Transurban, the company that will operate the high-occupancy toll lanes on the Capital Beltway, is about to launch a year-long education campaign designed to get drivers familiar with how the new lanes will work.
In fact, the long-established custom of referring to them as “HOT lanes” will start to fade in favor of the designation that drivers will see on the highway signs: “Express Lanes.” The reference complies with Federal Highway Administration standards, which are fairly strict in establishing uniform rules for highway markings.
Even as the construction project developed along 14 miles of Beltway in Virginia, Transurban has been building up to this education and marketing campaign.
Good idea. We have several toll roads in the D.C. region, including Maryland’s new Intercounty Connector, but they’re nothing like the HOT lanes scheduled to open near the end of this year.
“We want to ensure everyone knows how the lanes will benefit them, where to access them and how to use them safely,” Pierce Coffee, the marketing director at Transurban, wrote in an e-mail. “It’s a new type of facility for the region, so we want to ensure enough time to get the message out to the traveling public.”
The campaign includes the debut, scheduled for Monday, of a new Web site promoting and explaining the 495 Express Lanes.
“The various tools on the site will help individuals, whether they carpool, drive themselves or take the bus, understand the Express Lanes and be prepared when they open,” Coffee said.
Following highway safety standards, and using common marketing strategies such as focus groups, Transurban has been preparing not only for what drivers will see on the Beltway and where they will see it, but also for what they will learn about the lanes before they get behind the wheel.
For example, every driver using the HOT lanes will need a transponder. A standard E-ZPass unit will work. But drivers who want to ride for free by carpooling will need to get a new type of unit that has a carpool setting. They’ll have to flip to that setting to avoid paying the tolls and to comply with the enforcement program designed to prevent cheating.
One thing Transurban isn’t planning to do: There won’t be a free test drive period before tolling starts, the way there was with the Intercounty Connector. The reasoning is that if everyone piles into the HOT lanes to test them out for free, they won’t really know what the HOT lanes are designed to do. They’ll just be extra lanes.
The benefit is supposed to come from providing a reliable trip for all travelers by allowing carpoolers or bus travelers a free ride and using a variable toll to control the volume of other traffic. Transurban can’t show that off without enforcement of the carpool rules and the variable tolls.
I never liked the term high-occupancy toll lanes and will happily start using Express Lanes. High-occupancy toll is confusing. Even “high occupancy or toll” would have been better. Drivers are going to do one thing or another, but not both.