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With LA County HOV lanes overcrowded, will cars be forced to carry at least 3 people?

Cars drive in the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane near Simi Valley, California.
David McNew/Getty Images
Cars drive in the high-occupancy vehicle lane near Simi Valley, California.

Fast-moving carpool lanes can be a great incentive to double up on your commute, unless they become so popular they get too crowded. 

When a carpool lane drops below 45 miles per hour more than 10 percent of the time, it’s considered degraded under Caltrans. And that’s the case with most of the carpool lanes in Los Angeles County.

Earlier this year, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority commissioned a study to generate ideas for upgrading the carpool lanes. The Metro board got an update on the research last week.

One idea: to raise the bar on carpools from two people to three. That would kick out Jennifer Caballero, who carpools daily with a coworker from Pasadena to the Skirball Museum 25 miles away. She said finding a third person to share the drive would be a real challenge.  

"It does not seem pragmatic to me, it seems relatively punishing to me," Caballero said.

If the rules change and she can’t save time in the carpool lane, she said she might just start driving solo. She'd like to see Metro crack down on drivers who use the carpool lane illegally before moving to make it any harder for those already making an effort to carpool.

Metro does have plans to test automated occupancy-sensing cameras on its Express Lanes on the 10 and 110 freeways. Officials estimate about a quarter of users cheat the system by switching their transponders to carpool even when they drive solo, or they simply weave out of the lane when a transponder reader is approaching.

Carpooling to work has been steadily decreasing in L.A. County since the 1980s, although population and traffic have increased.

Metro likely won’t make a decision on the requirements for the HOV lanes until next year when the research on the issue wraps up.