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What is an HOV lane?
High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane, also known as the carpool or diamond lane, is a traffic management strategy to promote and encourage ridesharing; thereby alleviating congestion and maximizing the people-carrying capacity of California highways.
The operational practices vary differently between Northern California versus Southern California because of traffic volumes and commuter patterns in the two regions. Northern California highways usually experience two weekday congestion periods during peak morning and afternoon commute hours followed by a long period of non-congestion. Using a full-time operation would leave the HOV lane relatively unoccupied during off-peak hours and would not constitute an efficient utilization of the roadway. Southern California experiences very long hours of congestion, typically between six to eleven hours per day, with short off-peak traffic hours; part-time operation under these conditions would not be viable.
Why build HOV lane?
According to California state law, the goals of HOV lane are to reduce congestion and improve air quality on the State Highway System. The law states that HOV lane is used "to stimulate and encourage the development of ways and means of relieving traffic congestion on California highways and, at the same time, to encourage individual citizens to pool their vehicular resources and thereby conserve fuel and lessen emission of air pollutants."
HOV lane is a viable alternative, and in most cases is the only alternative, in meeting federal air quality conformity standards for capacity-increasing improvement project in metropolitan area. HOV facility represent one approach being used in metropolitan areas throughout the state to respond to growing traffic congestion, declining mobility level, air quality and environmental concerns.
Who can use the HOV lane?
Motorcycles, mass transits and vehicles with two or more (2+) occupants are allowed to access the HOV lanes during their operational hours. An "occupant" is defined as any person who occupies a safety restraint device, i.e. seat-belt.
Certain routes in the San Francisco Bay Area I-80 and I-880, Los Angeles I-10 El Monte Bus Way (during peak hour) and San Diego I-5 San Ysidro requires three or more (3+) persons per vehicle to access the HOV lanes. Signs along the highway will specify the enforcement policy for each route. For San Francisco Bay Area ONLY, originally factory designed vehicles with a maximum two-seat occupancy may access the HOV(3+) lanes as long as there are two occupants in the vehicles.
Certain plug-in hybrid, alternative fuel and clean-air (ILEV / ULEV / SULEV) vehicles are exempted from the occupancy requirement. These vehicles can be distinguish by a green (plug-in hybrid) or white (clean-air) decal issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Motorcycles, public mass transit and para-transit vehicles are also exempted from the occupancy requirement under California Vehicle Code §§21655.5 . Other bus services, such as school bus, charter, or sightseeing transports, are not exempted and must carry the minimum number of occupant to be eligible.
How are HOV lanes enforced?
The California Highway Patrol (CHP) is responsible for HOV lane enforcement. The goal is to keep HOV violation rate to less than 10%. Once monitor counts detect violation rate above 10%, District personnel will notify local area CHP of the need for heightened enforcement in a particular HOV corridor. HOV lane violation ticket is a minimum $490 fine. Fine may be higher for repeat offender. In addition, at the discretion of the county's Board of Supervisors, local counties can assess additional administrative fees.