Ministry of Transportation / Ministère des Transports
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High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) Lanes - Frequently Asked Questions


  1. What is a High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane?
  2. What does an HOV lane look like?
  3. Who can use HOV lanes?
  4. Who cannot use HOV lanes?
  5. How are HOV lanes enforced?
  6. What happens to drivers using the HOV lane improperly, and what is the penalty?
  7. Why can I only enter and exit the HOV lane at designated locations, rather than wherever I want?
  8. Why are HOV lanes on provincial highways separated from general traffic by a buffer zone, rather than a physical barrier?
  9. Are HOV lane restrictions lifted when there is a traffic incident?
  10. What is the safety record of HOV lanes?
  11. Why not simply convert existing general traffic lanes to HOV lanes?
  12. I drive alone to work. Why should I support HOV lanes if I won't use them?
  13. Why aren't HOV lanes open to all traffic outside rush hours?
  14. Why do the HOV lanes sometimes appear empty?
  15. Wouldn't it be better to simply open all lanes to all vehicles at all times?
  16. Are HOV lanes effective?
  17. Have HOV lanes been successful in other places?
  18. Why do HOV lanes use the left lane on highways and the right lane on city streets?
  19. Municipalities have had HOV lanes for years but they don't seem to be enforced. How are provincial HOV lanes different?
  20. Why are taxicabs and airport limousines with just the driver permitted to use provincial HOV lanes?

1. What is a High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane?

A High Occupancy Vehicle lane is a specially designed lane that is designated for use by certain types of vehicles with specified number of occupants. It can offer travel time savings to those who choose to carpool or take transit.

On Ontario highways, HOV lanes are for use by passenger vehicles with two or more occupants (i.e. the driver plus at least one passenger).

HOV lanes can move a greater number of people than a general traffic lane, and encourage carpooling and transit use, by providing travel time savings and a more reliable trip time. HOV lanes help to manage congestion, and optimize the capacity of highways.

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2.  What does an HOV lane look like?

HOV lanes on provincial highways are the inside (leftmost) lane and can be identified by signs and diamond symbol pavement markings. The HOV lane is separated from the general traffic lanes by a striped buffer pavement marking. Vehicles carrying at least two people can enter and exit the HOV lane at designated zones. These entry and exit zones are clearly identifiable by closely spaced white broken lines and diamond symbol pavement markings. Overhead signs indicate the designated HOV lane exit zone to be used for specific highway exit ramps. HOV lanes are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

See also: A Virtual Tour of an HOV Lane - a video on HOV lanes and their use.

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3.  Who can use HOV lanes?

HOV lanes on provincial highways are reserved for vehicles carrying at least two people (i.e. a driver plus at least one passenger) in any of the following passenger vehicles: Cars, minivans, motorcycles, pickup trucks, taxis, and limousines.

Buses of all types can use an HOV lane at any time, regardless of the number of occupants. A three-year pilot, effective July 1, 2012 allows taxicabs and airport limousines with just the driver to use provincial HOV lanes.

Emergency vehicles (police, fire, ambulance) are exempt from the restrictions.

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4.  Who cannot use HOV lanes?

  • Single occupant vehicles, including cars, minivans, motorcycles, and pickup trucks.
  • Commercial trucks greater than 6.5 metres long and with a gross weight of greater than 4,500 kg.
  • Vehicles towing a trailer that makes the combined length of the two units greater than 6.5 metres long.

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5.  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. MTO has constructed special enforcement areas on the left shoulder to provide safe areas from which the police can conduct enforcement.

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6.  What happens to drivers using the HOV lane improperly, and what is the penalty?

Drivers using the lane improperly can be stopped and ticketed by OPP officers monitoring the HOV lane, and will be required to re-enter the general lanes at the next entry/exit zone. The penalty for improper HOV lane use is a fine of $110 and three demerit points.

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7.  Why can I only enter and exit the HOV lane at designated locations, rather than wherever I want?

Restricting access to clearly marked entry/exit zones improves safety by letting drivers in both the HOV lane and the leftmost general traffic lane know where to expect vehicles entering and exiting the HOV lane.

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8.  Why are HOV lanes on provincial highways separated from general traffic by a buffer zone, rather than a physical barrier?

The Ministry of Transportation (MTO) is committed to safe highway operation. MTO'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.

