In re HOV lanes

The Houston Chronicle reports that toll prices in HOV/HOT lanes will be increasing, sometimes almost fourfold, in response to growing congestion in the system. The lanes, which are still primarily for cars with multiple occupants, have been opened to solo drivers for nearly two years, provided they pay a toll. However, with countless solo drivers now taking to the lanes, METRO decided to raise prices substantially in order to discourage the solo drivers during peak hours.

For example, US59/I-69 northbound will see its early morning tolls increase from $2.25 to $4.50, while the same highway southbound will see an even larger markup from $2.00 to $6.50. I-45 and US290 will raise their prices 350%, from $2.00 to $7.00. I simply cannot fathom paying that much money in tolls every day on the commute to work.

However, and I cannot stress this enough, HOV lanes are a privilege and not an entitlement to solo drivers. Their primary purpose is for carpools, not for rich people. In fact, there is an argument to be made that solo drivers should never be allowed in the HOV lane, though I think METRO would disagree since they have made a handsome profit off of the entire ordeal.

Throughout High School, when I worked at City Hall during the summers, my father and I would always take the HOV lane on US59 northbound to downtown, so as to avoid the cataclysm known as rush hour traffic. Despite an unnecessarily complicated entrance system, the whole ordeal was rather pleasant and seriously cut down our time. Accordingly, it always pained me to see the ostentatious, entitled bozo in the Jaguar taking up space in the lane despite having no other passengers. So when the Chronicle quotes the solo driver who bemoans the price-hike and vows to never use the lane again, I applaud and ask him to convince his friends to do the same.

Longtime readers of my opinion will recall that I hate toll-lanes with a burning passion. It was arguably one of the things I hated the most –from a policy point of view– about Boston. Roads are a public good, so allowing those who can pay to receive the better service from the government is just totally unacceptable. While things like Security-for-hire may exist, they are all run through private industries. The Fire Department does not arrive at your house sooner if you paid extra. And make no mistake, everyone pays for roads, that is what things like income, gas and sales tax are for.

However, HOV lanes are a whole different animal, in that their real purpose is to incentivize carpooling. Given that is still free, I have no objection.

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