A bill to give wheelchair-accessible taxis access to HOV lanes and a bill to give motorcycles access to some transit lanes are moving forward in the State Senate.

Sen. Bob Hasegawa
Committee Substitute Senate Bill 5018, by the Senate Transportation Committee, and originally by Sens. Bob Hasegawa (D – Renton) and Patty Kuderer (D – Clyde Hill), would grant WSDOT and appropriate local authorities the ability to allow wheelchair-accessible taxis access to high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes.

WSDOT and local authorities are currently allowed to grant HOV lane access to:
* public transportation vehicles;
* motorcycles;
* private motor vehicles carrying a minimum of a specified number of passengers; and
* certain private transportation provider vehicles with the capacity to carry eight or more passengers if such use does not interfere with the efficiency, reliability, and safety of public transportation operations.

There are currently 53 private wheelchair-accessible taxis operating in the state, and none of them can carry eight or more passengers.

At the request of Toby Olson from the Governor’s Committee on Disability Issues and Employment, the phrase “wheelchair-bound” was removed.

The committee substitute bill passed out of committee 12-0 January 31, and is now in the Senate Rules Committee, waiting to be placed on the second reading calendar.

We previously covered this bill back when it was introduced.

Sen. Tim Sheldon
Committee Substitute Senate Bill 5378, by the Senate Transportation Committee, and originally sponsored by Sens. Tim Sheldon (D – Potlatch), Brian Dansel (R – Republic), Bob Hasegawa, Steve Conway (D – Tacoma), and Phil Fortunato (R – Auburn), would authorize a two year pilot program allowing motorcycles to pass a vehicle in the same lane as the vehicle being overtaken, subject to specific operational limitations. It would also open the shoulder of a limited access WSDOT facility for all motorcycles when that lane is opened for the operation of public transportation vehicles, under the same time periods and conditions.

For the duration of the pilot project, the operator of a motorcycle would be allowed to overtake and pass in the same lane as the vehicle being overtaken, but only on the left-hand side of the vehicle, on divided highways with at least two general lanes each way. The motorcyclist would only be allowed to pass on the left hand side when the motorcycle is traveling at a speed of 25 miles per hour or less and not more than 10 miles per hour over the speed of traffic flow. It would become a traffic infraction for an operator of a motor vehicle to intentionally impede or attempt to prevent a motorcyclist from passing on the left-hand side as allowed in the pilot project.

Both proponents and opponents came armed with non sequiturs. Proponents pointed to a UC Berkeley study showing lower motorcyclist fatality rates among those sharing lanes, which is already allowed here. In what seemed more like a rebuke of the status quo, representatives from the Washington State Patrol and the Traffic Safety Commission testified against the bill with statistics that (quite intuitively) pointed out that motorcyclists die at a higher rate than their percent of traffic, and (not helpfully) 75% of motorcycle fatalities are found to be the motorcyclist’s fault.

Proponents also touted the bill as a way to ease congestion.

The committee amendment removed the restriction of a motorcycle having to pass on the left-hand side of a vehicle traveling in the left-most lane of traffic, after testimony that this is the part of a highway with the most debris.

The committee substitute bill passed out of committee 9-2-1 February 8.

Voting Yes were:
Curtis King (R – Yakima, Committee Chair)
Sheldon (Vice Chair)
Brad Hawkins (R – East Wenatchee)
Steve O’Ban (R – Tacoma)
Dean Takko (D – Longview)
Kevin Van de Wege (D – Sequim)
Maureen Walsh (R – College Place)
Lynda Wilson (R – Vancouver)

Voting No were:
Marko Liias (D – Everett, Assistant Ranking Minority Member)
Annette Cleveland (D – Vancouver)

Steve Hobbs (D – Lake Stevens, Ranking Minority Member) voted for “no recommendation.”

The bill was moved out of the Senate Rules Committee by floor motion Tuesday, so it is now on the second reading floor calendar.

22 Replies to “Bills to Give Wheelchair Taxis and Motorcycles Preferential Access Move Forward in State Senate”

  1. Glad to hear we’re finally getting permission to split lanes in Washington. This will be especially nice on those summer weekends when everyone’s trying to cross the Cascades at once – stop-and-go traffic tends to overheat the rider and the engine alike!

    I don’t understand what’s being changed that will “give motorcycles access to some transit lanes”. Are “transit lanes” different from “HOV lanes”? It was my understanding that federal law already granted HOV access for motorcycle riders.

    1. The bill would open up divided-highway shoulders to motorcycle use when those shoulders are open to transit use. The only example that comes to mind is I-405.

    2. Mars, you’ve finally brought back a lot of old work memories. About why I don’t think BUSES belong in HOV lanes. The stalled and steaming part says it all. What exactly is congesting the lane?

