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Fees for the Fast Lane

If you were given the option to pay $50 a month to drive to work alone along a fast-moving carpool lane, would you take it?

Seven hundred drivers in San Diego did; 400 more are on a waiting list. The three-year experiment is designed to reduce traffic on existing roads. So far, at least, commuters seem to be saying, "We'll pay almost anything to get there faster."

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But questions arise. At $50 a month, will these lanes serve only the more affluent drivers - creating so-called "Lexus" lanes named after the luxury vehicles? Weren't carpool lanes created to encourage ride-sharing, thereby reducing the number of cars on the road? Will these experiments simply frustrate carpoolers, who can ride the fast lanes for free but who may find their ride has been slowed by the increased number of cars?

Transportation planners say that people of all incomes, driving all kinds of cars, are paying for the faster commutes. And because the San Diego carpool lanes, like others across the country, had been so underused, the influx of drivers hasn't slowed things down - yet. If the lanes eventually do become congested, the planners say they will hike the price up further to discourage singles and encourage carpoolers.

The experiment just might work. If it does, drivers everywhere may soon be opening their wallets for the privilege of cutting 10, 20, even 30 minutes off their daily commute. But cities and towns that are watching what happens in San Diego shouldn't overlook a key element of the experiment: The city is using the extra revenue ($70,000 to date) to build a new bus route and make other needed road improvements. That should help make everyone's commute a little easier.

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