A lawmaker frustrated with her commute to the State Capitol has taken action and her colleagues have backed her up.
Assemblywoman Fiona Ma authored a bill that would remove the HOV lane going north on 80 between the Bay Bridge and Carquinez Bridge. The bill sailed through the state legislature. Critics say Ma passed it so it would help her and other lawmakers on their commutes only.
What does it mean for the rest of us?
For now, nothing. This bill specifically targets Ma’s commute. But she says this isn’t for her – she’s termed out this year.
“This is for all the people who commute every day and have to get someplace on time. Time is money.”
Assemblywoman Ma went to Caltrans for the answers on the empty HOV lanes. It turns out - Caltrans had stopped tracking the number of drivers in the carpool lanes on this stretch freeway because there were too few.
So Ma drafted AB 2200, which would get rid of the carpool lane. And she started shopping it around the capitol, finding immediate support, including some from State Senator Joe Simitian.
“You’ve had the same experience that I’ve had for 12 years Assembly Member, and to your credit, you’ve been more tenacious than I was,” said Simitian.
Even Ma admitted it’s no surprise her bill passed. Many other Bay Area lawmakers make the same commute, not only Senator Joe Simitian, but others, including Senator Elaine Alquist and Senator Mark Leno.
We took the questions to CalTrans. A spokesperson told NBC Bay Area that the agency does not comment on pending legislation, but its website says HOV lanes should carry between 1600 to 1650 drivers per hour to make the lane worthwhile. Our next stop was the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. John Goodwin is an MTC spokesperson.
“Well there’s no question there are underutilized stretches of the carpooling network.”
That’s where we learned that many lanes are under used during the morning commute.
Based on the latest data from CalTrans from 2009, some of the least used HOV lanes are:
680 from the Alameda County line south to 237 is used 30-percent of the time.
880 from the Santa Clara County line north to Whipple Road is used 25-percent of the time.
And 680 in Contra Costa County from 242 heading north to the Benicia Bridge is used only ten-percent of the time.
But MTA says all this could be meaningless in the near future. The plan is to turn many commuter lanes into express lanes, so that drivers who want to go fast can pay for the privilege. In the meantime, Assemblywoman Ma says she’s waiting to see if Governor Jerry Brown is going to sign her bill.
“We don’t know what the Governor’s going to do, maybe he’s been driving this corridor for many years, he will sympathize with me.”
Brown has until the end of the month to approve or reject Ma’s bill.