Pollack’s comment on HOV lane anecdotal

Most recent research suggests far fewer violators

TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY Stephanie Pollack is famous for her love of data, but it appears she went with anecdotal evidence on Tuesday when she told local officials that 80 to 90 percent of the cars using a high occupancy vehicle lane on I-93 heading into Boston from the north have only one person in the vehicle.

HOV lanes are supposed to be reserved for cars with at least two occupants, but Pollack told the Local Government Advisory Commission that “we think as much as 80 or 90 percent of the traffic is actually just individual people in cars and it’s not functioning as a carpool lane.”

Officials said Pollack was talking just about the HOV lane north of Boston on I-93 and not the HOV lane on the Southeast Expressway. The officials said she based her comments on anecdotal evidence she had picked up herself and from conversations with others.

The most recent hard data on the HOV lane appears to be three years old, but it shows about 24 percent of the cars using the lane had only one occupant.

Pollack may also have been relying at least tangentially on a congestion report issued by her agency on August 8. “As far as we could determine, there has been no comprehensive effort to look at the potential for adding new High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes since the 1990s, when planning for the Big Dig was underway,” the report said. “The existing HOV lanes on I-93 south and north of the city cover relatively short distances and do not necessarily provide sufficient travel time savings to achieve their objectives. Enforcement appears to be an issue, at least for the HOV lane on the north side of Boston.”

While the state Department of Transportation may not have done much work with HOVs, the Boston region Metropolitan Planning Organization has done periodic research surveys on how they are working. The Metropolitan Planning Organization and its Central Transportation Planning Staff carry out planning and research functions required by federal law and the chair of the organization is Pollack.

In a November 16, 2017, memorandum on the Boston HOV lanes, the agency said that travel times in the 2.6 mile HOV lane north of Boston ranged from 3 to 4 minutes, well below the 8.5 to 13.5-minute travel times in the adjacent general purpose lanes. The time savings in 2017 were greater than they were in 2016, when the travel time ranged from 3 to 3.5 minutes in the HOV lane and 6.5 to 10 minutes in the general purpose lanes.

The same survey counted cars and the number of people in them on June 22, 2017, between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. That survey found that 1,600 vehicles used the HOV lane that morning, and 389, or 24 percent, had only one occupant. The rest had two or more.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

The HOV lane north of Boston was taken out of commission earlier this year and opened to all drivers in a bid to ease traffic congestion caused by work on the Tobin Bridge and Route 1.  That move angered many transit advocates, who say it undermined the intent of the HOV lane. At the meeting of the Local Government Advisory Commission on Tuesday, Medford Mayor Stephanie Burke voiced a similar complaint.

Jacquelyn Goddard, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation, said the agency intends to look into HOV lane usage more closely. “MassDOT is committed to studying HOV lane use with enforcement that will move more vehicles with more people in them,” she said in a statement.