Further, using a painted buffer zone to separate HOV lanes from general traffic lanes permits a greater number of entry and exit locations along the highway than a physical barrier, allowing carpools to enjoy the convenience of HOV lanes and still have access to their desired exit along the way. Finally, the painted buffer permits entry/exit locations to be more quickly adjusted to respond to changes in traffic patterns and volumes.

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9.  Are HOV lane restrictions lifted when there is a traffic incident?

In the event of a traffic incident, OPP officers have the authority to direct traffic to use the HOV lane to bypass the incident.

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10.  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 between the HOV lane and general traffic lane, adequate widths for the general traffic and HOV lanes and/or a left shoulder. The result is an increase in the likelihood of collisions and reduced driver manoeuvrability. MTO's HOV lanes have been added to existing highways by widening the highway, rather than converting existing lanes or shoulders.

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11.  Why not simply convert existing general traffic lanes to HOV lanes?

The ministry did consider this option. However, it would have resulted in more congestion for the remaining general traffic lanes. By adding a new lane to a highway for use by buses and other HOVs, total highway person-moving capacity is increased.

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12.  I drive alone to work. Why should I support HOV lanes if I won't use them?

HOV lanes benefit not only those who share the ride, but all drivers in the following ways:

  • Managing congestion: Moving more people in fewer vehicles.
  • Better use of highways: A lane full of buses and carpools can move many more people than a general traffic lane.
  • Added capacity – existing carpools and buses move into the new HOV lanes, freeing up space in the general purpose lanes.
  • Air Quality Benefits: Moving more people in fewer vehicles can lead to reduced vehicle emissions and improved air quality.

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13.  Why aren't HOV lanes open to all traffic outside rush hours?

HOV lanes are primarily used to manage congestion, providing carpoolers and transit users with a reliable trip time at all hours of the day and allowing them to avoid periodic congestion. While HOV lanes save the greatest amount of time for users during peak periods, Ontario's HOV lanes are being added to highway corridors that typically experience heavy congestion throughout the day — it is therefore most efficient to keep the HOV lanes available for carpool and transit use all the time.

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14.  Why do the HOV lanes sometimes appear empty?

Experience in other jurisdictions shows that, while appearing to be lightly travelled, HOV lanes routinely accommodate three to four times more people than an adjacent general traffic lane. This is because each vehicle is carrying a larger number of people. The empty space you may see at times is space that is available to new HOVs. Imagine how much space there would be on the highway if everybody carpooled!

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15.  Wouldn't it be better to simply open all lanes to all vehicles at all times?

There is a limited amount of room for highway expansion. If we keep adding general traffic lanes, we will eventually find ourselves with a fully congested highway and no more room to expand. Air quality and congestion would continue to worsen.

Our highways have the potential to carry many more people. The most effective way to reach this potential is to reserve a lane for carpoolers and transit. This increases highway capacity and provides a less congested trip for people in carpools and transit.

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16.  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.

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17.  Have HOV lanes been successful in other places?

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.

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18.  Why do HOV lanes use the left lane on highways and the right lane on city streets?

Municipal HOV lanes operate in a different environment than highway HOV lanes. The primary purpose of municipal HOV lanes is to serve high-frequency local transit buses and taxis, which typically travel in the curb lane, making frequent stops. 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.

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19.  Municipalities have had HOV lanes for years but they don't seem to be enforced. How are provincial HOV lanes different?

HOV lanes on provincial highways are different from municipal HOV lanes in a number of ways. Provincial HOV lanes are located on the inside (leftmost) lane of highways, while municipal lanes are typically the rightmost (curbside) lane. Enforcing curbside HOV lanes can be challenging because drivers need to make right turns at regular intervals. On provincial highways, locating the HOV lane on the left means single occupant vehicles can enter and exit the highway without crossing the HOV lane. At highway speeds, this is safer and less confusing for all drivers. Further, HOV lane design on provincial highways includes enforcement pockets to allow enforcement officers to closely monitor HOV lane use.

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20.  Why are taxicabs and airport limousines with just the driver permitted to use provincial HOV lanes?

A three-year pilot, effective July 1, 2012 allows taxicabs and airport limousines with just the driver to use provincial HOV lanes. Prior to this pilot, taxicabs and airport limousines were allowed to use the HOV lanes if there were two or more people in the vehicle. Taxicabs and airport limousines are an important part of our transportation network. Taxicabs and airport limousines that use HOV lanes will be able return to duty faster after dropping off a fare or arrive sooner to pick up a fare, thereby moving more people to their destinations in fewer vehicles. This pilot is also intended to improve accessibility for people who cannot or choose not to drive.

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See also: