Potential Impact of Exempt Vehicles on HOV Lanes
CHAPTER FOUR—HOV EXEMPTIONS FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT AND PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION VEHICLES
This chapter examines potential HOV exemptions for law enforcement, emergency, and public transportation vehicles. Allowing these types of vehicles may be considered to maximize use of an HOV lane, as well as meeting goals related to maximizing efficiencies for law enforcement, emergency services, and public transportation agencies. Information on HOV use by law enforcement and emergency vehicles and potential HOV exemptions is presented first, followed by a discussion of possible enforcement issues. The use of HOV facilities by public transportation buses and possible exemptions for designated public transportation vehicles are described next. The chapter concludes with a discussion of potential issues to be considered in enforcing HOV exemptions for public transportation vehicles.
HOV Exemptions for Law Enforcement and Emergency Vehicles
The HOV Program Guidance provided by FHWA relating to exemptions for law enforcement vehicles is that vehicles operated by federal, state, or local law enforcement personnel may be permitted to use HOV lanes without meeting minimum-occupancy requirements, provided that they are clearly marked law enforcement vehicles equipped with rooftop emergency lights and a siren. Officially marked law enforcement and emergency services vehicles are allowed to use HOV lanes in areas throughout the country without meeting the minimum-occupancy requirements. Most operating agencies do not specifically monitor use levels by these types of vehicles.
Although little specific data is available, telephone calls and e-mails with operating agency personnel indicated that HOV lane use by law enforcement and emergency vehicles that are clearly marked and equipped with rooftop emergency lights and a siren is relatively low. However, as mentioned previously, it does appear that law enforcement and emergency personnel traveling alone in their personal vehicles or an unmarked agency vehicle when not on duty is an issue in some areas.
As part of the data collection effort on the Houston QuickRide value pricing demonstration program, visual observations were made of vehicles and enforcement activities on the I-10 West (Katy) and the U.S. 290 (Northwest) HOV lanes. The visual observations were conducted from 6:30 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. for three days in October 2003 and three days in April 2004. The results of these observations indicated that marked law enforcement, emergency, Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), and Houston METRO vehicles accounted for slightly less than one percent of the total HOV lane vehicle volumes during the time period. Possible unmarked vehicles or law enforcement personnel in their own vehicles were estimated to be approximately two percent of the total vehicles. This figure is an estimate, as observers were not close enough to totally confirm if a driver presented a badge or other form of identification or if there were other individuals in the vehicle (42).
Table 6 provides general information on the number of law enforcement cars and motorcycles operated by law enforcement agencies in a few counties with HOV lanes. Since law enforcement and emergency vehicles are typically assigned by area, the potential of these vehicles traveling in a corridor with an HOV lane during HOV operating hours may be relatively low.
|County/State||Number of Law Enforcement Vehicles||Percent Marked||Number of Law Enforcement Motorcycles|
|Los Angeles County/CA||7,097||48%||807|
|Salt Lake County/UT||1,261||59%||63|
It does appear that law enforcement and emergency personnel traveling alone in their own or in an unmarked agency vehicle are creating problems in some areas. This issue has been identified as a problem with the HOV lanes in northern Virginia by the HOV Enforcement Task Force.
The Code of Virginia provides an HOV exemption for law enforcement vehicles. No specific definition of a law enforcement vehicle is provided in the statute, however. As a result, the Task Force found that off-duty law enforcement and emergency personnel, as well as federal employees who consider themselves law enforcement personnel, use the HOV lanes to travel to and from work in their personal vehicles. Although the exact number of these individuals has not been documented, the Task Force recommended that statutory exemptions be better defined and clarified (2, 25).
In addition to state and local law enforcement and emergency personnel, federal agencies employ some 93,000 full-time personnel authorized to carry fire arms and make arrests in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Appendix D highlights the number of federal law enforcement officers employed and the number per 100,000 residents by state of employment as of June 2002.
A total of 21 states and the District of Columbia had more than 1,000 federal officers authorized to carry firearms and make arrests in 2002. The District of Columbia had the third highest total of federal officers in 2002, with 8,114. The District also had the highest officers per 100,000 residents with 1,241 federal officers per 100,000 residents. Virginia ranks seventh among states in total federal officers, with 3,271 in 2002 (42).
In 2002, there were 18 federal agencies employing 500 or more full-time officers. The headquarters of most of these agencies are in the Washington, D.C. area. Examples of federal agencies include the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Secret Service, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the U.S. Capital Police, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, U.S. Customs, the Office of the Inspector General, the National Park Service (NPS), and the various branches of the armed services. State, county, and local agencies may include sheriff and policy departments, fire and EMS personnel, and a wide range of other officials. While the Washington, D.C. area is unique in the large number of federal government personnel, other metropolitan areas may face similar issues, albeit on a somewhat smaller scale.
