Opinion: Express lanes will cost drivers masses of money | February 18, 2022 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - February 18, 2022

Opinion: Express lanes will cost drivers masses of money

by Diana Diamond

"The integration of managed express lanes will reduce congestion all along the U.S. 101 corridor. It will encourage carpooling and transit ridership as well as the use of technology to help manage traffic."

This story contains 975 words.

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Diana Diamond is a longtime Palo Alto journalist, editor and author of the blog "An Alternative View," which can be found at PaloAltoOnline.com/blogs. You can email her at [email protected]

Comments

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 18, 2022 at 8:10 am

Bystander is a registered user.

Bad implementation of a bad idea.


Posted by Old PA Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 18, 2022 at 10:56 am

Old PA Resident is a registered user.

I'm really, really sad to see this. It would take decades of reduced travel to counter the environmental damage from building this system (all that cement, pollution from the trucks and equipment needed to build this, etc). What a nightmare. And I agree, I doubt this will reduce travel, it just makes it so the wealthy get there faster. And it's super confusing, so how many accidents will this cause? One is one too many. What a shame.


Posted by KOhlson
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 18, 2022 at 11:18 am

KOhlson is a registered user.

You state that there is a $25 annual fee to Fastrak. If I understand the FAQ, the $25 is to pre-fill the tag for tolls, which are deducted as you use it. If you never use it, there is no additional fee. And if you turn it in, any amount left over is refunded.
Web Link
I am somewhat surprised as the reaction of some in the local press about the toll lanes. They been in use in the East Bay for years.


Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 18, 2022 at 1:57 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

Reading the various threads on Nextdoor, there is a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding. Even in the above article, it mentions a $25 annual fee, which is not the case.

I have used the lanes on the EastBay and in the LA area and each of them are different with different rules. The places to enter and exit are poorly marked. Today driving NB I found a 50c fee to Marsh and a $1 fee for Ralston, total $1.50. Coming back I saw 50c fee to Embarcadero and then $1.50,$1.30 to 85/237. In other words, great confusion and even trying to remember and work out the math is even more confusing. Does this mean the only places we can enter/exit are Ralston, Marsh, Embarcadero, 85 and 237? This was midday, what will prices be like in busy commuter times when the regular lanes are at 25mph?

This is a tax for those who understand it, and a dangerous fine for those who do not. What a way to raise money from those who can least afford it or don't understand the 101 system compared to other CA systems.

I saw very few cars in the Express lanes. I wonder how many of those are paying, are free and even more interesting are going to be fined?

Dreadful in every way.

I saw very few cars in the


Posted by Evan
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 18, 2022 at 2:41 pm

Evan is a registered user.

Please stop letting Diana shout into the wind using your newspaper. She has absolutely no idea what she's talking about: "Surely, I don't have to point out that in addition to the money we will have to dole out to use our roads, plus the $25 annual FasTrak fee we need to buy to use these lanes, Caltrans profits considerably."

The $25 is not annual, nor is it in additional to the money you spend to use the roads. The $25 is a one-time fee to get a toll tag, which lasts forever (or they will replace for free) AND the $25 is the initial balance on your tag, which can then spent on this road.

Diana needs to retire if all she has left is lies and misunderstandings. How many more decades are you going to put up with this nonsense?


Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 18, 2022 at 6:12 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Please give Diana Diamond more prominence here and in your other media properties. She tackles the tough issues that concern most of us and readers like you and the rest of us are able to key off what she says and correct and expand on what's necessary.

I'm particularly grateful for her coverage of waste in the city government, declining service and safety at Sutter and so much more!


Posted by Barron Parker Too
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 22, 2022 at 11:09 am

Barron Parker Too is a registered user.

Fact: the average speed of cars on a congested highway is a highly nonlinear function of the flow rate. Increasing the number of cars by 10% can decrease the average speed from 30 mph to 10 mph, or from 10 mph to 5 mph. Restricting flow from 5 lanes to 4 lanes effectively increases the flow per lane by 25%.

Speculation: the engineers who came up with this system desired to make driving so miserable on 101 that people would start riding buses. If so, they will only succeed in making driving miserable. A few people will park and ride trains if they have a short walk, but almost none will add buses to the journey.

Prediction: this system will be seen as a disaster and revised several times, but it is not fixable.
(1) For 8 hours a day M-F, the 3 or 4 free lanes will become a virtual parking lot
(2) People wishing to use the express lanes will have trouble getting in and out, because all the other lanes are massively stalled. And this will stall the express lanes as well.
(3) As Diana suggests, the result will be a lot of anger. Plus wasted time and wasted resources.


