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New Rules Coming to SR 237 Express Lanes Next Summer

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Construction is underway to extend express lanes along State Route (SR) 237 west of First Street to Mathilda Avenue, which are slated to open next summer. Along with this extension will be new operating rules that will help better manage these lanes and provide consistency across the region.
 
Since inception in 2012, SR 237 express lanes have offered a more reliable commute for carpoolers, solo drivers who choose to pay to use the lanes, and drivers of clean air vehicles (CAVs) – with changes coming to drivers of CAVs starting on January 1, 2019 when white and green stickers expire and new red stickers will be distributed to those who qualify per new State legislation.

New rules

Express lane operators are working to make operating rules and enforcement more consistent across the Bay Area. This includes requiring everyone in the express lanes to use a FasTrak® transponder (often referred to as a “tag”), which was approved by the VTA Board of Directors in September 2016. This requirement applies to all eligible users: carpoolers, toll paying solo drivers, CAVs, motorcycles and buses. The new rule will greatly assist the California Highway Patrol (CHP) with their manual enforcement efforts by removing the need for CHP to assess whether or not an express lane user is carrying a tag.
 
In addition, SR 237 Express Lanes hours of operation will likely align with three other facilities in the region already operating 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. pending Caltrans approval. This will expand operating hours from the current morning and afternoon peak commute period, also adopted by the Board in September 2016.
 
Video surveillance will be a new feature on the newly expanded SR 237 Express Lanes, allowing FasTrak® to catch cheaters with license plate reader technology, similar to the video technology already in use on Bay Area bridges. This technology is being expanded across Bay Area Express Lanes to provide consistency for its users.

The next step towards consistency is a proposed toll ordinance that VTA is currently taking through its public advisory committees and Board meeting process through the end of the year. First and foremost, the ordinance would allow VTA to collect toll violation penalties and fees using video enforcement. The existing express lanes on SR 237 rely totally on CHP enforcement with fines collected going to the State.

Caltrans, not VTA, designates vehicle occupancy requirements for carpool and express lanes. VTA express lanes will continue to operate as HOV (2+) until otherwise decided by Caltrans. The first change to occupancy requirements is proposed to coincide with the opening of I-880 Express Lanes in late 2019 from HOV(2+) to HOV(3+).

Discounts for users

California is trying to strike a balance between continued promotion of CAVs to further state climate and zero emission goals, and continue to provide a reliable commute via carpool and express lanes. In Silicon Valley, the increasing popularity of CAVs (that are predominantly single-occupant vehicles) has resulted in challenges to maintain travel speeds in the lanes to meet the minimum federal speed requirement of 45 mph. The new decal sticker program rules could provide relief to the existing overcrowding of these lanes.

Express lanes operators in California are preparing to toll CAVs that are using express lanes today toll-free. For example, LA Metro will be tolling CAVs later this year, offering a 15 percent toll discount when using the express lanes. CAVs already receive a 50 percent discount on Bay Area bridges. VTA’s proposed toll ordinance would provide solo-driving CAVs a 50 percent discount to use express lanes, aligning with other toll operator ordinances. Simply put, without the VTA toll ordinance, no discounts can be offered to CAVs or HOV(2+).

The number of CAVs on SR 237 Express Lanes have increased tremendously over the years and are now about 30 to 40 percent of all vehicles in the lanes. CAV ownership in California continues to increase year over year, especially in Santa Clara County, and these vehicles continue to become more mainstream with the State goal to reach five million CAVs by 2030. The rationale behind charging solo-driving CAVs at a discount is to still recognize these vehicles as carpool exempt, while still paying their fair share to use the express lanes as a solo driver. CAVs who meet the occupancy requirement will always be toll-free.

More people in fewer cars, cutting down on congestion and pollution, is the future of express lanes. The toll ordinance provides the structure to help make this happen while making operations consistent throughout the region.

For more information and frequently asked questions, visit VTA’s 237 Express Lane construction project, and How to Use Silicon Valley Express Lanes.

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