________This is an IE survey in the PE, not the Orange County Register. No big shot in Orange County cares what we write to the PE. Let's all write to the OC Register and see if they read what we have to say. It's funny how we pay money to OC to travel to OC and for what? To spend more money in OC!_________________If they make it where cars with two or more people had to ride in the diamond (or HOV) lane, a lot of these problems would go away!_________________I think they should do more to enforce toll collection policies. I see vehicles in the 3+ lane with only one passenger. Also, I have heard about vehicles using the toll lanes for extended periods without transponders or tags on their vehicles. Finally, I have seen vehicles with clean air stickers using the 3+ lane with less than three passengers. OCTA could do more to publicize their efforts to enforce toll collection policies and perhaps motorists would think twice about violating.______________________It's ridiculously expensive right now!!! My average speeed going home at night is approx. 5 mph through the entire toll and I'm paying an excessive amount of $7.70 /- each time. But, it's better than the parking lot next door. I travel 30 miles which takes me 1.25 hrs. one way! The need for improvements is paramount to reduce the traffic congestion. I'm offended that they plan to increase the toll payment thinking that it'll reduce the traffic. It won't happen. I will still stay in the toll b/c I won't be going anywhere otherwise. I would rather be home with my family that additional 45-60 minutes of time!______________The problem is 95% of us are fed up but we don't band together. Until we unite, we will continue to get screwed. Think how enormous our voting power is. Instead of boycotting it (the increase), we should use it and refuse to pay. That would make a national statement if we ALL did that. We have the numbers, we should use our strength._______________The 91 Express Lanes were actually useful a few years ago. Then OCTA took over and it has been downhill ever since._____________THE REAL PROBLEM IS THAT OCTA'S GOAL IS TO MAKE THE TOLL LANES AN HOV (Diamond) LANE.That's right, the wonderful bureaucrats at OCTA think you should be PUNISHED for having the gall to drive alone.Sorry, but I don't like other people, that's why I don't take the train, and I drive alone. It's my right as a tax payer (and I pay more than 90% of the country) to use the roads how I want. Unfortunately, the near socialist bias with regard to our roads continues to lean towards the horrifically inaccurate assumption that HOV lanes help.I have yet to see an instance were an HOV lane helps the flow of traffic on a consistant basis. Instead it helps the flow of traffic for the single digit percantages of commuters that carpool. In fact, a large percentage of those that use HOV lanes are NOT daily commuters, instead they are families out shopping, or traveleing through the area.Think about it, when the 91 express lanes were owned by a private company, they flowed freely, and cost a lot less. Now that OCTA has taken over, it has gotten much more expensive, and it is backed up from the entrance to the toll station east bound in the evening. This is a perfect example of the inadequacy of a bureaucracy to handle anything properly.A private organization comes in with a goal, and that goal is "how can we provide a service that people will pay for, so that we can make some money." The very basis of this ensures that the customers will get their monies wirth, or the company will go our of buisness. A socialistic bureaucracy will come in with a goal of "how can we force the people to act the way we want them to." If that doesn't work, they just get more government funding, and that means a larger tax on the people. In this case that tax is a toll.The tolls are going up with the actual goal that single occupant vehicles will be priced out of the use of the toll lanes. It has nothing to do with curbing usage of all drivers, the goal is to curb the usage of single occupant vehicles, because in the eyes of the socialist bureaucrats at OCTA, the single occupant driver is EVIL, and should be punished with traffic so that they will acquiesce, and join the carpoolers or use public transportation.If you don't like it, write a letter, vote different (something, ANYTHING other than democrat or republican), get involved. Stop being so apathetic about the world around you, thinking you can't do anything about it. You can, you just haven't tried yet._____________________The 91 freeway toll road is a joke. I will never pay the toll on the 91 freeway. NEVER! I am just standing up for my principles. BOYCOTT the 91 freeway toll roads!!!