US transit lanes changing to paid permit lanes

In and around Atlanta, a new scheme putting a price on convenience is being introduced as a way to manage traffic congestion. According to the New York Times, transit lanes are now able to be accessed by solitary motorists, on a user-pays model.

In addition to the usual occupants (car pools of three or more, eligible alternative-fuel vehicles, motorcycles and an expanded fleet of buses), the lanes now also accommodate private single drivers who pay through an electronic transponder. According to the Georgia Transportation Department the ‘value pricing’, which varies according to the amount of traffic in the restricted lane, is between 1 cent and 90 cents per mile.  

It appears that the system has not achieved the intended effect of improving commuting time, with some local users claiming that commuting time in buses using the free lane have doubled since the introduction of the scheme.

According to the New York Times, a number of states who have introduced the ‘High Occupancy Toll’ lanes (HOT lanes) are considering a range of criteria for which vehicles are able to access the lanes. In both California and soon-to-be in Virginia, air-quality regulators ended single-occupant privileges for many types of hybrid vehicles, excluding older hybrids like the Toyota Prius in favour of plug-in hybrids and battery-electric cars.

It’s certainly an interesting concept, but as the author points out, reward is given for two different (and opposing?) methods of controlling congestion: free-market and economic-based methods against desirable behaviours such as car-pooling or driving a less polluted car. And is it really proving to be effective? Should governments be encouraging anyone to drive alone?

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