The Virginia HOV Enforcement Task Force also recommended that the Virginia Secretaries of Transportation and Public Safety issue a joint letter to all enforcement agencies emphasizing that law enforcement personnel cannot legally commute in the HOV lanes in their personal vehicles without meeting the required occupancy level (6). Reinforcing this requirement was also one of the messages incorporated into the No Excuses public information program undertaken as part of the Task Force's recommendations.
Although not as well documented as in Virginia, it appears that the use of HOV lanes by enforcement personnel traveling alone in unmarked vehicles, agency vehicles, or in their personal vehicles when they are not on duty is an issue in other areas. Anecdotal comments from HOV enforcement personnel and staff monitoring the use of HOV lanes in other areas indicates that individuals stopped for not meeting occupancy requirements who show some type of law enforcement or other emergency agency identification are not ticketed and are allowed to continue to use the HOV lane. In some cases, it appears this privilege may be extended to additional public officials or public agency personnel not involved in law enforcement, public safety, or emergency operation.
For example, it appears that use of the Gowanus Expressway HOV lanes by off-duty law enforcement and emergency personnel in single-occupant vehicles has increased since 9/11. As noted previously, periodic monitoring of the two HOV lanes in Houston in 2004 also indicated that some law enforcement and emergency personnel may be driving alone on the facilities in unmarked or personal vehicles, accounting for slightly less than one percent of the total HOV volume during the 6:30 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. time period. What appeared to be law enforcement personnel traveling in their own vehicles or in unmarked vehicles ranged from a low of 26 vehicles to a high of 117 vehicles during the morning 1.5 hour peak-period over the six days that counts were taken.
Issues to Consider to Enforce HOV Exemptions for Law Enforcement and Emergency Vehicles
As noted in the previous section, the main issue associated with allowing HOV exemptions for law enforcement and other emergency vehicles relates to enforcement and emergency personnel traveling in agency vehicles, their own vehicles, or unmarked vehicles while not on duty. Other issues to consider in enforcing HOV exemptions for law enforcement and emergency vehicles include establishing policies and guidelines on use of HOV lanes by law enforcement and emergency vehicles, clearly communicating those policies, and monitoring use to ensure that enforcement personnel follow the regulations and issue tickets to violators. When use of an HOV lane by these types of vehicles causes the lanes to become congested, the measures that will be taken to address this problem should be identified.
Establish Policies and Guidelines on Use of HOV Lanes by Law Enforcement and Emergency Vehicles. The first issue to address is to ensure that current policies and guidelines clearly articulate the types of law enforcement and emergency vehicles that can use an HOV lane without meeting the occupancy requirements. If no policies or guidelines exist, they should be developed by the HOV operating agency, usually the state department of transportation, in cooperation with law enforcement, emergency service, and other appropriate agencies. A policy should be established to allow law enforcement officers in personal vehicles to use the HOV lane only if the occupancy requirements are met, as well as how to deal with personnel using HOV lanes while driving unmarked government vehicles who are not on duty. Any exemptions to this policy should be clearly stipulated. The guidelines should identify the required vehicle markings for eligible law enforcement and emergency-service vehicles. Operating agencies should also develop standard procedures to safely accommodate law enforcement vehicles in emergency status (flashing lights, sirens) while using an HOV lane.
Clearly Communicate Policies and Guidelines. The policies and guidelines should be clearly communicated to the agencies responsible for law enforcement and emergency services, policy makers, and the public. A number of approaches may be used to communicate these policies, including letters or directives from top law enforcement personnel to their staff, information on agency websites, newsletters, bulletins, and outreach through police unions and professional organizations. The guidelines should also be clearly communicated to HOV lane enforcement personnel in standard operating procedures. Enforcement efforts should be monitored to ensure the policies or guidelines are being implemented.
Establish Policies, Procedures, and Steps to be Taken to Limit or Restrict Use by Law Enforcement and Emergency-Service Vehicles if HOV Lanes Become Congested. The operating agency, in cooperation with law enforcement, emergency service, and other agencies should establish the measures that will be taken if use of HOV lanes by law enforcement and emergency-service vehicles not meeting the occupancy requirements causes the lanes to become congested. Elements to consider in establishing these policies and procedures include defining the level of congestion, determining the indicators to be monitored regularly to measure the level of congestion, identifying the steps to be taken if demand in the HOV lane approaches congested levels, and identifying the responsible agencies or groups.