_____________________I would like to know where this article and the news station get that we the people in the Inland Empire who travel to the OC pay up to $500 per year in tolls. I live in Corona and work in Irvine, I pay $3000 a year in tolls. I wish it was $500. $4.00 per day for the toll road on the way in to Irvine and average $7.00 on the was home for 91 express. $55 per week at theminimum. It is a shame corporations in the IE don't pay what is comparable to the OC wages. A house in Corona costs and average family at least $550,000, the wages paid by companies in the IE forces families to work in the OC in oder to have a HOME! This is all ridiculous and mo matter what we suffer financially. And our families suffer with the time gone and stress._____________________I've got an idea .... LET's BUILD MORE HOUSES!!!___________________Not a dime. I spent 20 years commuting from Elsinore to central Orange County and earned every one of my gray hairs. What was a 45-minute drive has grown to 2-3 hours. I now work from home and couldn't be happier. Blood pressure is lower and the dog is ecstatic. Next step is out of this state altogether. And this from a native Californian whose never lived out of this state. Open those lanes to ALL tax paying citizens or let's oust these politicians and find someone else to do the job.______________________I agree with most everyone else that the Express Lanes are ripping off the residents of the Inland Empire. One thing that has bothered me for a long time that I didn't see mentioned by anyone else is that people who have 3 or more in their vehicle get a break but 2 people carpooling pay as much as a solo driver. That is just plain UNFAIR........as are the price hikes in the toll road. They need to get rid of it and open up the lanes to benefit everyone!!!!_____________________Where will it end? The paying customer ends up paying for the ineptitude of OCTA and previous management. Raising prices will not end the need for people to commute. it is toime to start looking at more creative solutions such as change direction of traffic to accomodate commuting peaks. I am sure the paying customers have other creative ideas. Rather than take our money, take our ideas_____________________The bottleneck where the 241 and 91 merge causes the worst backup in the evening due in large part to the right lane which is lost as it merges into the rest of the 91 freeway.Why hasn't that right lane been extended to Green River Rd? This would surely help alleviate the bottleneck at the 91/241. Or is it too profitable to leave things as they are and leave commuters having to choose losing time or losing money or sometimes losing both time and money?____________________OK everyone...quit complaining. We all chose to live in the IE. Either pay it or learn to use public transportation. Metrolink is not such a bad way to go. I still have my transponder, but only use it once or twice a month when necessary. I'm sure I will continue to pay whatever they charge if I need to be somewhere on time.____________________The Toll Road on the 91 parkway should be opened up with a movable divider as other cities with this problem do. We are all taxpayers and this is criminal that anyone has to pay to use a stretch of road. I only work 10 miles from home and using the said Toll Road isn't an option for me, I would need to drive out of my way to use it... I wouldn't give a dime to anyway!___________________"Congestion-pricing" is French for fleecing consumers.OCTA's plan is about making money, not reducing congestion. The simple fact is that any lane, whether free or toll, has a limit to the number of vehicles it can carry efficiently. There is no amount of money that can change that fact. Also, it is no longer feasible to reduce congestion by adding lanes, tunnels, or double-decking freeways since BILLIONS would be spent and NOTHING would be gained. This is because our so-called transportation experts already understand that expected growth will exceed the capacity that any/all new lanes currently under study would provide. There is however, a cost-free alternative: use the existing lanes more effectively. End Fast-Track and tolls, then designate the majority of lanes for service, delivery, and multi-passenger vehicles, and reserve two lanes for single-occupant vehicles. Commuters will still need to make adjustments, but, no pain-no gain. Just imagine the difference!____________________It does not really do much good to pay to drive in the Express Lanes as the rest of the 91 is so congedted that the time spent in Santa Ana Canyon is only a small part of the total commute time. Even the car pool lanes are backed up regularly.