Access to the Car Pool Lane Can Be Yours, for a Price

February 26, 2012 12:00 am

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THE businessman at the front of the early boarding line for your last cross-country flight may have gotten there without enduring 100,000 miles sardined into Row 34. Quite possibly, his privileged frequent-flier status was a credit card perk -- or even bought outright.

Lately, that concept of putting a price on convenience has been adapted as a way to manage traffic congestion. Going beyond the existing model of rewarding commuters who fill the empty seats in their cars, these programs offer access to lanes once reserved for high-occupancy vehicles.

In short, the H.O.V. lane is making way for the High Occupancy Toll lane.

Since October, a program created to improve traffic flow in restricted-use lanes around Atlanta has made it possible for solitary motorists to buy their way into the express lane; car pools of three or more, eligible alternative-fuel vehicles, motorcycles and an expanded fleet of buses can still scoot in free. Payment is made using an electronic transponder, and under what the Georgia Transportation Department calls value pricing, tolls increase as traffic in the restricted lane builds. The rate can vary from 1 cent to 90 cents a mile.

The goal of the program, logically, is to keep traffic in the restricted lane moving at a reliable pace. Still, it did not have the intended effect of improving commutes along the 15.5-mile stretch of Interstate 85 in Gwinnett and DeKalb Counties -- at least, not at first.

"Before this was put in, we didn't have daily gridlock," said Howard Rodgers, who commutes from his Lawrenceville home, in Gwinnett County.

He has found plenty of support for his view. Within a month of the HOT lane's opening, Mr. Rodgers and a coalition of local groups had gathered thousands of signatures on a petition calling on state and county authorities to stop or suspend the program immediately.

The source of his displeasure: "The time it takes me to get home, and the time away from my family," Mr. Rodgers said in a telephone interview. Driving in the free lanes, he said, the 45-mile trip home from work during rush hour had doubled to a 90-minute or even two-hour grind since the conversion. He credits the petition drive for the state's decision to delay a second lane-access project.

First Published 2012-02-25 23:09:48

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