HOV Lanes: A HOT Topic

Look, I made a funny!

Seriously, for the last two days I’ve been participating in a very interesting discussion, courtesy of my good electronic road-colleague, Mr. Roadshow (Gary Richards) at the San Jose Mercury News. Gary did two posts on the efficacy of HOV lanes — one saying how they don’t work on Sunday, and one talking about how they are effective today. In fact, in today’s article, I was even quoted about my experiences commuting to Circle A Ranch.

So, naturally, I’ve been participating in the discussions, but the discussion style doesn’t really allow me to share my experiences well. That’s why there’s LiveJournal. So let me share my thoughts on ridesharing, and then I would like to hear your thoughts.

  • I’ve been ridesharing for a long time. It started when I was living in North Hills and working at SDC in Santa Monica. At that time, I had a carpool with Mark Biggar, Jon Biggar, and Larry Wall (yes, that Larry Wall, of perl fame, which is why I’m perl’s paternal godparent). We regularly alternated drivers (well, we never took Larry’s beat up Honda, “Knox”—it was usually Mark’s Mitsubishi or my Stanza). For all my time at SDC, which was about 3 years, we carpooled. Shortly after I got to Circle A Ranch, I joined up with my present vanpool, and I’ve been on it since then, It will be, sigh, 20 years on the van come next year.
  • So why do I vanpool? First, I’m lucky to work at a company that has regular work hours, and is supportive of a vanpool program. The ranch’s vanpool program is over 30 years old and is one of the largest in the region. We’ve won numerous awards. This means that they are tied into the federal and local tax incentives, mean they reimburse those who rideshare in accordance with IRS Rule 132(f), and they also participate in the Metro Vanpool monthly subsidy program. For me, this means I get reimbursed (I think pre-tax) for my vanpool costs, which (as the van is parked at my house) means my commuting cost is $0. Add to that the reduced use of gas, the reduced milage for insurance, and it is win-win. Plus, most days I get to sleep on the way into work, and I alternate driving back (which permits me to listen to podcasts: today was “Wait Wait”, tomorrow is “LA Theatre Works”, and Wednesday will be “This American Life”). That’s a lot less stress.
  • I believe there is a difference in attitude towards HOV lanes in the Northern and Southern parts of the state. Down here, we have HOV-exclusive lanes. This means they are for 2+ passengers at all hours, and there are specific entry and exit points (for those in the Bay Area, this is like the new 680 lanes). They are always created by adding a lane to the freeway, and they are only on freeways. In the Bay Area, mixed-use lanes are converted to HOV lanes during peak hours, meaning that lanes are taken away (which creates additional resentment). People can cut in and cut out at any time.
  • Do I think HOV lanes work? I think the results are mixed. Some studies show they increase ridership, and some studies show they don’t. Do I think they work? Well, they help me get home faster. Do I think we should build more? A strong yes, and here’s why. Right of way to add lanes is getting more and more expensive, especially around already constructed freeways. Planning and environmental costs are going up. History has shown that when a mixed-flow lane is added, the freeway speeds up… for a while, but then traffic moves off of surface streets to the freeway. Plus, the growth of population means there are going to be more vehicles. The only way to increase capacity for existing roads is to increase the density of the vehicles on the road. It will be a while until that’s all computer controls so we can reducing spacing and increase flow, so the only real solution is to increase the number of people per vehicle.

I’d like your thoughts, assuming LJ continues to work. Do you think HOV lanes are a good idea or a bad idea? Do you like ridesharing? Please read Gary’s Sunday Column and his Monday Column, and chime in with your thoughts.