___________________Nothing unless there were an option to pay cash instead of needing a transponder.___________________Is anyone else finding it ironic that we are debating the 91 FREEWAY?__________________$5.00 OR LESS____________________As the owner and CEO of MyCityCorona.com, I constantly poll and receive opinions on the 91 'Express' lanes from our visitors. The consensus is that they are NOT operating in the publics' best interest! Having said that, I myself drive the Toll Lanes and would equate this toll raising issue to sticking a band-aid on a dam leak. The real issue is not being addressed!_____________________I think the prices are way too high and I will find alternate ways to go around the FasTrak. I will adjust my work schedule so that I go on them after the peak toll hours or not at all. It has become the rich man's road and half the time it is slower than the rest of the traffic. It is unfair because on the "freeway" portion of the road, there is no carpool lane. I think carpoolers should get to ride for free all day and lone drivers should have to pay the toll._____________________The maximum I'd pay to use the express lanes is about $15 total per day. And that'd be pushing the limits of what is reasonable._____________________Will Riverside County officials ever do anything? Or will they simply continue to ignore the problem? They continue to let the situation deteriorate and have done nothing meaningful in years to improve the commute._____________________Orange County is one of the most liberal Democrat counties in the state. What do you expect?! It's all about taxation. Redistribution of the wealth, as long as it isn't their wealth. If you don't like it, vote differently._____________________Boycott them, or quit sniveling._______________________How interesting that a public agency, Orange County Transportation Authority, bought out the private firm and has raised tolls even faster than the private company did. But they're deductible, so what's the beef? And furthermore, did anyone FORCE anyone to move so far away from work??______________________Wow! Tolls are going up AGAIN?!! With the increased traffic and all that comes with it, I am reminded that Southern California is a great place to be FROM. Since moving out of So Cal, I don't even know the meaning of the word traffic or even lines in stores. Ahhhh, what a releif. I am keeping my location secret so it can stay that way. -)_______________________Nothing. After 10 years of commutes between Corona and Anaheim, I no longer worry about it. (I now travel) 2 1/2 miles, from Redlands to Redlands. Every day that I read a story about that freeway makes my decision to move out this way all the more logical. My condolences to those of you who drive that toll road or take the train, which is no bargain, either.______________________This is the most ridiculous thing they can do. When the Orange County Transportation Authority announced they were going to purchace the toll lanes, they said that the prices were going to drop not go up. Once again, the goverment lies to get what they want. I dont feel bad when I see drivers drive into the toll lanes without paying._________________$5.00 a day, each way._________________Nothing. The obscene amount of tax dollars that are TAKEN from us everyday should be more than enough to create and maintain any of these new roads. How have we, the largest economical power in the states, been unable to figure this out? The California government officials and employees in so many departments are grossly overpaid._________________I'll pay whatever it takes to shorten my drive and get me home to my family quickly.________________I am one of the lucky ones that gets to vanpool to work, which only costs $100 a month. Before then I was probably spedning at least $500 a month to get to work after gas, express lane charges and parking expenses @ work.Residents that have to commute should look into vanpooling and or the metrollink. No one should have to pay those horrific prices!! That's just 'highway' robbery!!______________________I lived in Corona for 8 years and now reside in the OC. I'm so glad we got out when we did. It's so congested with all the new housing developments...it's only going to get worse. With crazy gas prices and now this!! When is it going to stop!!!_______________________That's insane!!!!! We should not have to pay anything we all pay taxes. Even when you go on the Fastrack your sitting on a parking lot!!!