Easing Traffic Woes with HOV Lanes

Friday, May 4, 2012

High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes were designed by provincial, regional and municipal transportation systems for use by vehicles with a specified number of occupants (two, three or four, including the driver, depending on location and local conditions). They were created to reward those who carpool or use public transit by offering them an alternative to congested general traffic lanes.

These specially designated lanes are intended to:

  • Reduce traffic congestion.

  • Increase capacity to move more people, quickly.

  • Encourage environmentally sound driving practices such as carpooling and public transit.

  • Reduce energy consumption and the pollution caused by vehicle emissions.

Some HOV lanes are restricted at all times, while others are reserved for multi-occupant vehicles only during peak traffic times. They are situated to the left of the general traffic lanes and are separated by a striped buffer pavement marking. Overhead signage clearly indicates which lanes are reserved for HOVs, and diamond symbols mark the pavement of entry and exit zones.

HOV lanes differ from the righthand-placed lanes (curb lanes) designated within city limits on arterial routes for buses and taxis. While these vehicles are also considered HOVs, their frequent stops necessitate placement toward the curb.

Strict Enforcement

Drivers who use the HOV lanes inappropriately – that is, with fewer than the minimum specified number of passengers – may be ticketed, with fines of up to $110 and three demerit points on their driving records. Police patrol the lanes regularly to ensure their proper usage.

Proven Success

Canada began HOV programs in the 1990s. Today, more than 130 HOV programs are in operation in more than 30 North American cities, spanning more than 4,000 kilometres of highway. In Canada, HOV lanes are in operation in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. Commuter lanes are in operation in 27 U.S. metropolitan markets.

While definitive research is lacking in both quantity and quality, general agreement exists that the majority of Canadian HOV facilities have met their objectives of reducing congestion, encouraging carpooling and improving travel times for multi-occupant vehicles. As environmental consciousness continues to grow, usage of HOV lanes by carpools, van pools and buses is expected to continue its upward climb.

Sources: Ontario Ministry of Transportation, Transport Canada, United States Department of Transportation