HOV cheats deserve to be nailed
June 14, 2005
The high-occupancy vehicle lane that runs from Basalt to Aspen has been the subject of constant criticism since the first leg was built in the mid-1990s. But despite all the heat that the HOV system receives, mainly in the form of noncompliance, it deserves continued support from motorists, government and law enforcement.The HOV lane rewards people who ride a bus to work with a shorter trip. It encourages people to carpool, reducing the number of cars and trucks on the road. And the unbroken ribbon of pavement reserved for buses and other vehicles with more than one occupant puts the Roaring Fork Transit Agency in better position to receive scarce federal transit dollars.Still, there is plenty of room for improvement.One of the biggest complaints is the lack of law enforcement. Most days, commuters driving solo can zip back and forth to work in the restricted lane without fear of consequences during peak hours, when it is supposed to be reserved for buses and cars and trucks carrying at least two people. A recent, nonscientific survey by the RFTA revealed that 22 percent of the people driving alone were cheating and using the HOV lane.The frustration of people who obey the rules is no doubt compounded by those times when a sheriff’s deputy is sitting on the side of the road clocking speeds while allowing HOV violators to sail by. Those who comply with the law deserve more astute enforcement from local police and the state patrol. By making HOV enforcement a higher priority, the number of cheats could be reduced significantly.Another criticism has to do with layout – the HOV lane on Highway 82 is the right lane instead of the left. Most communities around the country reserve the left lane as designated commuter lanes. The reversal here confuses people and turns otherwise innocent people into HOV outlaws. It also creates an unusual situation where traffic in the right side of the road is often moving considerably faster than traffic on the left.Unfortunately, moving the HOV lane to the left lane would force buses to merge through the tightly packed, slow-moving general-use lane to reach bus stops on the shoulder of the highway, and then reverse the maneuver when they re-enter traffic. It’s hard to see how that makes sense.Pitkin County’s decision Tuesday to study traffic patterns before recommending any changes to the status quo makes sense. A more thorough understanding of how the HOV lanes are working – and aren’t working – can lead to solutions that work for the commuting public at large, whether they’re driving alone, carpooling with a neighbor or riding the bus.Meanwhile, commuters have a number of choices about how to get to work. Once they decide to go it alone, they owe it to others on the road to obey the rules and stay out of the HOV lanes during rush hour.