Requiring 3 riders adds zip to the ZipperLane
As gas prices rise above $4 a gallon, more motorists are looking for alternative forms of transportation. Carpooling has never looked better. Hawaii has one of the highest participation rates of carpooling in the nation. The state Department of Transportation wants to continue to be proactive in providing people with reasons to carpool. One way to do this is by improving the efficiency of the ZipperLane and the Nimitz contra-flow lane.
The DOT's decision to increase the minimum ridership requirement for the ZipperLane and Nimitz contra-flow lane to three people per vehicle starting Tuesday was made with careful consideration and evaluation of traffic data collected over time. We take these decisions seriously because we understand that they affect thousands of people, including our own families, friends and co-workers. This ridership change is not the ultimate solution, but it is a step in the right direction to help provide some real traffic relief on a permanent basis.
When the ZipperLane opened in 1998, users were required to have three or more occupants in each vehicle. It wasn't until 2005 that we reduced the ridership requirement to two people per vehicle. We believed that change would encourage more carpooling and provide even more relief to the general-purpose lanes by removing more cars from the road. But it has been almost three years into this evaluation and our data clearly show that this has not been the result. People have continued to carpool, but most of those who once used the ZipperLane with three people in their car now choose to carpool with only two people.
The math is clear. Before 2005, we saw an average of about 3,500 cars every morning with three people in each car. That amounted to more than 10,000 people commuting in the ZipperLane. In 2008, we now average about 3,800 cars each morning, but unfortunately, most of these cars have only two people. This means that we are moving about 3,000 fewer people in the ZipperLane today than when we had higher occupancy requirements.
Travel times in the ZipperLane also are increasing. In fact, during the first half of the morning commute, until about 6:30 a.m., it takes 15 to 20 minutes longer to travel in the ZipperLane than it does to drive in the general-purpose lanes. Not only is the ZipperLane carrying fewer people, but it is no longer providing a faster commute for those who carpool.
If we can provide a benefit to carpooling, in addition to saving on the cost of gas, drivers will want to make the change. We also want to give drivers ample time to adjust to the new ridership requirement. That is why we chose to implement the change in July, before students at the University of Hawaii and private schools return to classes in mid-August. Traffic levels are lower during the summer months, allowing us to minimize the impact on the traveling public.
There are many options and resources available for those interested in carpooling. The Carpool Matching and School Pool programs assist in matching interested people with carpools to join.
For assistance, call the DOT at 692-7695 or e-mail us at RideShare@hawaii.gov for an application. Vanpool Hawaii is another popular program under the DOT. For information, call 596-VANS.
We appreciate the support of the Honolulu Police Department. Enforcement is critical to making this change.
We will continue to monitor the ZipperLane to determine the effects this change will have and the progress being made. The purpose of the ZipperLane is to move more people in fewer cars and in less time. We want to reward those who choose to carpool and choose to be a part of the solution to reduce congestion and reduce the cost of driving. It is our hope that together, we can and will go a long way toward bringing some level of relief to Oahu's commuters.
Brennon T. Morioka is director of the state Department of Transportation.