Transit U: Why HOV Lanes Don’t Mean Much in Nashville


Nashville has 131 miles of high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes running into it from outlying counties, with 108 of those miles serving commuters. But if you are ever caught on the freeways during rush hour, you know that they are worthless.

The lanes are not used as they were intended to be because the laws are not enforced, and even when they are, fines are minimal. In 1993, the Tennessee Code on HOV was written. It set the fine at a maximum of $50. In current dollars, that is equivalent to almost $90.

Supporters of HOV lanes, as a means to increase ride sharing, see the low fine as being a weak incentive. In California commute times can be as long as two hours for a meager five mile commute. Thus, HOV lanes have become extremely important to move the crush of drivers and HOV lane fines run as high as $300 in California, according to the CEO of Hytch, the app that is incentivizing carpooling. Hytch has also been a proponent of revising the law to make HOV lanes more effective for the last several years.

“Over 128,300 people come into Nashville every day from the six closest counties,” Mark Cleveland said at a recent transportation event, “and the number is growing. Ninety-five percent of the people you see in the HOV lanes during that commute will be alone.”

As people continue to flood into Nashville, and the population continues to become denser, the need to lessen the number of cars on the road increases, as does the need to increase the number of passengers per vehicle.

State Representative Mike Sparks is also an advocate of pushing to enforce HOV rules. He has repeated often in impassioned speeches that the violation rate is above 90%, noting that he has seen fellow lawmakers driving alone in the HOV lane on I-24 during the two hours it is enforced in the morning.

HOV lanes were created for buses and carpoolers during high-traffic hours. The idea for HOV lanes was to give incentives to those traveling in high volume forms of transportation by giving them a lane that is moving faster than those in single passenger cars.

If HOV lanes were used properly, it would allow high-speed bus service into outlying counties, like Williamson and Rutherford, to be put into action quickly if Nashville voters pass the transportation proposal. If just a quarter of the almost 130,000 drivers who commute into Nashville rode the bus, more than 30,000 cars would be off the road every day.

In a recent blog, Cleveland stated, “On the way to … developing alternative transportation capacity that serves long term regional growth, we should at least try to respect an existing incentive that can change driving behaviors now. That starts with you. If you choose to drive by yourself, resist the temptation to jump into the HOV lane. Instead, get on the bus and celebrate when two people pass you in a car.”

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