HOV Exemptions for Designated Public Transportation Vehicles
The Federal Transit Act (43) defines public transportation as transportation by bus or rail, or other conveyance, either publicly or privately owned, providing to the public a general or special service (but not including school bus, charter, or sightseeing service) on a regular or continuing basis. Public transportation is also synonymous with the term mass transportation and transit.
Designated public transportation may be used to reference one of two situations. In the first situation, a private vehicle may be providing service under contract to a public entity and so is designated as public transportation. The second situation is defined by the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) Accessibility Guidelines for Transportation Vehicles as transportation provided by a public entity (other than public school transportation) by bus, rail, or other conveyance (other than transportation by aircraft, intercity, or commuter rail transportation) providing the general public with a general or special service, including charter service, on a regular and continuing basis.
In addition, the National Transit Database identifies vehicles used to support revenue vehicle operations but not used to carry transit passengers. Types of service vehicles (or non-revenue vehicles) include tow trucks, supervisor vans, transit law enforcement cars, staff cars, and maintenance vehicles for maintaining passenger facilities and rights-of-way.
In general, public transportation vehicles are eligible for access to HOV lanes because occupancy requirements are assumed to be met. The typical types of public transportation vehicles using HOV lanes include buses, minibuses, and paratransit vehicles providing service to individuals with special needs. These vehicles may be owned and operated by the transit agency or a private operator may provide service under contract to the transit agency. As highlighted in Table 7, buses currently play a significant role in increasing the people-moving capacity on many HOV lanes. Also, as noted previously, many of the early HOV projects started as bus-only lanes, and transit funds have been used to construct other facilities.
There are several situations when a public transportation vehicle does not carry the required minimum number of passengers but may be exempt with regard to use the HOV lanes. The circumstances when an HOV exemption might be considered include public transportation vehicles operating in non-revenue service and transit vehicles operating a peak period service on the return trip without passengers (deadheading), or private vehicles operating as designated public transportation under the same conditions. Another circumstance when an HOV exemption may be appropriate is when an ADA paratransit service operates with only one passenger, if a 3+ occupancy requirement is in effect.
|HOV Facility||Bus Vehicles||Bus Passengers||Van/Carpool Occupants||Total HOV Persons|
|I-80 Bay Bridge, Alameda County||101||3,535||8,273||11,808|
|I-395 Shirley, Northern Virginia||118||3,085||8,212||11,297|
|I-10 San Bernardino, Los Angeles||71||2,750||4,352||7,102|
|I-5 North, Seattle||64||2,605||3,039||5,644|
|I-45 North Freeway, Houston||53||2,100||2,725||4,825|
|US 59 Southwest, Houston||38||1,420||3,147||4,567|
|US 290 Northwest, Houston||22||1,035||3,030||4,065|
|SR 520, Seattle||56||3,140||498||3,638|
|I-30 R.L. Thornton, Dallas||64||1,041||2,494||3,535|
|US 101, Marin County||57||1,995||1,490||3,485|
|I-10 Katy Freeway, Houston||40||1,355||2,091||3,446|
|I-45 Gulf Freeway, Houston||31||740||2,682||3,422|
Currently deadheading or out-of-service public transportation vehicles are allowed to use most HOV lanes without meeting the occupancy requirements. Allowing transit agency buses to use HOV lanes is not an issue in these areas due to the relatively small number of vehicles and the limited availability of HOV lanes in the off-peak direction of travel. This use allows public transportation agencies to realize enhanced operating effectiveness and cost savings. It also provides improved services for riders. In most situations, private transportation providers are permitted the same HOV lane exemptions only if the vehicle is operating as designated public transportation at the time access to the HOV lane is attempted. Private vehicles operating as designated public transportation should be appropriately marked or licensed.
Paratransit vehicles in revenue service with one passenger are also allowed to use most HOV lanes with a 3+ minimum occupancy requirement. The exemption applies to public transportation vehicles and designated public transportation vehicles with appropriate markings. This exemption ensures the same opportunity for faster transit service for persons with special needs and provides improved operating effectiveness and cost savings. The number of paratransit vehicles operating under these circumstances is small and does not create a significant HOV demand.
Vehicles used to support public transportation operations may require access to the HOV lane to provide a related service, although minimum occupancy levels may not be met. Types of service vehicles that are not used to carry transit passengers include tow trucks, supervisor vans, transit law enforcement cars, staff cars, and maintenance vehicles for maintaining passenger facilities and rights-of-way. Each of the service vehicles should have agency markings, and the vehicle operator is required to be on-duty at the time of access to the HOV lane. Privately operated vehicles that are not in service as designated public transportation should not be allowed to use the HOV lanes without meeting the occupancy requirements. These types of vehicles include private charter buses, school buses, taxicabs, airport shuttles, vans, and vehicles from special organizations. These groups have periodically requested exemptions from the HOV requirements in many areas. These requests have been denied, however, as these types of vehicles are not considered designated public transportation vehicles and their numbers may risk congestion in the HOV lane.
