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Metro will stop requiring FasTrak transponders on freeway express lanes

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The agency is testing a “pay as you go” model

Express lanes on 110
To use Metro’s express lanes, drivers currently must install a transponder.

Drivers on the 10 and 110 freeways could soon have an easier time using ExpressLanes, which reserves some lanes for drivers willing to pay extra for a less congested commute.

Metro’s Board of Directors approved a one-year pilot program on Thursday that shakes up the way in which the tolls are enforced, eliminating a fine for drivers who don’t have a FasTrak transponder. Drivers using the lanes without a transponder will instead be sent a bill for the toll, along with a $4 administrative fee.

County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who introduced the proposal for the pilot program, argued in a written statement Thursday that the new system—scheduled to take effect this fall—would “decriminalize” the express lanes.

Right now, drivers using the express lanes must have a transponder, which tracks how often they enter and exit the toll lanes. Roughly 4 percent of drivers who used the lanes in 2018 didn’t have transponders, making them subject to fines, according to a report from Metro staffers.

Cameras mounted above the freeway record when drivers enter the lanes illegally. Fines of $25 are then sent to violators, along with the toll for using the lane. If the ticket goes unpaid, late payments can more than double that amount.

The staff report notes that nearly one-third of violators don’t pay their fines until the Department of Motor Vehicles places a hold on their vehicle registration.

Under the new system, those fines would be eliminated, though a $4 fee would be added for those without transponders.

Hahn suggested at Thursday’s board meeting that the new system could encourage broader use of the express lanes, in which pricing is determined by the level of congestion.

Charging for use of roads during peak traffic hours is a strategy Metro is considering deploying in other areas of the city, as the agency considers ways to raise revenue for more than two dozen transportation projects (and possibly free fares for trains and buses).

But members of Metro’s board, including Hahn, worried Thursday that deploying a similar congestion pricing system citywide would create undue financial stress for low-income drivers.

The board is set to consider the issue further next month.