Thursday, July 25, 2013

When ‘express’ does not impress

An image from a video about how to use the
495 Express Lanes shows who is allowed to use the lanes.
Trucks are forbidden here, if that isn’t apparent.
If you’ve ever driven the Capital Beltway that circles Washington, D.C., you’ve certainly encountered traffic congestion at its peak. If given the choice, nobody would want to sit through it.

On the Virginia side, you may have seen the ad campaign directing traffic to get out of the congestion by using the new 495 Express Lanes for the price of a toll. The lanes are marketed to and reserved for E-ZPass users.

But don’t be fooled if you’re a trucker, even if you have E-ZPass, because vehicles with more than two axles are not permitted to use the lanes, no matter how congested that part of the Beltway becomes.

Truckers face a lot more than the price of a toll if they are caught using the express lanes where they begin on the Virginia side of the Potomac River to the west of D.C. down to the southwest corner of the Beltway at Springfield, Va.

When I say “if” they are caught, I actually mean “when” they are caught, because the toll road operator uses cameras along the express lanes to photograph license plates and send toll invoices to the owners of the vehicles that aren’t supposed to be there.

A trucker, whom we will call Mike, called us the other day to say he was tempted by a sign that said, “E-ZPass Express.” He hopped on, and thought he would be OK because he has E-ZPass.

But just a few miles in, a Virginia State Police trooper pulled him over and handed him a $62 ticket for “unauthorized vehicle.”

A police spokeswoman told us the troopers are hired by the express lane operator, Transurban, a toll road company with roots in Australia, to patrol the lanes, enforce the vehicle policies, and provide emergency service.

That all costs money, and it’s folks like Mike who end up paying for it. He’ll likely face more than the $62 citation.

Transurban issues a per-trip fee of $12.50 to unauthorized vehicles photographed using their lanes. Those who don’t pay the fee in a timely fashion are charged another $25. And, yes, that is per trip.

It’s no wonder Mike wanted us to pass on a word of caution and advice about the Virginia side of the Beltway. Don’t be fooled by the “E-ZPass Express,” because it fails to impress.