I just received a news release from Newark Democratic Sen. Alberto Torrico, announcing success for legislation to speed up construction of HOT lanes through the Sunol Grade along I-680.
What are HOT lanes, you might ask?
They’re basically carpool lanes that allow carpools to drive free and toll-payers to drive solo. The idea is to make full use of the lanes, which have lately been under attack for being an inefficient use of pavement because they are sometimes nearly empty and other times congested, thus eliminating their raison d’être.
High-Occupancy Toll lanes use the technique of congestion pricing to lure solo drivers when HOT lane traffic is light enough. This happens down in Orange and Riverside Counties, where The 91, as they call it, charges a buck or so during quiet times and, like, nine times as much when it’s really congested. Therefore, only a few really well-heeled or desperate people will use them alongside carpoolers.
I have often called them “Lexus Lanes,” which is what some disapproving motorists down there have dubbed them, but I have to admit that I’m starting to warm up to the idea of using money as a way to mitigate congestion. It’s like the whole “we Americans pay too little for gas” argument. Europeans, the reasoning goes, don’t drive so much because they pay $5 a gallon for gas, or something like that.
Of course, if you subscribe to the idea that the Land of the Free shouldn’t be granting such favors on the basis of what they can afford, you won’t like HOT lanes.
But face it, we live in a capitalist society with a global economy and money makes the world go ’round.
It’s that, or Tasering people into taking public transit, because heaven knows you can’t pay ‘em to do it.