Festive art cars were the first vehicles to enter Metro's new HOT lane. Under the new program, solo drivers, for a fee, can use the HOV lane on the Gulf Freeway, a lane that is usually reserved for vehicles with two or more people. The lane runs from Downtown South to Dixie Farm Road. The toll will range from 1.00 to 4.50, depending on the time of day and the level of congestion. This driver says the toll would be worth it to get home quicker.
"If you don't have a friend with you and you have to pay a couple extra dollars, spending resources doing it by yourself, then that would be a worthy cause to spend money, I guess."
Some drivers, though, think it's a bad idea.
"It's a special access lane for the affluent, and people that can't afford to pay two or three extra bucks every day are stuck in traffic. It's not democratic."
But Metro CEO George Greanias is touting the program's benefits. He says the HOV lanes are an underutilized resource, and there are times when they can carry more traffic.
"I don't know that you need to do a study of Houston to ask, 'would you like to get some relief from driving on the Gulf Freeway?' I don't think it really takes a study to get an answer to that one."
Greanias says putting more vehicles on the HOV lane will save wear and tear on the main lanes, and easing stop-and-go traffic conditions will put a dent in vehicle emissions.
For vans and carpools that are already using the HOV lane, Greanias says the addition of more vehicles won't mean an increase in travel time. Solo drivers will not be able to use the inbound lane from 7:00 to 8:00 in the morning, and can't use the outbound lanes from 4:00 to 6:00 in the evening.
"The notion behind this concept is to make sure that when we do have capacity, when the lane is not full, vehicles with just one person can get on the lane."
To use the Gulf Freeway HOV lane as a solo driver, you have to have a toll tag. You can use a Metro tag, or an EZ tag from the Harris County Toll Road Authority. As you enter, you'll be directed to the "all others" lane where your toll tag will be scanned. As for driving solo on other HOV lanes, Metro says it plans to expand the program to U.S. 59 North and South, U.S. 290, and I-45 North.