High-occupancy toll, or HOT lanes, may be constructed both on the Beltway and on I-95 south into Virginia. HOT lanes allow carpools to ride without charge, while single drivers can choose to pay a toll and ride in those lanes.
My former colleague Bob Poole is one of the pioneers of the HOT lanes idea; I first discussed his work here over two years ago. Bob also had a recent oped in the Wall Street Journal on extending HOT lanes to include buses:
Nearly a decade of experience in San Diego and Orange County, Calif., has shown that you can keep traffic flowing smoothly, at the speed limit, even during the busiest rush hours. How? Charge a toll, varying by the density of traffic in the lane, for drivers to use the high-occupancy vehicle lanes (HOV). These high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes — on I-15 in San Diego and SR 91 in Orange County — have been a big hit with drivers in all income groups.
The next step is to apply this to mass transit. The idea is to reserve a portion of an HOV lane for buses and vanpools, while selling the remainder of the lane’s capacity to motorists at market prices. The result is a virtual exclusive busway — a VEB.
He and Ted Balaker have also done a policy study analyzing the prospects for such virtual busways in HOT lanes.
The interesting challenge in the DC area is the practice of slugging, where drivers swing by particular locations and pick up passengers so they can use the HOV lanes. Sluggers complain that the HOT lane idea might increase traffic and reduce slugging. I think a lot of that depends on how the toll is set during peak hours. If the peak toll is high enough, then that would reduce the incentive to drive separately. Add to that the cost of parking, and I do not think that the practice of slugging will disappear.