101 Managed Lane Equity proposal poses a choice between incenting driving and transit

The 101 managed lane program in San Mateo County is planning equity programs with the goal of improving access for low-income travelers and addressing equity concerns raised by a system that provides faster travel to drivers who pay the toll.  This is an important innovation to make sure that people across the income spectrum have a chance to benefit from managed lanes.

But, due to administrative issues, policymakers are being asked to make a choice between helping low-income people access the toll lanes by driving, and providing transit or carpool options.  Read on for more details about what’s being proposed and how to comment…

There is a community meeting coming up on Thursday, to provide feedback on the program, or you can give comments in writing to equity@smcexpresslanes.org

Thursday, March 18, 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Call in Option: (669) 900-6833
Zoom Webinar ID: 925 5484 9450
Interpretation will be available in Spanish, Cantonese, and Mandarin.

Here are the basics of the 101 Managed Lanes.  The 101 Managed Lane project will create 22 miles of express lanes on U.S.101 from the San Mateo County/Santa Clara County line to I380 in South San Francisco, and connect to other express lanes being constructed in Santa Clara County.    Buses, vans and carpools with 3 or more passengers will  be able to use the lane for free. Carpools with two people will receive a discount on the tool. Other drivers can choose to pay.  The Toll prices will be adjusted to keep the lane flowing at 45mph or faster. 

Funds for the tolls will be used for the equity program, and other purposes including contributing to repayment of a loan for capital project, and the operations, maintenance, and administration of the lanes. 

Program design questions: funding amount, flexibility for riders

For the equity programs, governing and advisory boards are being presented with a choice – whether to provide a cash benefit for low-income people who wish to drive; a $50 per year transit discount using a Clipper card, or a $50 per year discount on carpool services.

People in households making less than twice the federal poverty level – $50,000 for a family of four – will qualify for the program. This is the same income level to qualify for the Clipper START fare discount.

The Initial funding for the equity programs include $1M in one-time funds and $600k per year on an ongoing basis.

A $50 annual transit discount is not much money. For example, a monthly pass for the SamTrans express bus is $130 per month.  A $50 annual benefit is only a 3% discount. By contrast, participants in the regional means-based transit discount get a 50% discount.   

Also, the program as proposed would not give people a choice about how to use the benefits. At an advisory group meeting, staff said that because of administrative constraints, the proposed program would not allow participants to flexibly choose whether to use their benefits for driving or for transit/carpool.  Instead, decisionmakers and advisors were being asked to choose whether the program should support driving or alternatives to driving.  

While the staff analysis indicated that 7,000 to 10,000 people might benefit from the discounts, the study did not analyze how many people would prefer flexibility – people who need to drive sometimes, but would prefer to use transit or carpool when they can.

It would be helpful to provide funding for a larger financial benefit. And, it would be helpful to work on alleviating the administrative barriers to flexibly choosing sustainable transportation.

Decisions about the equity program are expected to come for a decision to the 101 Express Lane Joint Powers Authority in May

What do you think? Join the community meeting to learn more, ask questions, and share your thoughts.  You can also share your ideas in writing at  equity@smcexpresslanes.org

The project is slated to open in phases in 2021 and 2022.