Issues to Consider to Enforce HOV Exemptions for Designated Public Transportation Vehicles
A number of potential issues may need to be considered when developing policies for HOV exemptions for designated public transportation vehicles and in enforcing these policies. These issues include developing the appropriate policies and guidelines, ensuring that designated public transportation vehicles are properly marked, communicating the exemption policies to all providers and to commuters, monitoring use levels, and identifying steps that will be taken if use by these vehicles causes HOV lanes to become congested.
Establish Policies and Guidelines on Use of HOV Lanes by Designated Public Transportation Vehicles. The first issue to address is to ensure that current policies and guidelines clearly articulate the types of public transportation vehicles that can use HOV lanes without meeting the occupancy requirements and under what circumstances. If no policies or guidelines exist, they should be developed by the HOV operating agency, usually the state department of transportation, in cooperation with public transportation agencies and operators.
Ensure that Designated Public Transportation Vehicles are Properly Marked. The guidelines should identify the required vehicle markings for eligible designated public transportation vehicles. Vehicle markings should be consistent with appropriate state law and public transportation agency policies. Periodic inspections should be made by enforcement personnel to ensure that designated public transportation vehicles are properly marked.
Clearly Communicate Policies and Guidelines. The policies and guidelines should be clearly communicated to public transportation agencies, other service providers, policy makers, and the public. A number of approaches may be used to communicate these policies, including letters or directives from top transit agency personnel to their staff, information on agency websites, newsletters, and bulletins. Contracts between public agencies and private providers operating as dedicated public transportation should clearly state the circumstances when HOV exemptions are permitted. The guidelines should also be clearly communicated to HOV lane enforcement personnel in standard operating procedures. Enforcement efforts should be monitored to ensure the policies or guidelines are being enforced.
Establish Policies, Procedures, and Steps to be Taken to Limit or Restrict Use by Public Transportation Vehicles if HOV Lanes Become Congested. The operating agency, in cooperation with transit agencies, operators, and other agencies should establish the measures that will be taken if use of HOV lanes by public transportation vehicles not meeting the occupancy requirements causes the lane to become congested. Elements to consider in establishing these policies and procedures include defining the level of congestion, determining the indicators to be monitored regularly to measure the level of congestion, identifying the order of priority for different types of vehicles that may be restricted, identifying other steps to be taken, and identifying the responsible agencies or groups. As highlighted next, the approach being used in Houston as part of the Katy (I-10 West) Managed Lanes project provides one example.
Houston. The agreements between the different agencies and organizations involved in the Katy Managed Lanes Project in Houston provides one example of how buses and transit support vehicles will be managed if the lanes become too congested. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) began planning to expand the I-10 West (Katy) Freeway in the late 1990s. A number of alternatives were examined in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), including managed lanes in the center median of the freeway. During the EIS process, the Harris County Toll Road Authority (HCTRA) raised the potential of tolling the managed lanes. This option was explored in more detail and emerged as the recommended alternative. There have been two multi-agency agreements used to date to advance the toll managed lanes.
A memorandum of understanding (MOU) between TxDOT, the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (Houston METRO), and Harris County, acting for the HCTRA, was signed in 2002. The MOU outlines the general roles of the three groups, specific provisions for transit, and the basic elements of the operating agreement. The HCTRA is responsible for enforcement, incident management, and maintenance of the lanes. The MOU identifies a LOS C as the target for the managed lanes. It also identifies transit access points, provides an option for future light rail transit, and allows special signing for METRO. The MOU also identifies the following elements in operating the managed lane.
- METRO may operate 65 buses per hour, 24 hours a day/seven days a week (24/7) toll-free.
- METRO may operate METROLift, the specialized transit service, 24/7 toll-free.
- Carpools with 3+ persons may travel toll-free from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. and from 2:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
- METRO service vehicles may travel toll-free 24/7.
- Single-occupant vehicles, 2+ carpools, and other vehicles pay the appropriate tolls.
The MOU outlines the options that will be considered if a LOS C is not maintained. The potential actions include adjusting the toll levels, changing the HOV occupancy-level requirements, restricting METRO service vehicles, and expanding the facility to add transit-only lanes. METRO buses and METROLift vehicles are given top priority in using the lanes, followed by 3+ HOVs. Nonrevenue (out of service) METRO vehicles are listed as the lowest priority.