(CALCOG Note: This article is reprinted with permission from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. We feature it here as an example of a pilot program studying an issue of import to California: as our car fleet electrifies, how do we re-price the use of the roads in a way that accounts for disproportional impacts on low income households. This and many more studies like it will start to provide us with information so that we can answer that question).
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC)’s Bay Area Infrastructure Financing Authority (BAIFA) affiliate has inaugurated a new pilot program intended to help more travelers from lower-income households to take advantage of the Express Lanes along the Interstate 880 corridor in Alameda County.
BAIFA is accepting applications from Bar Area residents whose household income is no more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level (about $60,000 for a family of four) to participate in the Express Lanes START program and qualify for reduced toll charges in the I-880 Express Lanes. Toll discounts are based on the number of people in the car. Solo drivers enrolled in the Express Lanes START program will receive a 50 percent discount of the posted toll and two-person carpools will receive a 75 percent discount. All Express Lane customers in carpools with three or more people travel toll free. The Express Lanes START pilot does not apply to other Bay Area Express Lanes, nor does it apply to the region’s toll bridges.
Eligible participants may apply at the program website at expresslanesstart.org or by mailing or faxing a paper application. Both the website and the paper application are available in English, Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese. If an applicant already has a FasTrak® account and is approved for Express Lanes START, the discount will be activated in their FasTrak account automatically. If a participant does not have a FasTrak account, they can still apply for the Express Lanes START discount. If approved, these customers will receive a unique approval code to enter when signing up for a FasTrak account at bayareafastrak.org.
“MTC has a long history of serving low-income residents through community-based planning and other outreach programs,” said Commission member and Union City Mayor Carol Dutra-Vernaci. “Express Lanes START demonstrates an expanding commitment to make commuting in the Bay Area more affordable to a wider group of people, and we want to get the word out so those who qualify take advantage of this pilot program.”
To ensure those who are income eligible are aware of and have assistance applying for the Express Lanes START program, BAIFA is conducting extensive outreach to social services and housing agencies, as well as to dozens of community-based organizations and other human services programs. BAIFA is partnering with four ‘hub’ organizations to help those requesting assistance with the application progress. These include the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC), Fremont Family Resource Center, Roots Community Health Center, and Vietnamese Voluntary Foundation (VIVO).
“The Fremont Family Resource Center is a welcoming hub serving families and individuals in the Tri-City community, and we are pleased to partner with BAIFA to help those who qualify reduce the financial burden of travelling to and from work or school along the I-880 corridor by participating in the Express Lanes START program,” stated Fremont Mayor Lily Mei.
VIVO Program Director Tam Nguyen asserted, “As we work to empower refugees, immigrants and low-income ethnic families, we are eager to educate them about the Express Lanes START pilot program, which offers a boost towards mobility equity as they become productive participating citizens, benefitting themselves, their families and their communities.”
Ener Chui, Director of the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation, sounded a similar theme, “EBALDC is looking forward to partnering with the BAIFA team to bring more equitable mobility options to East Oakland. This program is a direct investment in improving access to expanded income and wealth-building opportunities for our neighborhood’s residents.”
Dr. Noha Aboelata, M.D., founder and CEO of Roots Community Health Center affirmed, “We appreciate BAIFA’s efforts to combat regional transportation inequities, and Roots is proud to play a key role informing our community members about the Express Lanes START program so they may take advantage of essential resources available to them.”
The Express Lanes START pilot program will run for 18 months, with evaluation of the program results to cover the first 12 months of operations. Once the evaluation is complete, MTC will decide whether to continue the program. The I-880 Express Lanes extend about 20 miles in the northbound direction from the Alameda-Santa Clara county line to Lewelling Blvd. in San Lorenzo, and about 25 miles in the southbound direction from Hegenberger Road in Oakland to the Alameda-Santa Clara county line.