Riding Metro directory of informationNews & Info directory of informationProjects & Studies directory of informationDoing Business with Metro directory of informationJobs directory of informationAbout Us directory of informationPlan your trip - Trip Planner applicationReal Time Traffic information
Post 1989 Soundwall Retrofit Program masthead image

HOV Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is HOV?

HOV is an acronym for High Occupancy Vehicle(s). HOV generally describes any vehicle carrying two or more persons on a single journey. Carpools, vanpools and buses are all considered to be HOV's.

2. What is SOV?

Like HOV, SOV is an acronym for Single Occupancy Vehicle(s). SOV describes any vehicle carrying only the driver as the sole occupant.

3. What are HOV lanes?

HOV lanes are special lanes on a roadway reserved exclusively for the use of carpools, vanpools and/or buses. HOV lanes enable those who carpool or ride the bus to bypass traffic in the adjacent unrestricted general-purpose lanes. HOV lanes are sometimes called carpool lanes, diamond lanes, commuter lanes or busways. HOV lanes are provided on select sections of most of the freeways in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

4. What is the difference between HOV and HOT?

HOT is an acronym for High Occupancy/Toll. HOT lanes are HOV lanes that allow SOV users who have paid a monetary toll. HOT is most commonly used as a mechanism to increase utilization of HOV lanes in situations where HOV traffic volumes are well below the capacity of the lane(s). HOV users are typically not charged a toll when using HOT lanes. HOT lanes are provided on the I-15 Freeway in San Diego and on SR-91 in Orange County.

5. How do HOV lanes work?

HOV lanes are intended to save time for carpool users and bus riders by enabling them to bypass areas of heavy traffic congestion. By giving carpool users and bus riders a quicker and more reliable ride, particularly during peak periods, HOV serves as a strong incentive for ridesharing, which in turn can help to manage congestion and contribute to improving air quality. HOV lanes provide commuters with an alternative to traffic congestion that is not always possible if all lanes on the roadway are open to general-purpose traffic.

6. Sometimes it seems the HOV lanes are empty so does that mean they're not working?

HOV lanes are designed to be free of congestion and sometimes appear to be "empty," especially when compared with adjacent, congested, general-purpose lanes. However, when the number of people traveling in an HOV lane is compared to the adjacent general-purpose lanes, HOV lanes typically accommodate more people making them more efficient. How many people an HOV lane accommodates will vary from corridor to corridor, depending on the level of bus service, the minimum occupancy requirement and the overall congestion level. An average HOV lane in Los Angeles County accommodates 1,200 vehicles and 3,100 people per hour during peak periods. This compares to 1,800 vehicles and 2,000 people per hour for general-purpose lanes during the same time periods. According to Caltrans, the El Monte Busway HOV lanes on the I-10 Freeway east of Los Angeles accommodate as many passengers as three of the parallel general-purpose lanes during peak periods. To put it another way, it could take as much as three times as many vehicles to accommodate the same number of passengers in the general-purpose lanes as it does to accommodate that number of people in the HOV lanes. Therefore the HOV lanes may look "empty" compared to the parallel general-purpose lanes, even though they are actually accommodating more people.

7. If I drive alone, why should I support HOV lanes when I can't use them?

HOV lanes benefit not only those who share the ride, but all roadway users and area residents and businesses. By encouraging carpools, vanpools and riding the bus, more passengers travel in fewer vehicles, which helps to manage congestion on heavily-traveled roadways. By reducing the number of vehicles on the road, HOV lanes can help reduce the amount of exhaust emissions and contribute to cleaner air.

8. What would happen if HOV lanes were eliminated altogether from places where they exist?

HOV lanes are an essential tool for managing congestion along heavily-traveled corridors and benefit both the highway and transit systems by contributing to improving the overall quality of life. HOV lanes encourage travelers to carpool, vanpool or ride the bus which allows more people to be carried on the region's highway system and maximizes transportation resources. These lanes enable regional transit services to fulfill their role of providing reliable service to transit users. If HOV lanes were eliminated entirely, or opened up to general-purpose traffic in areas where they exist, these benefits and a reliable, time-saving transportation option would be lost.

9. Where can I find out about ridesharing opportunities?

Most state Departments of Transportation and local transportation planning agencies sponsor programs to support ridesharing. In the Los Angeles area, the Southern California Association of Governments leads efforts to coordinate ridesharing opportunities through the "Southern California Rideshare" program. Southern California Rideshare is the nation's first and largest commuter assistance agency and for over 25 years has helped commuters find rideshare options. Southern California Rideshare maintains a database of over 250,000 commuters and promotes alternatives to driving alone, including carpooling, vanpooling, taking transit, bicycling, walking and telecommuting, as well as "smart work" strategies such as flex-time or compressed work schedules. Southern California Rideshare can be contacted by calling 1-800-COMMUTE or by logging on to their website at http://www.scag.ca.gov/scr/.

