High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes help move more people on Ontario's busiest highways. They are restricted to certain types of vehicles carrying at least 2 people. Make sure you know and follow the rules for entering and exiting HOV lanes.
Ontario has HOV lanes on Highways 403, 404, 417 and the QEW. To find them, look for:
- HOV signs marking the far left lane.
- Markers painted on the road, including diamond markers and a striped buffer zone that separates the HOV lane from other lanes.
Using HOV lanes
You can use an HOV lane if you have at least two people (including the driver) in one of these vehicles :
- vans or light trucks
- commercial trucks less than 6.5 meters long with a gross weight of 4,500 kg or less.
If you are towing a trailer, you can still use the HOV lane if the combined vehicle-trailer length is less than 6.5 meters.
The following vehicles have unrestricted access to HOV lanes, no matter how many passengers they are carrying :
- buses of all types
- licensed taxis and airport limousines (currently until June 30, 2016; ministry has proposed to extend until June 30, 2018)
- emergency vehicles
- electric vehicles with green licence plates (currently until June 30, 2016; ministry has proposed to make it permanent)
Updates on proposed extensions to be provided in advance of the current sunset dates.
The penalty for improper HOV lane use is a fine of $110 and 3 demerit points.
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Entering and exiting HOV lanes
You can enter and exit the HOV lane only at designated points. These points are about 400 metres long and are generally available every 2-4 kilometres. They are clearly marked by signs, white broken lines and diamond pavement markings. It is illegal and unsafe to enter or exit an HOV lane by crossing the striped buffer zone.
Once an HOV lane ends, other traffic is free to move over into the left most lane when it is safe.
Enter HOV lanes
HOV lanes often start when a new left lane is added to a highway. You will see overhead signs on the left side of the highway that show where the lane begins. Simply move into the left lane across the white broken lines.
In some cases, an existing left lane has been turned into an HOV lane. Only drivers allowed to use the HOV lane can stay in that lane. All others must exit before the HOV lane begins. You will see warning signs overhead before the HOV lane begins.
Exit HOV lanes
HOV lane users must use the proper exits. Watch for the warning signs and leave the HOV lane before you need to leave the highway. Leave the HOV lane at the upcoming exit zone for this highway exit ramp :
Leave the HOV lane at this exit zone for this highway exit ramp :
A few highway exits do not have an HOV exit. In these cases, you will see a warning sign:
Benefits of HOV Lanes
HOV lanes help move more people faster on Ontario's highways by encouraging people to carpool and take transit. This is important during peak travel times when other lanes can be slow and congested.
Benefits to you
- Save time : You can avoid congestion and arrive at your destination more quickly than those who don't carpool.
- More reliable commute : Avoiding congestion means a quicker and more consistent commute time.
- Save money : It costs less to ride a bus or to share a ride than to drive alone every day. Regular carpooling could your cut fuel costs by 50%.
- Conserve fuel : You waste less fuel sitting in traffic.
- Less stress : Letting someone else drive – or taking turns – gives you a chance to relax on the drive to work.
Benefits to Ontario
- Manage congestion : An HOV lane can handle a lot of growth in demand. Once a general traffic lane reaches capacity, it becomes congested and moves fewer vehicles.
- Make better use of infrastructure : One highway lane can carry 1,500 to 2,200 vehicles each hour. A lane full of buses and carpools moves many more people than a standard traffic lane.
- Transit priority : Buses and transit rider have priority. A single transit bus can replace 57 single-occupant cars!
- Provide choices : HOV lanes make carpooling and public transit more effective and reliable choices for commuters.
- Support mobility : Taxis and airport limousines that use HOV lanes can return to duty faster after dropping off a fare or arrive sooner to pick up a fare.
- Support electric vehicles : Electric vehicles with green plates can use HOV lanes until June 30, 2016.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1: How are HOV lanes enforced?
OPP officers are enforcing HOV lane use and issuing tickets to offenders as part of their regular highway enforcement duties. The OPP conducts HOV lane enforcement by pulling vehicles over on the left shoulder.
HOV lane design on provincial highways includes enforcement pockets on the left shoulder to allow enforcement officers to closely monitor HOV lane use.
Q2: Why are HOV lanes on provincial highways separated from general traffic by a buffer zone instead of a physical barrier?
Ontario's HOV lanes have been designed to a high safety standard, based on the proven best practices from over 30 years of HOV operation in other jurisdictions.
Many of our highway corridors have limited rights-of-way. A barrier-separated HOV lane would reduce the widths of our highway shoulders, enforcement areas and lanes and would make it much more difficult to remove snow.
Using a painted buffer zone to separate HOV lanes from general traffic lanes also permits a greater number of entry and exit locations along the highway than a physical barrier. Carpools can enjoy the convenience of HOV lanes and still have access to their desired exit along the way. The painted buffer permits entry and exit locations to be more quickly adjusted to respond to changes in traffic patterns and volumes.
Q3: What is the safety record of HOV lanes?
Ontario's HOV lanes have been designed to the highest safety standard, based on over 30 years of experience in other jurisdictions with HOV facilities. Ontario's HOV design includes a buffer separating the HOV lane from the general traffic lane, lane widths to ministry standards and a left shoulder, for optimum safety.
Poor safety records of some HOV facilities in other jurisdictions are a result of adding an HOV lane where the existing roadway cannot accommodate a buffer zone, adequate widths for the general traffic and HOV lanes and/or a left shoulder. The result is a greater likelihood of collisions and reduced driver manoeuvrability.
Ontario's provincial HOV lanes have been added to existing highways by widening the highway, rather than converting existing lanes or shoulders.
Q4: Are HOV lanes effective?
Yes. Though results vary from place to place, nearly every area with highway HOV lanes reports that ridesharing and highway capacity have increased, and that travel times have improved since the lanes opened.
There are over 130 HOV programs operating in more than 30 North American cities, totalling over 4,000 kilometres. Many large cities in the U.S. have operated HOV lanes for 30 years. HOV lanes are popular with commuters in states such as Texas and California, and in cities such as Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Denver, and Seattle.
In Canada, there are HOV lanes in Vancouver, and in the Montreal area, and some Ottawa bridges have HOV lanes.
Q5: Why do HOV lanes use the left lane on highways?
HOV lanes on 400-series highways are intended to serve multi-occupant vehicles, including inter-regional buses, moving at highway speeds and making longer-distance trips.
It is safer to locate a highway HOV lane on the left to minimize weaving and lane change interactions with the general traffic lanes. Most interchange access is located on the right side of the highway, so it is safest and most practical to locate the HOV lane in the left lane.
Q6: How are HOV lanes on provincial highways different from municipal HOV lanes?
Provincial HOV lanes are located on the inside (leftmost) lane of highways, while municipal lanes are typically the curbside (rightmost) lane.
Municipal HOV lanes operate in a different environment than provincial highway HOV lanes. The primary making frequent stops.
Q7: Why aren't HOV lanes open to all traffic outside rush hours?
HOV lanes are used to provide carpoolers and transit users with a reliable trip time at all hours of the day, allowing them to avoid periodic congestion. Opening HOV lanes to all traffic outside of rush hours would reduce the effectiveness of the HOV lanes which is meant to provide more reliable trip times.