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What would you pay for a faster commute?

Cities are using special toll lanes for drivers who are willing to pay for the privilege. Are "Lexus lanes" fair?

By Teresa Mears Jul 14, 2010 2:07PM

Would you pay more to drive faster through high-traffic areas?

 

Highway officials in a number of cities are deciding that many drivers would be willing to pay to escape highway congestion.  

 

They're installing what are known as HOT (high-occupancy toll) or express toll lanes, where you pay a toll to be able to drive in what used to be the carpool lane or, in some cases, newly constructed lanes. In some cities, vehicles with more than a certain number of occupants get a free ride.

 

The latest city to consider toll lanes with congestion pricing is Chicago, which suffers the nation's third-worst traffic congestion, the Chicago Tribune reports.

 

Law student Mario Reed, 28, would be happy to pay for a faster commute from his home in the suburbs to law school in downtown Chicago. He told the Tribune:

There's nothing more frustrating than dealing with traffic. Whatever that cost would be, I would be happy to pay. It would make the quality of my life much better.

Most systems have a variable cost, charging more at high-traffic times and less when traffic is moving faster in the regular lanes.

 

The special lines are sometimes derisively called "Lexus lanes" by those who think they cater to the rich. But a study of the first three months of traffic on such lanes in the Tacoma, Wash., area found that they were most commonly used by Fords, followed by Chevys, Toyotas and Hondas.

High-occupancy or express toll lanes already operate in San Diego, Denver, Miami, Minneapolis and suburban Washington, D.C. They're under construction or under study in many more areas.

 

The proliferation of electronic toll systems has made it more cost-effective to install such systems because human toll takers are no longer required.

 

My city has express toll lanes, but I've never used them because the access points are out of the way. (Most such roads are limited-access.) But there are certainly times I would have been willing to pay. On the other hand, I haven't noticed the interstate being any slower for the rest of us since the HOT lanes were installed.

The Truth About Cars asked its readers what they thought about express toll lanes.

 

A reader called "Highway 27" is worried the new lanes under construction near his home in Maryland won't charge enough to guarantee a fast ride.

The "Lexus lanes" argument is always trotted out, and it's almost always just class warfare. People put a value on their time. Generally the amount you'd pay is less than the value of the time you'd save that can be spent doing productive things. People also decide when they're going to use them. Need to be at work on time for a meeting? Then pay for the lane. Not in a hurry? Don't pay for it.

But "YotaCarFan," who lives in the same area, doesn't plan to drive his Lexus in the lanes unless he has an emergency.

I won't use the Lexus lanes. It'll easily cost a few hundred bucks a month for daily commuters to use the $0.25/mile Inter County Connector (18 miles long). That's despite the fact I drive over 100 miles/day commuting and spend 3-4 hours a day in traffic. The cost for regular use is simply too high.

"NulloModo" also doesn't like the concept:

It's one step closer to London's awful congestion tax. I don't like toll roads in general, and one of the positive things about no longer living in the Northeast is no longer having to deal with them very often. I already pay tax on my gas to support the road network. It isn't my fault that the DOT is so mismanaged that they can't keep the system running on the millions of dollars they have rolling in from that. You shouldn't have to pay to use a road.

What do you think? Do you use express toll lanes? Would you like to see them in your city? Or do you think it's just another way for cities, counties and states to extract money from their residents?

 

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