10. Are there other types of HOV facilities besides HOV lanes?

While the most common type of HOV facility is a dedicated roadway lane, other types of HOV facilities include exclusive HOV ramps, bypass ramps at ramp meters, toll plazas and ferry docks, bus lanes, commuter parking lots with direct connections to HOV lanes and reserved parking spaces for carpools and vanpools.

11. What do HOV lanes look like?

HOV lanes look like any other roadway lane, except that they are typically delineated with signs and diamonds painted on the pavement . Although the lanes may look similar to any other roadway lanes, there is a great deal of variety in the design and operation of HOV lanes. Some types of HOV lanes, called concurrent flow lanes, are adjacent to, and operate in the same direction as, the general-purpose lanes. Others types, called contraflow lanes, operate in the opposite direction of the adjacent general-purpose lanes effectively enabling HOV users to drive on the "wrong" side of the roadway with barriers separating them from oncoming traffic. Reversible HOV lanes are usually placed in the highway median and run in one direction in the morning and then the opposite direction in the afternoon. Busways are usually physically separated from adjacent lanes and are reserved for bus use only. HOV lanes are delineated by a variety of methods, including barriers, buffer areas, and pavement markings.

12. What types of HOV lanes are used in the Los Angeles area?

Nearly all the HOV lanes in the Los Angeles metropolitan area are concurrent flow lanes located closest to the median and divided from the general-purpose lanes by a painted solid double yellow and single white line. HOV traffic is generally able to enter and exit the HOV lane from the adjacent general-purpose lanes at strategically located and clearly-marked intervals. Entering or exiting the HOV lanes from outside of the designated areas is a violation of the California State Vehicle Code and can result in a fine of up to $271 for the first offense.

13. How many HOV lanes are there in the U.S.?

Presently there are about 100 HOV projects across the United States representing approximately 2,300 lane miles. Approximately 40% of all HOV lanes in the United States can be found in the State of California. Approximately 70% of the HOV lanes in California can be found in the five counties of the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

14. Is it legal to restrict publicly-funded highway lanes to HOVs?

The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 and the Transportation Equity Act of the 21st Century (TEA 21) specifically encourage states to consider and construct, where feasible, HOV lanes in areas experiencing air quality or traffic congestion problems. Most state Departments of Transportation have the legal authority to regulate the use as long as the rules are applied fairly and serve a public benefit. In the State of California, §21655.5 of the Vehicle Code prescribes the ability of the State Department of Transportation to authorize or permit exclusive or preferential use of highway lanes for high occupancy vehicles. In addition, Proposition C which was passed in 1990 by the voters of Los Angeles County, specifically designates funds for highway improvements that benefit transit, i.e. HOV lanes.

15. Who is responsible for building and operating HOV lanes?

Public agencies, such as state departments of transportation, transportation-planning agencies and transit service agencies, plan, design, construct and operate HOV lanes, often with federal funding support. In California, Caltrans is responsible for designing, building and operating all HOV lanes on the state highway system, while regional transportation planning agencies are cooperatively responsible with Caltrans for planning and programming funding for HOV facilities. Some municipal transportation agencies have built HOV facilities on local roadways, including the City of Los Angeles.

16. How are HOV lanes enforced?

The successful operation of all HOV facilities relies greatly on state and local police officers to monitor and enforce HOV lane requirements. In Washington State, a "HERO" program adds an element of self-enforcement, by encouraging commuters to report HOV lane violators to the State Police. In California, the California Highway Patrol has the primary responsibility for monitoring and enforcing HOV lane requirements.

17. What happens to drivers who violate HOV lane rules?

Violators can be stopped and cited by the enforcement officer monitoring the HOV lane or simply re-directed back into the general-purpose lanes. Fines accompanying the citation vary from state to state, from about $50 in Florida and Massachusetts to over $270 in California depending on the number of citations offenders have received.

18. Why do some HOV lanes allow a minimum of two passengers per vehicle, while others require a minimum of three?

Occupancy requirements for HOV lanes are set according to local travel conditions, levels of existing congestion, and projected use of the lanes. If there are a high number of existing two-person carpools, then letting them all in to the HOV lane might cause congestion in the lane. If there are not enough three-person carpools and buses, then the lane might be perceived by the public to be underutilized. In all cases, entry requirements are designed to allow for reliable and efficient travel in the HOV lanes, without allowing the lanes to become congested, or perceived by the public to be underutilized. The balancing of these objectives can be difficult. Some states, in an effort to achieve this balance, have experimented with entry rules, changing them by time of day or raising or lowering the number of vehicles that can use the facility. This is the case on the I-10 Freeway HOV lanes (El Monte Busway) in Los Angeles. Recent California state legislative changes have reduced the minimum occupancy requirement for carpools on the El Monte Busway from three persons to two persons, in response to public perceptions that the facility was underutilized. The result has been increased congestion in the HOV lanes during peak periods, prompting the California State Legislature to change the minimum requirement to three-person carpools during the peak periods. With the exception of the El Monte Busway, the minimum carpool occupancy requirement for all HOV lanes in the Los Angeles metropolitan area is two persons per vehicle.

