As flashing Metro signs began warning 10 Freeway drivers about high occupancy toll lanes slated to open early next year, more than 12,000 citations were issued to drivers riding illegally on the 110 Harbor Freeway carpool/pay lanes since the program began Nov. 10.
Citations issued to drivers in Los Angeles caught without the required equipment by pay-lane cameras add up to $18,358, Metro confirmed Wednesday. However, the sum includes only the tolls the drivers owe for driving in the lanes without a FasTrak transponder.
Commuters have until Dec. 10 before penalties are assessed for riding without the Metro-issued transponder in the hybrid carpool lanes, Metro officials said.
"This was absolutely anticipated," Metro spokesman Rick Jager said. "This basically is a learning curve that people need to get used to how lanes operate and what they need to do in order to use those lanes."
Everyone who uses the hybrid carpool lanes must have a transponder affixed to their windshield - whether carpooler or solo driver - although only solo drivers will have to pay a fee, he said.
More than 60,000 people so far have purchased the required transponders to travel the 11-mile stretch of hybrid carpool lanes on the 110 Freeway and soon, the 14-mile stretch of lanes being readied on the 10 Freeway from the 605 Freeway interchange to Alameda Street in Los Angeles, according to Metro.
While workers finish off the lanes on the 10, new electronic signs along the 14-mile stretch beginning in El Monte read "Express Lanes coming. For info, visit www.metroexpresslanes.net."
"Sounds like from the lessons they learned from the 110, the 10 will be successful," said Bart Reed, executive director of The Transit Coalition, based in Los Angeles. "There will still be a learning curve, but there are mechanisms to get people this information."
"They're giving the public a chance to learn that you have to pay," he said.
So far, the number of motorists participating in the program and purchasing transponders are exceeding Metro's expectations.
The agency anticipated that roughly 35,000 people would purchase transponders by the opening of the 110 Express Lanes Nov. 10, Jager said. However, in just two weeks since their debut, that number has nearly doubled.
About 25,000 transponders were purchased by the Automobile Club of Southern California (AAA) and as of Monday, just 700 remained in the company's warehouse, according to spokeswoman Marie Montgomery.
AAA members receive a 20 percent discount, she said.
Transponders are also available for purchase at Costco, Albertson's and at walk-in centers at 500 W.
A customer service representative that works out of both locations said that although the 10 Freeway Express Lanes aren't open yet, he's seeing people buying transponders in El Monte to avoid long lines in Gardena.
Roughly 30 people inquire about obtaining new transponders every day, while the number of people actually making the purchase is about half that, said Lejerion Carr, as he worked at the El Monte station.
The project is a one-year, $290 million experiment funded primarily through a $210 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to promote and study using pricing to reduce traffic congestion in major U.S. cities.
Transit experts say it will likely translate to relief for the heavily-traveled 10 Freeway corridor, where Metro has constructed an additional lane to accommodate carpoolers and paying solo drivers.
That stretch of freeway is one of the busiest in Southern California, receiving 210,000 to 240,000 vehicles every day in both directions, according to Duarte mayor and Metro board member John Fasana.
Legislation mandates that vehicles on the 10 must carry three people to use the carpool lane during peak times - from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. After the opening of the toll lanes, cars with only two people during those periods can pay a fee to use the lanes.
Tolls will range between $.25 and $1.40 per mile, depending on traffic.