More Details Emerge on HOT Lanes

Transurban, a key player in public-private partnerships bringing HOT lanes to Northern Virginia, has revealed more details about the technology that it would use to regulate access. Multi-band infrared sensors installed near toll gantries would count the number of passengers in a car by detecting reflections from human skin. Cars with three or more passengers could use the tolls for free.

An article in the Manassas Journal-Messenger provides other interesting details of how the proposed HOT lanes embedded in Interstates 95 and 295 would work.

The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act of 2005 requires operators of high occupancy toll facilities to keep traffic moving. If average speeds dip below 45 mph, Transurban would have to improve efficiency. … And that could require the company to improve interchanges, or even restrict toll-paying customers from entering the express lanes on certain access points.

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15 responses to “More Details Emerge on HOT Lanes”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    What happens if the lane fills up with car pool passengers?

    Are they, like Dominion, guaranteed a return?


  2. One interesting thing from the article was the problem with people who sometimes have carpools, and sometimes don’t and would have to pay.

    They are only using the ez-pass type system, which usually means a transponder that is permanently on.

    So they were going to build one that had an “on-off” switch labelled for “HOV” and “non-HOV”. If you don’t have your three, you switch it to normal and it pays, otherwise you switch it to HOV.

    My concern is that people are going to forget, or worse will just PRETEND to forget. I can here it now “I’m so sorry, officer, I had three people this morning, but had to leave early, and just forgot to flip the switch over…”

    And if that story is really TRUE, it’s a steep price to pay for a little forgetfulness. But if the cop lets them off, there will be a LOT of people “forgetting”.

    Or worse, what if someone drives through and then switches it. WHen the cop pulls them over, they say “I guess I forgot to switch it”, but then look and say “No, look, it’s switched right”. Now it looks like equipment failure.

    My thought was they should tie the infrared into the pass-pay system, so you don’t switch it, but if it detects fewer than three live bodies, it charges you, otherwise it doesn’t.

    Or we could forget the whole thing. If people want to spend money to get to work quicker, maybe they should PAY PEOPLE TO RIDE WITH THEM.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    What a concept!

    If you want something to happen, pay people to do it.


  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    What Transurban is counting on is that there will ALWAYS be a certain number of folks that are willing to pay.. even a hefty toll …

    think of CEOs.. Hospital Administrators, Airline Pilots, etc, etc… Folks who make 200, 300K a year… will gladly pay for a reliable trip to/from their jobs.

    Think or a ordinary worker.. who abosolutley has to be at a meeting one day…

    think about an employer who will tell a worker.. “we need you here at 8:00 .. no excuses.. and we’ll pay whatever the toll is”

    think about.. anyone who can and will buy a first class ticket when they fly… they’ll gladly buy a reliable trip..

    think of .. a guy/gal.. on business travel.. that must get to a meeting and back to catch a flight home….

    UPS, Fed Ex.. urgent deliveries?

    there are only a few.. that will pay…

    the point is.. that some folks will find the toll “cheap” compared to their time.. while others will not…

    you literally pays your money and makes your choices..

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    “What Transurban is counting on is that there will ALWAYS be a certain number of folks that are willing to pay.. even a hefty toll …”

    But the law says they have to let the car poolers on first. Even if they have to turn away paying customers.

    What then? Where does Transurban’s ROI come from?

    And if the fare is really enormous, it will also be a really enormous incentive to car pool.

    This is setting the stage for a train wreck.


  6. Anonymous Avatar

    If there are only a few that will pay, will it be enough?

    And, by the way, we already know that it won;t be enough. The original plan called for Hot lane drivers to unmerge across the other traffic to exit.

    Truly, a collosally dumb idea.

    The new plan calls for the state to fund the necessary interchanges and flyovers, by far the most expensive construction.

    How are the toll users going to pay for that?


  7. Anonymous Avatar

    “think of CEOs.. Hospital Administrators, Airline Pilots, etc, etc… Folks who make 200, 300K a year… will gladly pay for a reliable trip to/from their jobs.”

    No wonder they call them Lexus lanes.

    Now think about everyone else.

    You think arriving at work on time is LESS important for a guy that makes $60k?


