Sunday, May 16, 2004

Diamond lanes are a girl's best friends

So some free-thinking San Jose guys got annoyed at solo flying carpool drivers so they took some photos and posted the should-be-$271-poorer drivers on their website, CarpoolCheats.org.

Site's down now - they cite threats from who we can assume are angry drivers. Thank Hutch for the links on this story.

This makes me think about some recent legislation that came before my beloved Assembly Transportation Committee. Over the years, many groups have attempted to open HOV lane (that's High Occupancy Vehicle lane) access to any number of groups (disabled, etc). The lates efforts would give access to a limited number of low emission or hybrid vehicles (with long, complicated acronymed names and standards, but think Prius). Some Zero Emission Vehicles (that's right, ZEVs, cute, eh? everything gets its own name), are already in.

Here's the deal though - those in favor of such legislation cite carpool access as an incentive for people to buy lower emission vehicles, decreasing oil dependency, helping air quality, etc.

But - there's already waiting lists at most LEV dealers - people are already buying the cars - so why give them an extra goody.

Also, and more importantly, such proposals violate the policy underlying the HOV lane system. HOV lanes are there to decrease congestion. Some legislators argued that the goal of decreasing the number of cars on the road is to improve air quality.

They would be wrong.

Improving air quality is a fabulous bonus. The real goal is to decrease the number of cars on the road. Less congestion means better commute times. Better commute times are good for the economy. A free and mobile workforce, right? Everyone's happier, everyone's to work faster, home faster, less stressed, etc.

Don't clog the carpool lanes too. That gives us 5 lanes of shitty traffic instead of 4. Swell. Thanks legislature. I suppose it's only fair. At least those drivers have someone to chat with as they are trapped in their personal 405 hell.

So protect diamond lanes. Be mad at those bastards who sneak in because they are just SO much more important than the rest of us in our gas guzzling trucks and SUVs plodding along our asphalt estuaries.

Here's an alternate policy proposal - turn some of those HOV lanes into HOT lanes (AB 2032). The T rhymes with, uh, T and stands for toll (and stands for toll). High Occupancy Toll lanes are regular old HOV lanes to which you can purchase access, turning them into toll lanes.

In NorCal, HOV lanes are only HOV lanes during commute times (one of my favorite activities is driving in diamond lanes during 10am and 3pm and feeling like I'm getting away with something) - so this HOT lane would mean that drivers must have FasTrack transponders in their vehicles or they'd risk getting pulled over by our CHiPer friends (patrol cars have scanners that can actually check for valid FasTrack passes in single occupant vehicles. scary, eh?).

So what about that? Lexus Lanes, anyone? Still goes against public policy right? Is it any better that at least they are paying for it? In one of the proposed HOT corridors, the toll monies go to improving public transit and building more HOV lanes within the demonstration project area.

Here's your last factoid of the day: those FasTrack transponders? The ones that let you whiz through bridge toll plazas (for you SoCal-ers, think toll ways like the 73)? There are readers throughout the freeway system (they look like lensless cameras pointed at the highway, if you've seen one, you know how that's an oddly apt description) that pick up transponder signals and help the powers that be evaluate traffic flows and patterns - congestion, problem areas, etc.

Cool, eh? I plan on using one this summer. Gets me a buck off the Golden Gate toll. Bringing it down to a bargain $4/day. Damn Special Districts.

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