Saturday, October 15, 2011

HOT Lanes Catch Heat in Hotlanta

Wednesday I drove into Atlanta to hear a talk by Rob Teilhet, the new executive director of Georgia Conservation Voters. Rob had some great things to say about finding common ground on environmental policy in this fractious political environment.

On the way home, though, I saw the new HOT (high-occupancy-toll) lanes in Gwinett and DeKalb counties.  HOT lanes are Atlanta's new version of HOV (high-occupancy-vehicle) lanes. Previously one could only use HOV lanes with two or more passengers. HOT lanes can be used by vehicles with three or more passengers, or with two or fewer passengers who have a "Peach Pass" (an electronic window sticker that records tolls to be paid from an account the driver establishes with the State Road and Tollway Authority).  The tolls depend on the distance traveled, and vary by time of day (a version of congestion pricing).

This week is the first week of operation for the HOT lanes, and so far everyone's confused and nobody's happy.  Despite the fact that it was rush hour, I saw absolutely no vehicles in the HOT lane (not even cars or motorcycles, which still travel free).  There were a couple of police cars in the median watching for violators, but otherwise the lane just seemed like an extra big shoulder.  Drivers have been extremely critical, and the Governor's office is lowering tolls to attract drivers and alleviate congestion.

HOT lanes have been touted by conservative commentators a better alternative to HOV lanes.  Philisophically I love the idea of carpooling, but in reality (and since there are no reasonable public transportation options between Athens and Atlanta) I'm often the only occupant of my vehicle, so I'm vaguely considering getting a Peach Pass. We'll see how things work once (or if) they get the kinks worked out.

Jamie Baker Roskie

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