You’ve seen the freeway signs: Express Lanes are LA Metro’s idea to make money off plain-old HOV lanes¹. This is tricky to explain because in order to sell this idea to the public it became a very confusing government program.
A little History
What were once purely HOV lanes (High Occupancy Vehicles) on the 110 and 10 Freeways are now “Express Lanes.” What are Express Lanes? Special lanes of traffic that require a FasTrak Transponder to use. If you are a solo driver, then you pay a toll through your ExpressLanes account (the FasTrak transponder keeps track of when you are in the lanes).
If you are driving with 2+ or 3+ (depending on the signs) people in your car, you qualify as HOV, change a setting on the FasTrak transponder and you drive free — no toll.
Unfortunately, you can’t have tolls without having a way to charge that toll, that’s why everyone who uses the lanes must have a FasTrak Transponder (the white squares you’ll see in windshields), even though high-occupancy vehicles can still use the lanes toll-free. These FasTrak transponders require opening an ExpressLanes account with Metro that typically cost $40 to $75. ²
The Cheaper Option
But not all of us have $75 laying around…. it’s possible to get a FasTrak transponder for just $15! It takes a little extra work but it can be done.
DO YOU QUALIFY?
If you participate in these programs you’re set:
- Public Benefit
- LAUSD Lunch Recipient
Otherwise there is a income test (in 2017: $24,120 for an individual), see the full list on the ExpressLane website. They accept Check Stubs or Tax Returns as proof of income.
While you can mail in the application, we recommend keeping it simple. Go to one of the Metro ExpressLanes Service Centers, fill out an application and immediately take home a FasTrak Transponder.
2 Locations (ExpressLanes Contact Info) Hours: Monday-Friday 8am-6pm, Saturday 9am-1pm
– 500 West 190th Street, Gardena, CA 90248 (Google Maps) ground level, far west corner of building
– 3501 Santa Anita Avenue, El Monte, CA 91731 (Google Maps)
You’ll want to use a credit or debit card to sign up and they’ll issue a transponder on the spot.
So just remember:
- EBT Card, other program participation proof, or proof of income less than their requirements.
- Photo ID Card (they want to know it’s you)
- Proof of residency in LA County
- Credit or Debit Card
- Don’t forget your car’s license plate (it’s no fun to run outside to jot it down)
Take Care of That Transponder – If the transponder gets lost or broken there’s a $25 fee.
Multiple Vehicles? You can get multiple transponders per account. There is an additional fee.
You can use the FasTrak transponder in ANY vehicle, you can move them between vehicles as you choose. If you register your license plates with Metro ExpressLanes the cameras will read your license plate and you won’t ticket you if you happen to forget your transponder (you pay the toll, though, and only get 10 of these “photo processed” transactions for free a month).
1. Metro also says this is to better manage traffic flow but clearly the major incentive was generating revenue. They wouldn’t have created the ExpressLanes pilot without the possibility of making money.
2. Metro offers discounts through AAA (20%), Albertsons (10%), and Costco (10%) which is nice (at AAA $32 vs the full $40) but still ain’t cheap; and Standard accounts like these also have a $1 monthly maintenance fee.