Regarding the poor air quality along the Wasatch Front, I would like to know why the Interstate High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane has become an Express Lane, and how the goal of improving air quality via carpooling and clean-fuel vehicles was traded for swiping a credit card.
In the early days of the HOV lane, it was reserved for those who were reducing traffic, reducing pollution or both. At that time, the lane usually was not congested with vehicles, even during poor traffic conditions, creating an incentive to carpool. It was a progressive system, where increased participation was virtually guaranteed.
Prior to the Express Lane program, driving in the HOV lane required a commitment to the environment. The old HOV lane benefited all of the public (commuters and noncommuters) via reduced air pollution, with potentially no cost to the participants (and possible savings to them via carpooling). And for commuters, the benefits included reduced traffic from carpooling, allowing all commuters to travel safer and arrive sooner at their destinations.
A side effect of the new Express program is that the incentive for carpooling and clean-air vehicles is virtually nonexistent, because when traffic conditions become poor, the Express Lane is filled with Express Pass holders.
The difference here is that carpoolers and clean-fuel vehicles, by their nature, are required to commit to their contribution before getting on the freeway—in essence, to pre-plan for access of the HOV lane, whereas Express Pass users can decide to hop in the HOV lane whenever conditions become poor.
We have traded a system that rewarded those who contributed to the environment for one that benefits the state via fees revenue— and the users who can afford to use it—and would rather not be inconvenienced by carpooling or clean-fuel-vehicle operation.
The original HOV lane was an effective means of achieving a real and measurable reduction in vehicle emissions and reducing traffic on crowded roads, at no cost to the participant, and with much less infrastructure and administration by the state. If the state felt there was a need for an Express Lane, the lane adjacent to the HOV lane would have been a better choice.