  8. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    So far… we’ve not seen existing HOT lanes end up with so many carpoolers that there was no room left for toll payers.

    That will never happen..but if it does.. it will be intersting!

    re: “less important time”.

    in a word. yes.

    If your employer REALLY wants you there at a certain time then he/she will gladly pay your toll.

    Or .. if you have a job.. where YOU think it is important then you will pay.

    And if you have a job.. where it is not important to you or your employer.. then.. all you end up doing .. is what you do right now.

    what’s the problem?

  9. Anonymous Avatar

    I think the problem is waste. As in wasted time, wasted fuel, and pollution.

    Just because we get a few people who can afford to pay extra to go to work on time,isn’t going to solve the real problem at hand.

    Maybe HOT lanes are part of the solution, but it is going to take a lot more.

    If HOT lanes really work, then maybe we hould put gantry’s everywhere, and charge everybody the same way.

    Once we have a full network, talking to every car, we can employ an algorithm that tells each car what it’s cheapest and or fastest route is. (What is the incentive for the operator, here?)

    And it wouldn’t be long before we can just take over management of the car, so that merges are seamless and tailgating is managed with respect to speed. We can whistle through intersections at speed, automatically alternating vehicles, and queueing up their arrival time, just as Metro does.

    Or maybe there is another plan that is a whole lot simpler, cheaper, and might actually work.


  10. Anonymous Avatar

    All I’m asking is, what happens if TransUrbans ROI does not work out? Who foots the bill, and what is the failsafe mechanism?

    If this thing goes South, will we send the bill only to the HOT lane advocates, do we all get stuck, ur just TransUrbans investors?

    (How did “goes South” become a synonym for failure, anyway?)

  11. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    what happens if it “goes south”.

    This is easy. We’re literally back to where we are right now.

    re: it will take “more”.

    fine… let’s START with HOT lanes and see where it takes us.

    We are not restricted from changing and evolving…

    I just don’t accept the premise that because we don’t think we are going to put a 100% solution in place .. that we need to “wait” and “figure it out” .. is a recipe for success.

    Make the change..and be prepared for course corrections – major and minor… but at least commit to something.. different from the status quo – which is.. as you say wasteful and inefficient…

  12. Anonymous Avatar

    I just don’t accept the premise that because we don’t think we are going to put a 100% solution in place .. that we need to “wait” and “figure it out” .. is a recipe for success.

    Agreed. I’ve said before that we need to engage any and every strategy that might work. And, we ought to do it in order of decreasing ROI.

    I don’t accept the idea that we should sell HOT lanes with the slogan that it will reduce congestion, or any other overblown idea, when it won’t. That it is thegreatest idea since nickle beer, when it isn’t, or that it won’t have/cause problems of its own.

    A more honest sales pitch would be “Let the Lexus Drivers Lead the Way and Bill ‘Em Till They Bleed.”


  13. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Here’s what FHWA says about HOT lanes:

    * It shifts discretionary travel to off-peak.

    * It increases vehicle throughput.

    * Single most viable approach to reducing congestion – positive results both here in the U.S. and around the world.

    *Reducing peak period travelers by just 3-8% can reduce delays by up to 50%.

  14. Anonymous Avatar

    1)Why does a hot lane shift discretionary travel to off peak? If I’m going off peak, why do I care if there is a HOT lane? (Unless it is still congested in the free lanes off peak but the HOT lane price is lower than peak.)If it is still congested in the free lanes off peak, then see number 3).

    2)Increases throughput compared to what? Not having a HOT lane? Compared to the other free, but congested lanes? Compared to a free lane off peak?

    3)Reducing congestion for whom? Just the people in the HOT lanes, or everybody?

    4) Reducing peak period travelers by 3-8% can reduce dealys by up to 50%. Sure, this is basic queueing theory. How do HOT lanes reduce peak period travelers? (BTW this depends on how much demand you have in excesss of capacity. It CAN reduce dealys that much, but it might not, also.)

    FHWA is free to say whatever they like about HOT lanes, but it would help if what they said made some sense.