19. Do children and infants count as passengers?

All states with HOV facilities count children and infants as passengers.

20. Why are motorcycles allowed in some HOV lanes?

Motorcycles are permitted by federal law to use HOV lanes, even though they typically carry only one passenger. The explanation for the federal law is that allowing motorcycles to use HOV lanes keeps them moving, and it is considered safer to keep two-wheel vehicles moving than it is to have them traveling in start-and-stop traffic conditions. The individual states can choose to override this provision of federal law, if they determine that there is an inherent safety risk by allowing motorcycles to use HOV lanes. In the State of California, motorcycles are permitted to use HOV facilities unless a traffic control device specifically prohibits them.

21. Are two-seater vehicles allowed to use HOV lanes with three-person requirements?

Not usually, although in isolated cases two-seater vehicles are permitted. Most states try to maintain a consistent approach to enforcing entry requirements and do not allow exceptions to entry rules for two-seater vehicles. The entry rule is based not on how full the car or truck is, but on how many passengers are in it. In California, two-seater vehicles are not permitted to use HOV facilities with a three-person occupancy requirement.

22. Are there any vehicles that are prohibited from using HOV lanes, even with the appropriate number of passengers?

Many states prohibit oversized vehicles, such as tractor-trailer trucks, from using HOV facilities for safety reasons. For the same reasons, parades, processions and certain types of heavy trucks and large recreational vehicles are sometimes precluded from using HOV lanes. Oversized vehicles are prohibited from using HOV lanes in the State of California.

23. Are there situations where Single Occupant Vehicles are permitted to use HOV lanes?

In some states, certain types of Single Occupant Vehicles are permitted to use HOV lanes, but this situation typically only applies in limited circumstances for vehicles serving a specific function (for example, roadside assistance and emergency service vehicles, and commercial passenger vehicles traveling between destinations with no passengers) or for special types of vehicles that feature certain characteristics (for example, low-emission vehicles). In California, for example, ultra-low-emission Vehicles (ULEV's) are permitted to use HOV facilities regardless of the number of passengers, provided the vehicle has been registered with the State Department of Motor Vehicles and displays the appropriate state-issued decal certifying that it is permitted to use HOV facilities with less than the designated minimum occupancy requirement.

24. What is the safety record of HOV lanes?

Studies have shown that HOV lanes are frequently as safe as, and in many cases, safer than, unrestricted lanes. The safest HOV lanes are those physically separated from the adjacent lanes with a concrete barrier.

25. Do HOV lanes operate only during rush hours?

Operating hours vary from state to state and within states. Some states operate their HOV lanes only during rush hours, when traffic is heaviest and HOV lanes are most likely to save time for carpool users. During off-peak hours, these states either open the lanes to all traffic or simply close them until the next scheduled opening.

Other states operate their HOV facilities twenty-four hours a day. This approach helps to provide ridesharing incentives at all times and provides travel-time savings during periods of unexpected congestion (for example, during special events or when there is an incident or accident).

26. Why are HOV lane restrictions typically enforced during construction projects, even when other lanes may be temporarily closed?

Most states will continue to enforce HOV lane restrictions during construction projects as part of their efforts to reduce traffic in construction areas by encouraging people to use carpools, vanpools and buses. In addition, the maintenance of HOV facilities during construction projects may be critical to helping buses maintain reliable schedules so people can make connections and appointments on time. In some instances, HOV facilities have been specifically created for the duration of the construction project to promote carpool, vanpool and bus usage as a means of managing traffic during construction.

27. Are HOV lanes effective?

Though results vary from state to state, nearly every state with HOV lanes reports that ridesharing and overall corridor person moving efficiency has increased since HOV lanes have been opened. The Los Angeles County HOV system accommodates more people than any other HOV system in the United States and is one of the few HOV systems that has been able to sustain a growth in carpool users. In 1999, the HOV system in Los Angeles County accommodated approximately 233,000 vehicles and 529,000 persons per day, an increase of 15% from the previous year.

28. There are some areas with more than one HOV lane. Are these facilities coordinated with one another?

Many states and regions develop HOV "system plans" to ensure that they are prepared to meet future HOV needs while coordinating the development of existing facilities. The states of Washington, California and Texas, and the City of Nashville, Tennessee, all have conducted system planning to coordinate area-wide HOV facilities. As is the case in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, the development of the HOV system is only partially completed.

29. How can I learn more about HOV facilities?

The Links page at this website provides a list of links to other sites on the World Wide Web that detail information regarding HOV, and Los Angeles-area regional transportation planning and service activities. This site also provides the ability to contact staff at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority where you can request information about HOV and other transportation services or specifically about the Los Angeles County HOV Performance Program