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Fiona Ma, I-80 carpool lanes & ‘Animal Farm’

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POSTED August 23, 2012 12:41 a.m.

What’s wrong with Sacramento?

A perfect illustration are carpool lanes and the self-centered interests of one legislator.

Fiona Ma is an Assemblywoman who hails from San Francisco. The Democrat drives Interstate 80 to the State Capitol each day.

Ma became frustrated that she had to crawl along with traffic at sub 55-mph speeds in one of three lanes while the carpool lane between the Bay Bridge and the Carquinez Strait was - in her own words - virtually empty.

So Ma did what any good, self-serving lawmaker would do. She drafted legislation so that annoying carpool lane that she perceives as slowing her down goes away during the morning commute.

The bill to make that happen has already cleared the Assembly. If it passes the State Senate it will mean the carpool lane will no longer exist at least until Ma is termed out of office. It has a sunset clause of 2020.

Who hasn’t at one time or another been frustrated that the carpool lane has minimal cars while the other lanes don’t when lane use restrictions are in place during commute hour?

But here’s a reality check for Ma. It was lawmakers like her that essentially pushed the carpool lane concept down the throats of motorists. And a funny thing happened. People see the point. That’s why the lightly traveled carpool lane that is worthy of the legislature’s attention while California goes through Budget Armageddon 8.0 isn’t jammed with cars during commute restrictions. People are following the law by not using the carpool lane if they legally can’t.

Some might say the $480 fine is a deterrent. But if potential fines really do change behavior, then explain why almost all of us still exceed the speed limit on the freeway. It might have something to do with the fact the common denominator is that most of us don’t believe it is reasonable. Then again there are a lot less people going 10 mph over the speed limit than 5 mph over.

Carpool lane restrictions tap into the same rationalization. Most of us obviously believe it is reasonable even though we can save a few seconds or a few minutes in our commute time on the freeway if there wasn’t a carpool lane.

The carpool lane is working. But in Ma’s case, that’s only good for the masses and not her. True, others using the same stretch of I-80 will be free of the bonds of carpool lane restrictions. But what about someone heading into downtown Sacramento on Highway 99 on a Thursday at 3:30 p.m. when there is next to no traffic in the carpool lane?

You might say, whoa, that’s different. If you travel on that stretch of roadway at 4:30 p.m. the traffic is much heavier.

Which comes to the ill-conceived conclusion that Ma has reached. Carpool lane traffic may be light when she’s using the freeway but it may not be at other times.

That brings us to what ails Sacramento.

Predecessors of the current lawmakers embraced the carpool plan by adopting it as state policy. But now that they believe it’s not working as effective as they’d like in some locations, they want to tweak it by passing legislation modifying only a specific segment and to do so without any clear data to justify it.

In business circles it’s called micromanaging.

Cynics though might borrow an observation made by those in power in George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”. Ma is simply living the silent mantra of many people in positions of power in government in that “all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”



This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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