Posted by Consider Your Options.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2022 at 12:01 pm

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

1). Caltrans doesn't operate 101. VTA operates it. This is a VTA project.
2). Caltrans does not control Oregon Expressway. The county does.

Understanding who the controlling governmental agencies for major roads are is pretty basic stuff for a reporter who has been on the beat in Palo Alto for so long.

I agree there are problems with this project (I view its implementation as very regressive for a long list of complicated reasons), but it is important to get basic facts right in reporting.

It's not correct to say that we didn't hear about it. I heard about it before it was implemented (from reading VTA agendas). VTA got feedback about it from people who were paying attention (though we were few in number bc it didn't get a lot of press). Do community reporters watch transportation agency agendas these days? VTA, Caltrans and Caltrain decisions affect local communities in important ways. It's important for citizens to be informed about what these transportation agencies do and what they are up to. Most citizens don't have time to read agency agendas. They rely on news reporting to make them aware in a timely way.


Posted by Consider Your Options.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2022 at 12:09 pm

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

Correction: The toll lanes are a Caltrans project.


Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2022 at 12:44 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

It will be interesting to see how many people get fined for misunderstanding the tolls and rules.

It will be interesting to see whether these lanes are used after the first fines have been issued.

For much of the time during the mid day hours, the non-toll lanes are moving well and there is no advantage to paying to use the toll lanes. Even with fastrak there is no incentive to use them when the non-toll lanes are moving well.


Posted by Los Altos Resident
a resident of Los Altos
on Feb 22, 2022 at 1:24 pm

Los Altos Resident is a registered user.

Diana,
There is another trick up their sleeves.

I got a SECOND mail notice of a Fastrak violation at the northbound entrance of Whipple Road, for a day in December 2021. The license plate number is mine, but I looked on my calendar to see where I was on that date and at that time. I was at an eye exam in Mountain View.

I had not received a FIRST notice! The first fee was $2.50 and the charge for not paying the first bill was 10%, so I now owed $25.00.

There is no reason for me to be at Whipple Road or near Whipple Road on that day - or any day. I thought of fighting it, but the ordeal involved would take too much of my time.

They say you can pay online, but DO NOT PAY ONLINE. Write them a check, if possible. Online payments are outsourced to another company so even your online receipt means nothing to Fastrak. They only honor a canceled check! Even if you paid once online, they want another payment with a fine.

It is a scam. I am glad you are giving people an opportunity to tell what they have experienced.

I will NOT be buying a Fastrak device. I do not go on 101. I only use 280 or Ell Camino or Foothill for all my car driving and I am thankful for that.


Posted by Los Altos Resident
a resident of Los Altos
on Feb 22, 2022 at 1:26 pm

Los Altos Resident is a registered user.


Posted by Hal Plotkin
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2022 at 3:57 pm

Hal Plotkin is a registered user.

I agree, Diana: these toll lanes are terrible public policy - yet another example of the way public assets are increasingly being privatized and one of the most regressive tax policies one can imagine. Just awful. You might be interested in this column I wrote opposing the idea in 2009 when the proposal was first getting off the ground (in California, it began in Orange County). It's also worth remembering that it was a classic case of "greenwashing." It was originally sold to the public as an "environmental" or "green" policy as I note in this column. Here are the opposing arguments I made, to no avail, in 2009 (they were called "HOT Lanes" back then). Web Link


Posted by Old Steve
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Feb 22, 2022 at 5:18 pm

Old Steve is a registered user.

These lanes are on Caltrans' Freeways for sure. But they are generally paid for by County sales tax authorities like Samtrans and the VTA. Fastrak is operated by a Bay Area wide Toll authority. We've used the transponders for years without trouble. Just one: I got a personalized plate for a pick-up, but forgot to add that license number to Fastrak. I got the plate picture in the mail, and cleared it up over the phone. If you backstop your transponder with a credit card, you have the card's dispute resolution powers at your disposal. Riding Caltrain or Carpooling (both of which I have done in my career) are other potential options.


Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2022 at 10:25 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

These lanes are ridiculous overreach (into our pockets) by local government. They are obviously a form of regressive taxation (in the form of tolls). However, they are also POINTLESS taxation.

What, exactly, are WE THE PEOPLE getting from this perpetual toll system?

- It doesn't help the environment. In fact, it makes things worse.
- It doesn't help lower commute times and traffic congestion. In fact, it makes things worse (with the exception of those willing to pay).
- It doesn't help the roads. This is because there is no requirement that the funds be used specifically for road improvements. Moreover, we ALREADY HAVE A SYSTEM to pay for road construction and improvement.

