How Express Lanes Work
Express lanes are free to carpoolers, vanpoolers, motorcycles, transit buses and eligible clean air vehicles who follow the guidelines of each express lane corridor. NOTE: in order to use the I-580 Express Lanes toll-free, carpools and vanpools must have a FasTrak Flex toll tag set to 2 or 3+ and properly mounted in their vehicle. Solo drivers can choose to pay tolls to use the lanes during the hours of operation - if there is sufficient room. Outside of the hours of operation, the lanes are open to all vehicles at no charge.
USING THE LANES
Vehicles equipped with FasTrak® can enter or exit the lanes at clearly marked points (on I-680 Southbound) or nearly anywhere along the express lane corridor (I-580 Express Lanes in the Tri-Valley corridor). Electronic signs display the current toll for solo drivers with FasTrak. When the FasTrak-equipped vehicle passes under a reader, the correct toll is automatically deducted from the driver’s prepaid FasTrak account. No tollbooths, no stopping.
The I-680 Sunol Express Lane (southbound over the Sunol Grade) has specific entrance and exit points. The I-580 Express Lanes have mostly have “open,” or “nearly-continuous” access configurations, meaning drivers will enter and exit the express lanes at any location similar to how they enter and exit carpool lanes today. Where necessary, due to operational or safety issues, sections of the express lanes will have limited access, meaning that entry and exit to/from the express lane is allowed only at certain locations. Where access is limited, special signage and lane striping will help direct drivers about where to enter and exit. The I-580 Express Lanes have a portion of limited access in each direction to reduce merging incidents.
Both the I-580 and the I-680 Sunol Express Lanes operate M-F 5am-8pm. All other times (nights and weekends) the express lanes are open to all with no toll and no toll tag requirements.
Tolls for solo drivers are collected electronically via FasTrak®, just like on Bay Area toll bridges. Tolls are collected only during the express lane hours of operation as posted on freeway signs. Overhead electronic pricing signs will display the current toll rates, which will increase as traffic congestion increases and decrease as traffic congestion decreases.
On the I-580 Express Lanes in the Tri-Valley corridor (through Dublin, Pleasanton and Livermore), which opened in February 2016, all carpools and other qualifying toll-free vehicles need a FasTrak Flex toll tag properly mounted in the vehicle, and set to 2 or 3+ for toll-free travel. A FasTrak Flex toll tag has a switch that can be set in one of three positions indicating that the vehicle has one, two, or three or more occupants. When set on 2 or 3+, the tolling equipment knows not to charge that vehicle a toll. When set on 1, tolls will be charged. Solo drivers may use either a FasTrak Flex set to 1 or a standard FasTrak toll tag.
The price for solo drivers to use the express lanes changes to keep traffic moving and maintain reliable speeds in the express lane. Since the price to use the lane changes based on traffic, it is impossible to give specific tolls. However, as an example of what it might cost to use an express lane, the average toll for January 2015 on the I-680 Sunol Express Lane from 84/Sunol to 237/Milpitas was $3.11 total for a 14-mile trip.
The tolls vary based on traffic levels in the Express Lanes to ensure traffic in the lanes continues to flow smoothly. As traffic increases, the toll increases. As traffic subsides, so does the toll. This process is called "dynamic pricing.” Dynamic pricing works to ensure that traffic flows smoothly in the express lane. Here’s how it works: Tolls are set based on the amount of traffic traveling in the express lane at any given time. During peak periods, when there is more traffic on the express lane, the toll will be higher. During off-peak periods, when fewer vehicles are using the lane, the toll will be lower. By raising or lowering the toll in response to the level of demand, dynamic pricing effectively manages congestion ensuring the express lane flows smoothly. Dynamic pricing has been used successfully in various places across the country, including San Diego, Seattle, Minneapolis, Miami, Denver and Dallas, with other new projects planned or under construction across the nation.