_______________________I will not pay the increased amount. I consider this highway robbery, and find it peculiar that the increased amount applies only to the East-bound travelers toward the IE, and not those traveling toward Orange County. This is clearly a rip off! I've never been in favor of the toll road those lanes should be used for all autos to relieve the highly congested freeway!________________________I am HAPPY & GLAD that we NOW live in the state of washington and don't have to put up with the "CRAP" that you seem to be going through!!!!!!!!!! _____ "Never will live in So. CA again!!!!"_______________________Nothing, zero, nada!_______________________I wouldn't pay a dime to ride the 91 toll. Most of the time the traffic is all backed up anyways. It is a waste of $$. I use to take the 91 toll (both ways) until they raised the prices to ridiculous levels. Now I take the 241 (both ways) and save 25 cents each way. I only have to pay $3.25 for each way on the 241. I just spoke to a friend of mine and and passing on the words of advise I received. If you ride the toll roads and may a lot of money and still get caught up in traffic (ie the regular road is traveling faster than the toll) contact the Toll company and ask for your money back. 9 of 10 times you will get your money back. Pass it on!_______________________These lanes were built w/ taxpayer money. Should have never been toll road. We are being held hostage by OC and Caltrans. Why aren't our Riverside County reps standing up for us?______________________Orange County continues to fleece the IE. It would be nice if they used the money to fund improvements to the 91. That will NEVER happen, but I bet the price will still go up. Is $100 too much?______________________That is outrageous! What is gonna stop them from raising it even more? Why stop at 75 cents? Why not $2.00 more? $5.00 more? Glad I don't have to use it. People will continue to use it -- they dont have a choice, unless they go out of ther way and use (the) 10 or 60 fwys...______________________Pricing on the 91 Toll Lanes is INSANE! I understand that sometimes it's just as congested as the non-tollroads during rush (hour), but the raise is just too much. I think the price of $8 is too much. I might have to take the 60 EB from here on out.____________________You can thank the (strict environmentalists)...for not getting relief from your commute. They have/will block every attempt to create alternatives such as a tunnel or new freeway.___________________It's a shame to use people like that, the commute to Orange County is difficult as it is. I will not ever use the Express Lanes again.__________________Nothing......I have just chosen not to even use the 91 anymore...unless I check to see that there is no traffic on the computer before leaving my house.___________________Not a frigging dime. It's just another RIPP OFFfor the filthy rich. They are the ones that shouldhave to sit in (the traffic).___________________PS...(I'm) GLAD I DO NOT HAVE TO DRIVE (the) MESS ANY MORE. I MOVED TO NORTHERN CALIFORNIA WHERE I CAN RENT A 2 BR APT. FOR $600.00 A MONTH AND DON'T HAVE TO PUT UP WITH THAT TRAFFIC.___________________I would not be willing to pay anything! The state needs to do something! We all pay our taxes. And for what -- to sit on the 91 parkway?___________________The fees are high enough as it is and I have willingly paid the toll even though toll road traffic has increased. It is not fair that they can increase the fees as they wish, you would think they would keep the prices lower to receive more fund. They are just being greedy and it shows. I would like to know how they can be controlled. It is almost to the point that I cannot afford the fees and I am not willing to just keep paying increased tolls -- I will rather try another route home to Riverside.__________________I would not pay a cent to use any toll road. The state should have taken it over long ago. Drivers using it are only adding to the problem._______________________It's pretty expensive right now!!!!!!!!!Why should we have to keep paying higher prices? The state of CA hasn't had a good vision on the growth patterns -- is it our fault??????______________________I THINK THIS IS CRAZY. IT KEEPS GOING UP AND UP AND I WILL NO LONGER BE ABLE TO AFFORD THE EXPRESS LANES. MY HUSBAND RECENTLY PASSED AWAY AND MY INCOME IS CUT IN HALF. NOW WITHOUT HIM, I CAN NO LONGER RIDE THE CARPOOL LANES AND MY TRIP TO WORK AND HOME HAS BECOME VERY LONG AND UNBEARABLE ON SOME DAYS. WOW, I CAN'T BELIEVE THEY CAN'T PUT A TUNNEL THRU THE MOUNTAINS LIKE SO MANY OTHER COUNTRIES HAVE DONE AND SO MANY IN OUR COUNTRY._________________$10 per day._________________
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