This is merely an under-the-radar method of dipping into the pockets of the people. We didn't ask for it. We weren't even consulted about it. This was politicians acting unilaterally to "solve a problem" that didn't even exist in the first place -- because the "solution" would only make existing traffic and environmental conditions worse.

If the goal was to increase ridership in public transportation, then that money could have been spent on LOWERING THE COSTS OF PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION to make it worthwhile and economically feasible. Instead, we're stuck with public transit that costs more than twice as much as driving the same distances (if you own a vehicle like 99.9% of adults in the state).

If ever there was a cause for a proposition in California, it would be one that would require the state or region to VOTE on these incredibly frustrating (and even infuriating) attempts by politicians to get more of our money. If it was put up to a vote, the people would determine if a cause was worthwhile enough to pay for it in perpetuity.


Posted by Sandy
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 23, 2022 at 12:03 pm

Sandy is a registered user.

Didn't we, the citizen taxpayers, pay for the roads in the first place? Now, aren't we being charged to use what can be described as our own property? Crazy.


Posted by jrameyers
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 23, 2022 at 6:54 pm

jrameyers is a registered user.

I haven't read the whole thread, and so maybe my comments have already been made. The article says the $25 is for a toll tag; it doesn't say it's an annual fee. And if you close your account, they return the $25 security deposit and the balance left on the tag.


Posted by Eeyore (formerly StarSpring)
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 25, 2022 at 3:08 pm

Eeyore (formerly StarSpring) is a registered user.

I love the toll lanes.


Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 25, 2022 at 7:13 pm

Mondoman is a registered user.

Having just tried to install a new FastTrak Flex tag in the car - a warning. The supplied hook/loop attachment's adhesive will melt and detach as a car warms up in the sun, even on these cold winter days. I suggest buying some Velcro-brand heavy duty hook/loop or a better adhesive.


Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 25, 2022 at 8:20 pm

Allen Akin is a registered user.

@Mondoman: The FasTrak folks will send you extras for free, but my experience was the same as yours -- they don't last.


Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2022 at 5:23 am

MyFeelz is a registered user.

I thought I posted this already, but you don't have to have a tolltag to use the express lanes. I set up a license plate account and associated it to a credit card. Whether you use a tolltag or not, they capture your license plate. The first time I drove over the Dumbarton after setting up the account, I checked the next day to see if it had been reported on my Fastrak account. It hadn't. It didn't show up until 4 days later. I called Fastrak to ask why it wasn't logged in at the actual time I drove over it, and they said it doesn't always report the correct date. I checked my credit card and it was charged on the day it was reported in Fastrak -- not the day I actually drove over the bridge. It would be nice if they could fix that. I think the only reason you would really need a tolltag is if you're going to be using the flex thing with more riders, etc. And as far as I know, express lanes have never been free for disabled drivers.


Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2022 at 5:39 am

MyFeelz is a registered user.

I have also extensively driven the New York Thruway. They also have tolltags. It's just a way of life, in NY, if you're really wanting unimpeded traffic, use the Thruway and just pay the tolls. Here, we are more spoiled and like our "free"ways to be free. It's like a personal affront, making us pay to ride on a road we already paid for through our taxes. Come to think of it, I've also live in Illinois, Indiana, and Texas where there are many toll roads. California is a "late bloomer" to the tollroads, so it will take some getting used to it. But where California fails where the other states where I've seen tollroads are the fact that we are combining "free"way with "tollway" and they are both congested messes. The confusion when you suddenly see a sign that says you have to pay, well I've been there, too. Massachusetts, in 2017. Their toll roads had no toll takers. I didn't trust a different state to be able to bill me correctly. So I drove entirely around Massachusetts to get to Maine from Connecticut. And it was a beautiful drive. I had a lot of time on my hands and obviously more money for gas than sense.


Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 26, 2022 at 11:21 am

Nayeli is a registered user.

@ MyFeelz - You do raise a good point about the difference between a "freeway" and a "tollway." The problem here, of course, is that a road that was once FREE has been taken (or stolen) by this system to the point that you must now PAY to ride on it.

The system doesn't accomplish anything other than give money to the very government system (and workers) that designed and implemented it. It doesn't help the environment. It doesn't help diminish traffic congestion. It doesn't help the condition of our roads. It doesn't help encourage more people to use public transportation.

If anything, this system only makes things WORSE. The only exception is that people who can afford (and choose) to pay a toll will drive just a little faster than the rest of us.

