Thousands of motorists on downtown L.A.’s 110 Freeway were just following orders on the morning of August 18 when police closed off part of the road after a shootout and diverted them into toll lanes.
On Friday, those unfortunates began receiving fines in the mail for illegally traveling in the fast lane without the requisite transponder and Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) account. L.A. opened the so-called “Lexus lanes” for business in 2012 and have been fining scofflaws who try to avoid the slower traffic ever since.
Xerox Service, the contracted operator of a system that tracks Metro ExpressLanes, told the Los Angeles Times that there is a rule about turning it off under special circumstances but they screwed up. Most of the fines being sent out are small—many of them just a buck—but danger looms.
The fines can escalate quickly. The first delinquency increase would be levied on September 23, according to the ticket, and would climb to $56 if not paid by October 9. An even bigger penalty would be levied if the fine wasn’t paid before the car needed to be registered.
Transportation officials said people don’t have to pay the fine, but the only notification of that was a brief note on the Metro ExpressLanes home page: “If you received a violation during the time and location referenced above, the violation has been dismissed and you are not required to pay anything.”
Most I-110 freeway lanes were closed between 3 a.m. and 12:40 p.m. on the day of the incident when the driver of an SUV engaged in a running gun battle with police on and off the highway. One police officer was shot in the leg and the driver was killed.
The I-110 toll lanes are a bit of an experiment by transportation officials who are looking for new sources of revenue and ways to make the freeways less congested. In addition to providing a faster lane for those willing and able to pay, toll lanes regulate the cost by charging higher prices during congested traffic periods.
Critics of this form of traffic control contend that “Lexus lanes” are mostly just a perk for wealthier people and monetize public property. They decry the trend toward substituting user fees for tax-based government solutions to community issues and argue that problems won’t be addressed if we allow the more privileged members of society to dodge them.
In July, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) announced it wants to add another lane to an Orange County project to expand a 14-mile stretch of Interstate 405 to accommodate a “Lexus Lane.”