Last week, WSDOT changed the tolling procedure on 405. The HOT lanes are now open to everyone between 7pm and 5am and on weekends. You don’t need a pass, you don’t need multiple passengers, and you don’t have to pay money. I love this change, but I’m surprised they did it.
If you read the notes from the meeting where they decided this, it’s clear that they have a lot of data available. Some of those charts are incredibly interesting. If you’re a data nerd who travels 405, you’ll love it. But the main problem I have, as I’ve stated before, is that they aren’t optimizing just for maximum throughput on the road. You can see it in their notes. They always talk about how much money each of the options will cost them in lost revenue. The system is in place to generate money and give rich people a fast lane. I’m fundamentally opposed to that. The highway is a shared resource. Let’s maximize throughput. End of story.
So why am I surprised that they created a toll-free time? Because people are going to start realizing that the toll isn’t the part of the system that is important. The important part is having separate lanes with limited entry and exit points, just like a standard express lane setup. There are already calls for WSDOT to experiment with no-toll times during the day instead of just at night, but I can’t imagine them doing that. They’d be giving up a lot of money and that’s a higher priority for them than just improving throughput. Making it free at night and on weekends costs them 3% of their total revenue and removes traffic jams that the HOT system added on the weekends so it’s a nice PR win and actually does improve traffic. Changing the daytime rates would be a much bigger hit to their bottom line.