Despite state law, disabled vet forced to pay fees on HOV-HOT lanes

METRO says it relied on a letter from the feds to make its decision to charge vets using its HOV-HOT lanes. But that may be changing
October 11, 2013 5:36:35 PM PDT
Texas law calls for disabled veterans to get a break on state toll roads. But here in the Houston area, METRO isn't exempting them.

Frank Haynie is a disabled veteran.

"I served from 1964 to '68," Haynie said.

He served in Vietnam and is now 100 percent disabled, thanks to the lingering effects of agent orange, he tells us.

Forty-five years later, it means an awful lot of trips to the Houston VA medical center from his home in Spring. The easiest wasy for him is to go down the HOV lanes on Interstate 45. And if he's alone, there's a toll.

But he shouldn't have to pay it.

Texas state law says disabled veterans with license plates to prove it can be exempt from Texas tolls. And toll road authority highways like the Hardy and the Beltway are, but not the HOV-HOT lanes. Those lanes are run by METRO, and so far, METRO's been unwilling to exempt disabled veterans from those tolls.

We did the math, and disabled vets account for just .2 percent of all drivers in our area.

"A real big percentage, isn't it?" Haynie said.

In METRO's view, a three-year-old letter from the Federal Transit Administration kept them from exempting anyone, even disabled vets. But we asked, and the feds say that's METRO's call.

"Based on the clarification we've recently gotten back from the FTA -- and thank you for getting the clarification -- we're now going to look at that from a local standpoint, we're going to tee that up for a policy discussion," interim METRO CEO Tom Lambert said.

Lambert tells us he'll likely put a proposed policy change in front of the board in November to give disabled vets the toll-free ride that state law says they should already get.

"Do they deserve it?" we asked Lambert.

"I think so," he said.

We'll be watching. We'll let you know.

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