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Home>Projects and Programs>VTA Express Lanes: Frequently Asked Questions

VTA Express Lanes: Frequently Asked Questions

The Basics

 Why is VTA considering the express lanes program? 
 How do express lanes differ from traditional toll roads? 
 Who can use VTA's Express Lanes?
 How are the entry and exit points to the express lanes determined?
 What is HOV 2+?
 What does it mean when an express lane sign reads “HOV Only” during expresslanes
    hours?

 What are the hours of operation for the SR 237/I-880 Express Lanes? 
 Will I be able to drive in express lanes all the way from Morgan Hill to Palo Alto?

The Cost

 How are toll rates determined? 
 How much will it cost to use the express lanes?
 How do I pay the toll?

Collection and Tolls

 What is FasTrak and a toll tag?
 If I have a transponder and carry a friend, will I get charged to use the expresslanes?
 What if I drive different cars on different days?
 Where can I purchase a FasTrak toll tag?

Enforcement

 How will rules for using the express lanes be enforced? 
 What if I am being pulled over or an emergency vehicle needs to pass? 
 What happens if a carpool or toll-paying vehicle crosses the double white line?

Equity

 Do people at all income levels use express lanes? 
 Didn't I already "pay" for this lane? Why do I have to pay again to use it?
 What happens to the money collected from tolls?

The Basics

Why is VTA considering the express lanes program?

The VTA Express Lanes Program comes at a crucial time. as Santa Clara County prepares for a 38% growth in population and a 62% increase in jobs (668,000 new residents and 540,000 new jobs) in the period between 2010 and 2035. Funding for transportation improvements is projected at only a fraction of that amount.

Better utilization of the existing roadway infrastructure is part of the solution. VTA undertook a feasibility study to see if express lanes are viable option in Santa Clara County, and in the fall of 2005 the VTA Board of Directors authorized staff to develop the Express Lanes Program.
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How do express lanes differ from traditional toll roads?

On a traditional toll road all users pay a usage fee. With express lanes, only solo drivers who choose to use the lane will pay a toll.
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Who can use VTA's Express Lanes?

Vehicles carrying at least two people of any age, buses, vanpools, motorcycles and clean air vehicles with  applicable decals can use express lanes toll-free and do not need to carry a transponder. Only people who are driving alone must pay a toll to use express lanes.
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How are the entry and exit points to the express lanes determined?

Entry and exit points for express lanes are based on a number of criteria including access to freeways and expressways and traffic flows in the corridors. Limited access helps keep express lane traffic moving smoothly.
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What is HOV 2+?

New to many drivers is the sign reading HOV 2+. HOV means High Occupancy Vehicle (also known as a carpool). The 2+ designates the need to have a minimum of 2 or more occupants. 
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What does it mean when an express lane sign reads “HOV Only” during express lanes hours?

When you see “HOV Only” on a gantry sign over the carpool/express lane, it means solo drivers may not use the HOV/express lane, unless they are driving a motorcycle or clean air vehicle with applicable decals. The “HOV Only” sign comes on when traffic congestion in the lane, or at the end of the express lane, is so great that it is not possible to maintain the minimum 45 mph speed in the express lane
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What are the hours of operation for the SR 237/I-880 Express Lanes?

SB I-880 to WB SR 237         Monday-Friday/5 to 10 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m.
EB SR 237 to NB I-880          Monday-Friday/5 to 9 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m.
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Will I be able to drive in express lanes all the way from Morgan Hill to Palo Alto?

One of the unique advantages of express lanes would be the interconnection of these freeways. By using the express lanes network, a driver from Morgan Hill to Palo Alto would enjoy much less congestion through the entire urban area traveled.
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The Cost

How are toll rates determined?

Tolls are determined by congestion levels. Shorter distances, off-peak travel times and free-flowing conditions will result in lower tolls. The opposite conditions will result in higher tolls in order to limit use and keep the express lanes operating at a minimum of 45 mph.
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How much will it cost to use the express lanes?

The toll rate varies, the there is never a charge for carpools. As congestion in the express lanes increases, solo drivers will pay more. As congestion decreases in the express lanes, the toll rate will decrease. Tolls on SR 237 (first phase/segment) have ranged from $0.30 to $4.75, with an average toll of $1.60
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How do I pay the toll?

Tolls are paid through the use of a FasTrak transponder, which is the same device used to automatically pay bridge tolls throughout the Bay Area. Electronic signage in advance of the express lanes will display the toll you will be charged if you choose to use the lane.
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Collection and Tolls

What is FasTrak and a toll tag?

FasTrak is the name of an electronic toll collection (ETC) system that allows you to prepay your tolls, eliminating the need to stop at a toll booth. The FasTrak transponder (also called a toll tag) is a small battery-powered radio toll collection device that mounts easily to your windshield or a license plate frame. Solo drivers choosing to utilize the express lanes will need a FasTrak transponder.
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If I have a transponder and carry a friend, will I get charged to use the express lanes?

If you are carpooling and you have a FasTrak transponder, make sure to place your transponder in the Mylar bag it came with to prevent the antenna from reading and deducting a toll. 

Mylar Bag Replacement

If you need a Mylar bag replacement, call Bay Area Fastrak at 1-877-229-8655, and speak with a customer service agent. They will send you a free replacement in 5-10 business days.

Toll Tag License Plate Frames

If you have a toll tag license plate frame and you will be carpooling in the express lane, you may consider switching to a transponder that mounts on your windshield so you can remove it and place it in the Mylar bag when carpooling to avoid the toll charge.
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What if I drive different cars on different days?

Take the transponder with you when driving another car or order a second transponder by contacting FasTrak. (Both transponders can be linked to a single account). If you are using a rental car, please click here for additional options.
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Where can I purchase a FasTrak toll tag?

FasTrak toll tags are available at various retail outlets or can be purchased directly from the Bay Area Toll Authority. Visit the Fastrak website for more information on how to purchase and use FasTrak.
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Enforcement

How will rules for using the express lanes be enforced?

The California Highway Patrol will be in charge of enforcement using a combination of new technologies and visual checks for occupancy (as with HOV lanes).   
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What if I am being pulled over by CHP, or there is an emergency vehicle that needs to pass?

If you are being pulled over from an express lane you should pull to the right hand shoulder as soon as it's safe and legal to do so. Per the California DMV Vehicle Code Section 21806 regarding Authorized Emergency Vehicles:

"A person driving a vehicle in an exclusive or preferential-use lane shall exit that lane immediately upon determining that the exit can be accomplished with reasonable safety."

Read more about V C Section 21806
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What happens if either a carpool or toll-paying vehicle crosses the double white line? 

Crossing the double white line is a violation of the state vehicle code. The California Highway Patrol will issue tickets to violators, and the minimum fine is $471. The double white lines are in effect 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, regardless of carpool or express lane hours of operation.
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Equity for all

Do people at all income levels use express lanes?

Over a decade of express lane data from Orange and San Diego Counties indicates that the vast majority of drivers – both high and low income - use express lanes as a form of "congestion insurance.”
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Didn't I already "pay" for this lane? Why do I have to pay again to use it?

Unlike taxation, no one is forced to pay; solo motorists would simply have a choice to pay for premium service - an uncongested lane that was previously unavailable. Currently, a solo driver in a time-critical situation does not have the option of utilizing a congestion-free carpool lane.
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What happens to the money collected from tolls?

The legislation authorizing this project requires tolls from the express lanes be used to support operations and maintenance, enforcement, and further transportation improvements within the corridor including transit.
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