      Buses? Fine. Get me out of there. Neither me nor my standing 60′ bus load of passengers want to be in a lane rendered unusable by everything from automobiles which take up same road space full or empty…

      To aggressively arrogant amateurs on machines that’ll put me on trial for homicide for the long list of idiotic things they do over and above being in the same lane as my bus at all. Especially deciding which side of a clearly marked life and death warning they suddenly demand the right to ride on.

      You’ve given us the crowning reason why trains are superior to buses for anything larger and faster than Roosevelt or Lake City Way. Despite inevitable demands and threats really signed by crows pretending to be motorcyclists who believe in assisted suicide, neither legislator pictured has the courage to let HOVehicles include express trains.

      After supper, I’m writing my legislator to forbid freeway speed buses to be anywhere but in barrier sided lanes of our own. ‘Til we get them, we stay on streets and arterials.
      Best result will be that passengers who don’t want to ride our slow service move to highways were nothing is moving at all. No better safety measure.

      However, won’t protect from car-drivers’ reaction to tire tracks on their roofs and hoods.

      Mark Dublin

    3. Ugh – lane splitting is far from my favorite thing. When traffic really is stop and go and a motorcycle wants to lane split at 10mph, sure, that’s fine. But while I lived in LA it was not uncommon for traffic to be moving 40-60mph and some idiot would lane split at 70mph. Every time that happened I’d almost have a heart attack. I know the WA law prohibits splitting above 25mph, but once people get used to it, how many won’t split a bit higher?

      1. Agreed. I vividly remember years ago cruising down a Calif. freeway and suddenly finding a Harley passing maybe 5 inches from my side mirror. Scared the hell outa me. If I had wandered leftward in my lane even a few inches, we would’ve collided. This is a terrible bill, and it promotes unsafe driving.

  2. Would this bill allow wheelchair accessible taxis to pick up or drop off passengers at Montlake Freeway Station (which would otherwise not be wheelchair accessible)?

    1. Since Montlake Freeway Station is a transitway, not an HOV lane, definitely No.

      Moreover, the appropriate authority that has jurisdiction has the final say over whether accessible taxis will get to use the HOV lanes over which they have jurisdiction, and specify which HOV lanes.

    2. On the one hand it does only “allow” more vehicles into the HOV lanes, it doesn’t mandate them. And the legislature passed ST3 allowing tax authority without caring much whether actual tax would pass or not or even get to ballot. But reading between the lines here, somebody is pressuring the legislature to make these changes, and that somebody may not be content if WSDOT does nothing, they may later press the legislature to require these changes on all HOV lanes if WSDOT doesn’t act.

  3. Whew-eeeee! Just realized why I lost it so bad over Senate Bill 5378. Now that I don’t drive transit anymore, no fear of PreTSD due to imagining one of my union brothers on the mechanic side always having to clean same lane sharing results off my bus.

    As passenger, all I really have to do is sit on the right hand side of the bus. Or the left side if there’s a window-wrap. After all the missed scenery, will be so great to have it keep me from seeing anything 5378-related. Instead of Mt. Rainier.

    And it hit me that my sudden attack of sheer fury stemmed from realizing that for the second time in a year, I’ve been on the same side as the chief of the Washington State Highway Patrol on a major issue. A lifetime of defying authority can’t save my reputation now.

    Almost as bad as fifty years ago when a really cute college crush of mine announced with great seriousness that in her opinion if I ever saw somebody smoking marijuana I’d turn them over to the police for their own good. Now I only do that with vaping.

    But I really have come up with a solution mutually beneficial to transit and motorcycling, which share the hard core merit of not being cars. Alongside every freeway, and also on abandoned rail right of way whose Homeowners’ Association doesn’t like streetcars, we construct two fully-reserved lanes both directions.

    One for motorcycles and one for buses. The bikers even get to be on the bus driver’s left side, so they can pretend they still are on I-405 as they leave Cross-Kirkland trailing “Born To Be Wild” on their sound systems. Old saying (hereditary traits, not bad lane changes): “Blood Will Tell!”

    So it is with cyclists and full-time transit drivers. If either of us fit into normal society neither of us would be caught, let alone even scared, in a suburban carpool lane. Especially driving hybrids. “HOV” just modern jargon. One favor you could do us, though. Address of your agent in Hollywood.

    We’ll drop the demand for a remake of “The Wild One” with trolleybuses if we can get a season or two on “Sons of Anarchy!” Maintenance is already fitting our signature “Ape Hanger” steering wheels. And the Sound Transit Board really gets off on “John the Revelator” for background theme music on Bus Rapid Transit presentation videos.


  4. I’m not sure I understand why there is a need to allow handicapped taxis in the carpool lanes? Is the idea that handicapped people have enough to deal with, without having to endure traffic? This seems to be a solution looking for a problem.

