Southern California traffic - by flickr user David R. Blume
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority just cut back on a big reason that drivers buy electric cars: free access to toll lanes in the county.
Caltrans, the state department of transportation, still allows electric cars to use high-occupancy vehicle lanes statewide.
However, the toll lanes in Los Angeles County are managed locally.
By a 10-to-1 vote last week, the County agency, known as Metro, voted to eliminate free access to the lanes by so-called "sticker cars," according to a report in the Los Angeles Daily News.
Electric cars and plug-in hybrids get white or green stickers from the DMV when registering, which allows the cars access to toll and carpool lanes for free, and with only a single occupant.
Now the program has become so popular that plug-in cars are starting to clog the toll lanes along the 110 freeway in Los Angeles.
The new tolls are scheduled to go into effect in November or December, and will affect drivers of existing plug-in cars, who may have bought them specifically to take the express lanes, as well as drivers of new electric cars.
The new tolls will affect plug-in-car drivers on two highways, the 110, west of Los Angeles, and an 11-mile section of the I-10. Instead of being able to travel in the toll lanes for free, drivers of plug-in vehicles will get a 15 percent discount compared to conventional cars.
The number of plug-in and fuel-cell cars in the 110 toll lanes has doubled during morning rush hour since January 2016, according to Metro, and the number of clean-air cars has on California roads has increased by 1,000 percent since 2013.
Green HOV-Lane Sticker
By most measures that should count as a success story for electric cars.
Since prices on the toll lanes are set according to the amount of traffic, though, it means that toll prices have gone up for other cars. Metro also reported that overall emissions from the highway have increased, contrary to the program's goals, because more green cars in the toll lanes have slowed traffic in the rest of the highway lanes.
The commuter toll lanes have been controversial from the beginning, and have been derided as "Lexus Lanes." Last year, 49 percent of cars in the lanes paid the toll in lieu of carpooling.
That reputation is compounded by the fact that Teslas outsell other electric cars, and it colored the debate at the Metro Commission meeting, when board member (and Los Angeles City Councilman) Paul Krekorian said: "I cannot subsidize someone who puts their tie on and drives their Tesla to work in these lanes."
Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl cast the sole "no" vote in favor of cleaner cars, saying that the change will do nothing to decrease congestion, since 49 percent of the cars already pay the tolls. "We should simply admit we want to convert his to a toll lane , and we don't really care about clean air," she said. "It's because we need the money."
The move could also set a precedent as the county considers expanding toll lanes to the I-405 and 105 freeways.