High-occupancy toll lane

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FasTrak high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes along Interstate 15 southbound in Escondido, California, displaying the variable fee.

A high-occupancy toll lane (HOT lane) is a type of traffic lane or roadway that is available to high-occupancy vehicles and other exempt vehicles without charge; other vehicles are required to pay a variable fee that is adjusted in response to demand. Unlike toll roads, drivers have an option to use general purpose lanes, on which a fee is not charged. Express toll lanes, which are less common, operate along similar lines, but do not exempt high-occupancy vehicles.


The HOT concept developed from high-occupancy vehicle lane (HOV) systems in order to increase use of the available capacity, as it was found that HOV lanes were underutilized compared to general purpose lanes.

Most implementations are currently in the United States. The first practical implementation was California's formerly private toll 91 Express Lanes, in Orange County, California, in 1995, followed in 1996 by Interstate 15 in northern San Diego.[1][2] According to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, as of 2012 there were 294 corridor-miles of HOT/Express lanes in operation in the United States and 163 corridor-miles under construction.[3]

The first HOT lane implementation in Canada was along the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) freeway in Ontario.[4] Existing high-occupancy vehicle lanes were redesignated as HOT lanes for a 16.5-kilometer (10.3 mi) stretch of the QEW between Oakville and Burlington.[5] The initial system consisted of $180 permits valid for three months, though HOT lanes with electronic tolling infrastructure were announced as part of forthcoming expansions to Ontario Highway 427.[6]


An in-vehicle, switchable FasTrak Flex transponder fitted to the dashboard of vehicles for use in Greater Los Angeles, CA, US

Some systems are reversible, operating in one direction during the morning commute and in the reverse direction during the evening commute. The toll is typically collected using electronic toll collection systems, automatic number plate recognition, or at staffed toll booths. Exempt vehicles typically include those with at least two, three or four occupants, those that use approved alternative fuels, motorcycles, transit vehicles and emergency vehicles.[7]

The fee, which is displayed prominently at entry points to the lanes, is adjusted in response to demand to regulate the traffic volume and thereby provided a guaranteed minimum traffic speed and level of service.[8][9][10][11][12]

The Los Angeles Metro ExpressLanes HOT system requires vehicles to be fitted with manually "switchable" transponders where the driver selects the number of occupants, based on which the appropriate fee is charged.[13][14] California Highway Patrol officers have in-vehicle devices which display the declared occupancy of a vehicle, which they can verify visually and cite any driver(s) with fewer occupants than declared (and tolled for). The new system proved itself to be highly effective in reducing the rate of lane-use violations, with it falling to 40-50% of the violation rates of other comparable California highways, from more than 20-25% (nearly one out of four or five) to just 10% (one in ten). Other transportation officials in California took note of this, subsequently leading to the Bay Area officials of Alameda County to adopt a similar system for the (then) planned Interstate 580.[15]

Funding and construction

Implementation of these systems can be prohibitively expensive, due to the initial construction required—particularly with regard to providing access to and from the express toll lanes at interchanges. However, the long-term benefits—the decrease in delay to able motorists and increased funding for the transportation agency—may outweigh the costs. To offset costs of construction, many transportation agencies lease public roads to a private institution. As a result, construction may be partially or fully funded by the private institution, which receives all of the income from tolling for a specified period.[16][17]


Afternoon rush hour in Miami, where tolled express lanes have become congested and "closed"

Because HOT lanes and ETLs are often constructed within the existing road space, they are criticized as being an environmental tax or "Lexus lanes" solely beneficial to higher-income individuals, since one toll rate is charged regardless of socioeconomic status and the working poor thus suffer greater financial burden, although some states offer tax deductions or rebates to low income individuals for toll payments.[18] Supporters of HOT lanes counter with the fact that because HOT lanes encourage the use of public transit and ride sharing, they reduce transportation demands and provide a benefit for all.[19] However, HOT lanes have demonstrated no guarantees in eliminating traffic congestion, bringing into question their fundamental usefulness aside from raising funds for private institutions and local governments.[20]


High Occupancy Toll Lanes (HOT lanes)

Reversible HOT lanes along Interstate 95 in Northern Virginia

Express Toll Lanes (Express lanes)

See also


  1. ^ Dave Downey (2007-01-07). "The HOT lane hype". The North County Times. Retrieved 2008-07-15.
  2. ^ Metropolitan Transportation Commission. "High-Occupancy-Vehicle (HOV) and High-Occupancy/Toll (HOT) Lanes: Frequently Asked Questions". Archived from the original on 2008-06-03. Retrieved 2008-03-01.
  3. ^ Urban Land Institute (ULI) (2013). "When the Road Price Is Right – Land Use, Tolls, and Congestion Pricing" (PDF). Urban Land Institute. Retrieved 2013-04-09. See Figure 2, pp.6
  4. ^ "Canada's First High Occupancy Toll Lanes Open September 15". Newsroom. Government of Ontario. September 14, 2016. Retrieved November 4, 2017.
  5. ^ Lupton, Andrew (September 15, 2016). "QEW HOV lanes become HOT lanes today for single drivers". CBC News. Retrieved November 4, 2017.
  6. ^ "Ontario Moving Forward On Highway 427 Expansion". Newsroom. Government of Ontario. March 3, 2016. Retrieved November 4, 2017. High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lane infrastructure will be included in the construction work. A 15.5 km stretch of dedicated HOT lanes with electronic tolling in both directions on Highway 427, from south of Highway 409 to north of Rutherford Road, will open in 2021.
  7. ^ "Exempt Vehicles". Archived from the original on 2015-01-16. Retrieved 2015-01-16.
  8. ^ FAQ - VA I-495 HOT Lanes Archived 2010-11-29 at archive.today Retrieved October 6, 2009
  9. ^ Brookings Institution economic study on HOT Lanes Archived 2008-08-28 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ MD I-95 Express Toll Lanes Archived 2012-02-24 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved October 6, 2009
  11. ^ "Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance". Archived from the original on 2015-10-03.
  12. ^ "Golden Gate Bridge for variable toll".
  13. ^ "Using Metro ExpressLanes". Metro ExpressLanes. Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Retrieved June 7, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  14. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions - Metro ExpressLanes". Metro ExpressLanes. Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Retrieved June 7, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  15. ^ Richards, Gary (2014-07-11). "Bay Area carpoolers must use FasTrak in express lanes under new law". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved 2015-07-05.
  16. ^ About I-495 HOT Lanes Archived 2010-02-13 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved August 31, 2009
  17. ^ "A Guide for HOT Lane Development (FHWA, 2003)". Archived from the original on 2009-09-25. Retrieved 2009-09-06.
  18. ^ Malone, Kenny (2014-06-23). "Are Lexus Lanes Really Lexus Lanes?". WLRN. Retrieved 2015-04-28.
  19. ^ MTC Planning - HOV/HOT Lanes Archived 2008-06-03 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved October 6, 2009
  20. ^ Cohen, Josh (2017-11-03). "Will expansion of HOT Lanes Help Commuters?". Next City. Retrieved 2018-03-25.

External links