    A free flowing freeway lane carries what, two or three thousand an hour? Whatever that number is, that is what a HOT lane will do. To that extent, 2) is correct.

    I think the rest is fluff, but I’m open to being set straight.

    I’d still like to know what happens if TransUrban doesn’t make their nut. (Hint, look at the Greenway.)

    I’d still like to know how much everyone else is going to pay to help make the HOT lanes available for those that use them.

    Then I’d like to know how much the HOT lanes are going to benefit those that don’t use them. (ie How much general congestion relief will there be, attributable to HOT lanes.)

    Now, what will be the cost benefit ratio for those that do not use the HOT lanes, but still get to pay for part of them.

    What will be the cost benefit ratio for those that use the HOT lanes and pay for a (probably larger, but not necessrily) part of them?

    If FHWA can answer those questions, then I will be a lot more impressed.

    This really isn’t all that hard. Just answer the one question people usually want to know: am I getting my money’s worth?

    Don’t give me a lot of sugar water, beecause I don’t care if it shifts somebody else’s discretionary travel.


  15. Lyle Solla-Yates Avatar
    Lyle Solla-Yates

    RH et al-

    Interesting analysis. I covered a lot of the issues brought up in this article and questions here in my most recent HOT lanes article.

    Transurban is taking on the risk and profits of the new HOT lanes. In exchange, they offer more capacity (which they toll, so this is in their own interest) as well as millions in transit improvements to help those who would otherwise drive.

    1. HOT lanes use prices to regulate supply and demand. During peak periods, prices are high to maintain maximum supply on the roads by regulating demand. Other times, prices are low to encourage optimal use of the roadway.

    2. By regulating supply and demand, HOT lanes offer much better throughput than before pricing, better throughput than adjacent congested lanes at peak, and in some cases better than a free lane off peak.

    3. HOT lane users benefit most from the speed, capacity, and reliability of the lanes, above and equal to what they pay. Other drivers benefit as though new capacity were built, meaning a temporary reduction in congestion that induces demand. Those other drivers pay no toll or tax for the temporary benefit and have access to the HOT lanes when they need them. Carpoolers and transit users benefit from the new capacity and expanded transit and pay no toll or tax.

    4. See 1 for how pricing manages demand to optimize supply.

    In the unlikely but possible event that transit and carpooling surge beyond expectations and eat up most of the capacity, I expect that Transurban will lobby the state to expand the HOT lanes and/or convert to a traditional congestion pricing scheme where transit and carpoolers pay the same fee other vehicles do. There is still an incentive there to carpool and ride because of the savings on the toll, and congestion could be better managed. This is very unlikely though, and Transurban could probably see this coming and prepare by expanding capacity. Otherwise, they own the risk, it’s their problem. If they go out of business, the state still owns the roads and the transit, and we’ll still be better off than we would have been with no roads, no transit, and no congestion pricing. If the state bails out Transurban with a direct payment, then those politicians should be held accountable.

    No one subsidizes the HOT lanes, that’s their beauty. People can choose to pay for them or not. It’s a beautiful example of how private and public can work together to create value for everyone.

    I don’t know if the temporary congestion relief for other drivers has been quantified yet, but I think it should be equal to another lane or two of capacity.

    No one pays anything for the HOT lanes unless they choose to use them. No taxes, no subsidies.

    The cost benefit ratio to users, who pay the entire cost, will be at least as large as the cost of the project, and likely at least half again as large. I suspect that the benefits to emergency vehicles alone will save lives and property.
    I would love to see the cost benefits for transit riders and car poolers, who pay nothing. I can’t estimate that value, but I suspect it’s high, and that should be part of the transit study.

    So yes, you’re definitely getting your money’s worth, though it’s hard to put numbers on some of these.
    You benefit least if you drive and never use the HOT lanes, but pay nothing. You benefit more if you use the HOT lanes, because they offer at least as much value as you are willing to pay for them. You benefit most if you ride transit or carpool, because you enjoy the capacity and reliability for free.

    Compared with some other government programs, HOT lanes look pretty good on ROI.

    Wow, I wish I had that in the article, that’s much clearer.

    Thanks RH, I like how you broke it down. I think I understand it better now.

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