Personally, I believe that this sort of decision to implement a costly system that affects the majority of residents should have been put up to a vote by the very people it would affect. I wish that we could find out just who came up with this system and hold them accountable.

After five or ten years (and traffic is found to have become worse because of this system), I suspect that those politicians (or the ones who replace them) will likely come up with yet another attempt to charge citizens for their next "good idea."


Posted by Old PA Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 28, 2022 at 9:34 am

Old PA Resident is a registered user.

My husband and I wondered who created this system? Apparently we voted for it (unwittingly) -- but I'd like to know I can write to to express my outrage. We drove in the middle of the day - barely any cars on he road for a while and the toll was an outrageous amount of money, but how does it work, we went in for about a minute (by mistake) - how much will we have to pay? SO confusing. Then when the road jammed up I was even angrier because now the commuting teachers, firefighters, nurses, caregivers, dishwashers, gardeners, housecleaners, etc are stuck while the wealthy can zip on by. But wait, didn't they pay for this system too? So they paid for something that the wealthy get to use? Government at its absolute worst. How can we complain?


Posted by staying home
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 28, 2022 at 10:30 am

staying home is a registered user.

At first I thought the new toll structure wasn't a big deal, and that it would only be a matter of time for it to start working. I'm here to say my opinion has changed. I've seen no positive change to my commute. It is maddening to see 3 lanes of stop&go traffic and 2 lanes barely occupied. The fees adjust to maximize revenue, not alleviate traffic. This negative experience is intended to encourage alternative modes of travel (bus, train, light rail). Perhaps the better method is to create positive incentives for these alternative modes: extend VTA light rail further up the peninsula, more express trains, bus routes that go to the business centers, incentive plans for biking. Where is this additional revenue going? I can support this if I know that the $$ will make things better, but right now all I see is price gouging.


Posted by Consider Your Options.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2022 at 10:59 am

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

I used to live in NYS. Yes. They collect tolls for highway use, but the tolls are MUCH lower and they are collected evenly from all drivers. All tax payers pay for lanes, so all of them get to use the lanes equally. NYS has been charging tolls for as long as I can remember, and I am over 60. It is a way to get drivers to pay a fair share for road maintenance, based on the amount they drive and the wear and tear they contribute. That's fair.

NYS doesn't save a lane for rich people who can afford to pay a high fee for it. That is regressive...and obnoxious.


Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2022 at 11:22 am

Bystander is a registered user.

I am getting more frustrated than ever with this.

I see no advantage except to wealthy solo drivers. For the rest of us, we were able to use the carpool lane with 2 passengers if traffic was awful in the commute times. Otherwise, the lanes were available to anyone during non-commute times and were helpful if there was a crash blocking lanes. Prepandemic we knew how to use them and there was little if any confusion. The system worked and I didn't hear any complaints, except general ones about traffic.

Now it seems confusion exists particularly for those unfamiliar with how they work in other areas and they are completely different to express lanes in SoCal.

I can't understand why people are driving in them when the other lanes are moving at the limit unless these are confused drivers as they do not appear to be 3+. I strongly suspect that there will be many fines issued.

In fact, I would go as far as to say that they are likely to make more money from fines than from people paying to use them. On the other hand, maybe its the fines that they hope to be the moneymaker.


Posted by Moctod
a resident of University South
on Mar 3, 2022 at 3:01 pm

Moctod is a registered user.

Palo Alto retailers and restaurants have found it very difficult to hire staff these past two years and these toll roads, as a regressive tax, will just make matters worse.

In addition to the new "freeway" tolls and rising gas prices, the bridge tolls which our employees from the east Bay
must pay or drive down to San Jose, have been steadly increasing.

When I was a kid I remember hearing the statement that when the Bay Bridge was paid off the tolls would end. Sure.
Here is a chart of the history of tolls for the Bay bridges:

Web Link

From 1941 to 1970 the Bay Bridge toll was 25 cents. The chart ends at 2010 but today every bridge is at $7.00.
This steady increase in fees bring a new meaning to the phrase "Highway robbery.'


Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 4, 2022 at 12:28 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

With yesterday's rain bringing wet roadway, and the metering lights on ramps, a different aspect of life with these lanes is evident. I was driving last night around 7pm and the so called express lanes were empty with heavy but slower traffic in the regular lanes, when someone in a great hurry in a luxury car started weaving in and out of the slower traffic but ignored the express lane. I had to wonder if this is now a new challenge to those in fast, luxury cars.


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