101 Express Lane Equity Program Approved – Supports Transit and Fast Driving

On Friday, May 14, the San Mateo CountyExpress Lane Joint Powers Authority approved the 101 Express Lane Equity Program. The Express Lanes will provide faster travel for buses, carpools, and solo drivers who pay a toll. The goal of the equity program is to alleviate the equity challenges with a program that people pay to drive faster.

The initial proposal included options either to create a program that provided a credit toward on use of the Express Lanes, OR to create a program that provides a credit on the Clipper Card that is used for public transit.

The advisory group and other community feedback recommended that the program be designed to support both transit and faster driving, because low-income people’s needs vary, and in some cases the same household uses transit and driving for different trips.

Also, community members recommended that the program be made as easy as possible, with good outreach to people who would benefit from the program. 

As a result, the recommendation that the board approved included:

  • $50 cash on a Clipper card annual
  • $70 credit for use on toll lanes
  • Automatic enrollment in the Clipper START and FasTrak start programs that provide more discounts on transit and tolls for low-income people
  • Funding for local organizations to provide education and enrollment

The program will be available to San Mateo County residents with household incomes less than 2x the federal poverty line, which is about $50,000 for a family of four; this is the same criteria to qualify for the Clipper and FasTrak START programs.

Options that were not included in the program included funding a carpool app discount, which would benefit fewer people, and investments in bicycle and pedestrian improvements in communities along the corridor. While these the safety improvements would be helpful, there are other sources of funding and they do less to directly mitigate the toll lanes.  

Future improvements

This is a pioneering start for a program to alleviate the impacts of toll-lanes on low-income people. There are several future steps that could improve the program as it moves forward.

  • People who use the program will get money in two different accounts, because the Bay Area does not yet have a single account combining transit and toll funds.   The Metropolitan Transportation Commission which works on both Clipper and FastTrak have been interested in enabling combined accounts, but that won’t be possible at least until Clipper rolls out its new account-based system in 2023.  Riders who want convenience will need to make the case for a seamless system for people who sometimes drive and sometimes use transit.
  • The program is small, with only $50 toward transit per year and $70 one time for the toll lanes.  More funding may be available in the future based on toll revenue and or with pursuit of other sourcees of funding. 
  • The program is only available for people who live in San Mateo county. There are many low-income people who work in San Mateo County and live far from work because of the county’s high housing prices. It would be helpful for equity and congestion relief to provide benefits to people who work in San Mateo County.