MOORLACH UPDATE — Car Pool Constriction — March 30, 2013

Caltrans has performed what is known as a degradation study on the car pool lanes in Orange County. It has done so in response to Federal legislation that was enacted last July 6th. If the study determines that the car pool lanes are not delivering the minimum levels during peak hours, then Caltrans must remedy the lanes within 180 days. If it does not, then there is a possibility of losing Federal funding and project approvals.

Do you feel the constriction? Orange County residents were not keen on car pool lanes when they were introduced. Now that they have become overly comfortable with them, they must be punished. And Caltrans is recommending some draconian alternatives, while not even proposing a simple one: get solo drivers in energy-efficient vehicles out of the lanes. In fact, the study does not even differentiate car poolers from low emission vehicle single drivers. The main recommendation is to convert the car pool lanes into toll lanes. There’s big brother government for you.

Let’s see, we gave up a lane for car poolers. Now the car poolers are being kicked out of that lane and will be forced to pay to get back in. It seems that the simple solution is to restripe the freeways and eliminate the car pool lanes. If they are not moving when you need them, what is the point? And taxing a user, without voter approval, strikes me as not only unconstitutional, but a form of eminent domain due to the taking of free lanes. I say, set the fly overs free, remove the car pool lanes altogether, and then the Federal government can stay out of our business. I’m sure it won’t be that easy, but I’m ready for the debate. The OC Register sets up the discussion in the article below.

Caltrans suggests 3-person carpools, tolls

The agency is looking at several options to meet federal standards for carpool lanes, including raising the occupancy requirement and charging tolls for those who don’t meet it.

By DOUG IRVING

Drivers planning to use the carpool lanes on Orange County freeways would have to find two passengers – not just one – or pay a toll under one plan Caltrans is considering to ease congestion in the fast lanes.

That congestion has gotten so bad that the carpool lanes on every one of Orange County’s freeways have ceased to function as promised during rush hour, according to a Caltrans presentation to be delivered to an Orange County Transportation Authority committee Monday.

California is under pressure from the federal government, based on a law passed last year, to improve carpool commuting times on such high-traffic freeways. Caltrans officials emphasize that several options are on the table, but a copy of their presentation gives a recommended course: limiting the lanes to three-person carpools and those who pay a toll.

"We’re going to be looking at this on a corridor-by-corridor basis," said Cindy Azima, a Caltrans spokeswoman in Orange County. "There is no absolute. It’s not all or nothing."

The same discussion is happening throughout the state, but Azima said she does not know how many other freeways have been identified. "We believe similar options and combinations of those options are being explored throughout the state," a statement from Caltrans’ Orange County office said.

Only a few miles of carpool lanes in Orange County still meet federal requirements that they move traffic at 45 mph or better even during rush-hour commutes. Those are on a broad stretch of I-5 between Anaheim and the Los Angeles County line, according to the Caltrans presentation. That presentation recommends adding lanes as a long-term solution, "subject to funding availability."

For the short term, though, it lists a three-person occupancy requirement and a switch to so-called "HOT" lanes as the most effective options. A HOT lane would charge a sliding toll for cars with fewer than three people, with higher rates when congestion is bad and lower rates when conditions are clear.

"That would allow the agency to manage traffic on the toll lanes in real time, raising prices if it starts to slow to discourage more cars from coming in."

That could worsen congestion in the free lanes, the presentation notes. Adding an extra free lane at the same time would be "ideal," it says.

Caltrans has the final say over any changes to the carpool lanes. But the OCTA controls much of the transportation funding that likely would be needed for some of the bigger-ticket solutions, such as new lanes. And some of its directors were less than enthusiastic about tolls.

"It’s a complete ruse," said Todd Spitzer, an OCTA board member and county supervisor. "They’re purposefully kicking people out so they can charge them to get back in."

"I’d just as soon shut down the carpool lanes," said John Moorlach, who also serves on the OCTA board and as a county supervisor.

Orange County would not be the first metropolitan area to raise the occupancy requirements for its carpool lanes and then charge others to get in as well. A heavily traveled stretch of I-85 through Atlanta went to three-person carpools and HOT lanes in 2011.

A traffic mess in the opening days evened out as operators fine-tuned the toll rates, according to Atlanta media reports. The number of monthly trips on the tolled lanes has nearly tripled since then, according to statistics from Georgia’s road agency. Most are drivers willing to pay to get out of traffic in the free lanes, not carpoolers, the numbers show.

Florida also increased its carpool occupancy requirements and added tolling to I-95 through Miami, in 2010. The project "considerably improved" traffic, according to an annual report from Florida’s transportation department – although expert Robert Poole notes that the state also added free lanes there.

Poole, the director of transportation policy for the libertarian Reason Foundation, has been pushing managed toll lanes since the late 1980s. He said the simplest way to get traffic moving in the carpool lanes is to raise the occupancy requirement – "but that would create empty-lane syndrome."

"The best thing you can do is try to sell that empty space," he said.

A federal law requires all states to identify and fix any carpool-lane segments that no longer meet the 45-mph standard during at least 90 percent of the morning and evening rush-hour periods. States must bring any under-performing lanes into compliance within 180 days or face sanctions, such as a loss of federal funding, according to the law.

Caltrans has not finalized its statewide study of carpool lanes. Azima, the spokeswoman, said she did not know when the agency would submit its final report, which will start that 180-day clock.

Contact the writer: 714-704-3777 or dirving

FIVE-YEAR LOOK BACKS

April 1

2008

Jeff Overley of the OC Register covered a JWA matter in “Concession contract about more than cash – John Wayne Airport officials recommend hiring vendor that offers $1 million less than competing company.”

Money isn’t everything – at least, not when it comes to concession contracts at John Wayne Airport.

Despite being guaranteed $7.2 million in rent by a company seeking to operate three concession stands at John Wayne Airport, officials are recommending selection of a company that’s promising only $6.1 million.

Orange County supervisors today will vote on a five-year deal with the concessionaire, who will hawk everything from magazines to candy bars to velvet travel pillows.

The preferred company, which already runs the concession stands, is known as Paradies. It has more than 500 shops in the United States and Canada, and that experience was key to its success with a seven-person committee that reviewed the proposals.

"You don’t always look at the dollars – you’ve got to look at the intangibles," said Supervisor John Moorlach, adding that he’s inclined to support the committee’s recommendation.

The larger bid came from O.C. Treasures, a joint venture whose parent companies have solid references and have operated stands at Chicago Midway Airport and Los Angeles International Airport, among other places, according to a county report.

O.C. Treasures partner Treva Metoyer said Paradies’ success was not entirely unexpected.

"The incumbent is the one that is there, and it’s not uncommon for the incumbent to get the vote," Metoyer said.

Cash was just one element of the evaluation process. Paradies easily outscored O.C. Treasures in the areas of experience, financial viability, pricing and proposed improvements to the concessions.

Interestingly, four members of the committee even gave Paradies higher marks on the money element – even though O.C. Treasures is offering almost 20 percent more cash.

Those curious ratings could be based on the fact that O.C Treasures didn’t take the opening of a third terminal, expected in 2011, into account when projecting its profits, said airport spokeswoman Jenny Wedge. The new terminal will also have concessions, and they could siphon business from the existing vendors, Wedge said.

"What if they don’t make enough (money)? … What if that hurts them?" Wedge asked. "We need a concession that would be stable."

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