QEW HOV lanes become HOT lanes today for single drivers

Drivers willing to part with $180 and lucky enough to win what amounts to a mini-lottery can now drive alone in the HOV lanes on the Oakville-Burlington stretch of the QEW.

Drivers with more than 1 occupant can still use HOV lanes for free

Starting today, HOV lanes on the Burlington stretch of the QEW will be open to single-occupancy vehicles so long as the drivers have a permit, which costs $180 and is only available through a random draw. (Linda Ward/CBC)

Drivers willing to part with $180 and lucky enough to win what amounts to a mini-lottery can now drive alone in the high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes on the Oakville-Burlington stretch of the QEW.

Here's how it works:

Up until today, only vehicles with two or more occupants could use the HOV lanes along a 16.5-kilometre stretch of the QEW between Trafalgar Road in Oakville and Guelph Line in Burlington. Simple enough.

But starting today, single-occupancy vehicles can use those lanes until Dec. 31 if drivers buy a $180 permit. But here's the catch, only 500 permits were issued through a random draw (more than 3,400 drivers applied).

Vehicles with more than two occupants can still use the lanes for free. Also, vehicles with green Ontario licence plates — which are issued to certain plug-in hybrid electric and battery-powered vehicles — can also use the HOT lanes. Buses, taxis, limos and emergency vehicles can also use the HOT lanes.

Permits allowing solo drivers to use the HOV lanes will be available in three-month terms. Each term can be renewed a maximum of two times.

Permit applications and renewals for the next term — which runs Jan. 1 to March 31, 2017 — open on Nov. 1 and can be submitted at Ontario.ca/HOTLanes

Ontario's transportation ministry says it has issued what amounts to toll lane permits as a four-year pilot project aimed at easing congestion on the busy highway. 

Police will be watching

OPP Sgt. Kerry Schmidt said lone drivers who try to cheat the system by using the HOT lanes without a permit could face a stiff fine. 

"We do find violators pretty regularly, drivers that are late for work or school and want to take advantage of it. They are being stopped and ticketed already," he said. 

Schmidt said OPP patrols look for lane violators "pretty much every day." During the pilot project, they face fines that range from $250 up to $2,500.

Schmidt said he believes the Burlington-Oakville HOT pilot project will help ease rush-hour traffic congestion. 

"The strategy is to keep the highway moving without overwhelming the HOV lanes," he said.

With files from Linda Ward