    1. I’m not exactly sure but that could be part of it, and to make deadheading more efficient. If disability taxis can get through traffic faster they can move more disabled people per day, and the companies might have a greater incentive to provide such vehicles. 53 vehicles in a state population of over 6 million sounds really low. If ten of those are outside Pugetopolis (since each small city needs at least one), that drops to 43 here, or 0.07% of the region’s population. There has got to be more disabled people who want taxis simultaneously than that.

      1. I agree. My grandmother has a friend who uses a wheelchair and needs special taxis, and she’s described what a horribly difficult time she has getting one.

      2. Also consider that disabled people need taxis more often than able-bodied people do. I know people who used to take the bus a lot and walk from place to place and they wish they could still do it now, but it’s either too difficult or too stressful so they take taxis when there’s no other way.

    2. I was curious about this too. What is Access for? I thought that’s what they were for? And being a “bus,” they could be in carpool lane anyway.

      I wonder when they’ll change the name of HOV. A good portion of the vehicles are not filled with two or more people, including out of service buses, empty Shuttle Express or motorcycles.

      I think it should only be for those vehicles with two or more people with driver-aged occupants.

      1. There are a number of restrictions on Access, such as having to book the ride the day before, and sticking to the public transit service area. Nor do all riders who use wheelchairs qualify for Access. You’ll notice there are people in wheelchairs riding the fixed routes.

        To say we do not need private wheelchair taxis when we have Access is like saying we do not need private vehicles when we have public transit.

        As a taxpayer and transit rider, I also heartily disagree about making buses deadhead in general traffic jams.

        Letting private wheelchair taxis deadhead in HOV lanes should hopefully grow the supply of such taxis, dramatically increase the mobility of people who use wheelchairs (including those who don’t qualify for Access), and also reduce the cost to the public of providing paratransit, which is not cheap.

      2. Brent,

        Thanks for the response on the wheelchair access on Access. I wasn’t aware they weren’t properly equipped.

        Maybe you or something can clue me in here. For the Mercer Island resident single-occupancy access desire, it sounds like WSDOT is pointing to a requirement by the USDOT that no SOV can use the HOV lanes. If these wheelchair-accessible taxis have a passenger, there is no issue with the HOV lanes, so it’s only when the driver is solo (SOV) where this law would be beneficial. How can the WSDOT grant access to these specific SOVs but not those in the Mercer Island case?

        Does anyone have any data showing that this is actually an issue? I haven’t been able to locate any data, other than there are only 53 taxis properly equipped, etc. Nothing showing that they sit 50% of their time in traffic in the general purpose lanes, etc. Do we know the standard wait time for wheelchair-bound customers vs. standard wait time for non-wheelchair-bound customers? Do we know that by allowing this it will improve service to these individuals? Is there a study that shows if we make this law reality that it will encourage more wheelchair capable taxis to be put into service? Do we know that the right number of taxis is “92” vs. 53? Are they 100% allocated to the handicapped or will they have a dual-role? Anyone seen any facts and data behind this change? I’d be interested to see it. Thanks in advance!!

      3. Access members can get half-price vouchers for private taxis. It’s more cost-effective to the agency if they use the vouchers because an Access ride costs $40 to provide.

      4. GK: One possibility is that the ADA overrides the HOV restriction. Another possibility is that it only applies to HOV lanes where no federal funds were used for construction. The freeways are fifty years old but they have been repeatedly widened. Some HOV lanes may have been added when they were widened with state funds. But I-90 clearly got a federal grant because it was the last interstate highway to be rebuilt; it was renamed from US 10 in the 1950s but the bridge and Mercer Island part wasn’t renovated until the 1980s.

      5. We don’t know what the bill is based on, or at least I don’t. Maybe the legislators didn’t look at the congestion rates for wheelchair taxis at all, they just want to do something that would sound good in a soundbite in the next election.

      6. Current state law, and the bill, which only adds wheelchair accessible taxis to the list of vehicles that can get priority, do not talk about USDOT. It is just roads under WSDOT and local jurisdiction.

        I don’t know if WSDOT has jurisdiction on I-90 W HOV lanes to allow exemptions. Allowing all SOVs clearly does not pass the straight-face test of exemption. But WSDOT’s letter mentioned HOT lanes as a legal alternative. (Those concern trolling about their hypothetical neighbors who can’t afford a toll merely need to get the city council to pay for a choice of low-income monthly toll pass or low-income monthly transit pass for each qualifying resident, which I doubt would add up to much money.)

        The bill is not mandatory, but gives WSDOT and local authorities more authority. So, studies about traffic impact and need could be piecemeal.

        As for the right number of cabs, I’m pretty sure 92 is still way low. I think the plan is to leave it up to the market. I seriously doubt response time for these cabs is anywhere as close to as fast as a race for the nearest yellow/orange/Uber/Lyft driver to get to your place first. With 53 taxis right now, they are definitely not a current source of congestion.

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