The Metro Board of Directors voted Thursday to end free rides for drivers of zero-emission vehicles on the 110 Freeway and 10 Freeway toll lanes in Los Angeles County as a means to cut down on congestion.

The decision to replace the free rides with a 15 percent discount is set to be implemented within 60 to 90 days after Metro conducts an education campaign. The free rides were originally intended to encourage residents to purchase and use zero-emission vehicles, but some board members said they no longer saw the value in the policy.

“If the question is social equity, I cannot rationalize subsidizing someone who puts their tie on and hops in their Tesla to drive to work, and not subsidizing a guy who throws his tools in the back of his Toyota pickup truck to go to work,” said Metro board member and Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian. “I just can’t rationalize how that serves a social equity argument. To me, that is not a valid argument.”

Krekorian questioned whether the toll savings was a “decision-making factor” for people who purchased the vehicles, and also said “the clean air goals are set back by having congestion in the high-occupancy vehicle lanes.”

In reconsidering what kind of vehicles and drivers the express and toll lanes should serve, the board also voted to study a “pay-as-you-use” model for all drivers that would eliminate the use of registered transponders in favor of photographing licensing plates and sending drivers a bill. The board additionally voted to explore developing a pilot exclusively for the I-10 ExpressLane / Busway that would define carpools as registered vanpools, with all other vehicles other than passenger buses subject to fees through a “pay-as-you-use” model for all drivers.

The toll lanes cost up to $2 per mile for non-carpool and zero-emission drivers, and zero-emission vehicles account for 4 to 6 percent of all the vehicles using the lanes, according to a Metro report. Requiring zero-emission drivers to pay will help keep the lanes above the federally mandated minimum of 45 mph during rush hour, Metro staff said.

Metro also found that a relatively minor reduction in traffic volumes can have a “significant and substantial impact” on the performance of the lanes.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl was the only board member to vote against the change. She noted that 49 percent of the drivers are paying solo users who drive gas vehicles.

“I think we ought to simply admit that we really want to convert this to a toll lane and we don’t really care about clean air, we don’t really care about lessening or doubling up people to ride, all of the things that we adopted HOV lanes for in the first place we’d like to abandon,” Kuehl said.

Although he voted for the change, Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin asked if an easier way to address the problem would “be to change our policy on people in single-occupancy vehicles paying to use the lanes. It if was really just for multiple-occupancy vehicles and zero emission vehicles, we’d be fine. But the fact that it’s a money-maker is what creates the congestion I imagine.”

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