MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesotans know even the smallest amount of snow can throw a big wrench into a commute. It can also jack up the prices to use the MnPASS lane.

That has Jane from White Bear Lake wanting to know: How does MnDOT set the price of a MnPASS ride? Good Question.

MnPASS lanes along interstates 35W, 35E and 394 are in effect each weekday morning from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., and afternoons from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. The cost of the ride ranges from 25 cents to $8.

Where drivers enter is what they pay for the entire ride.

“Basically the price is figured out by how many cars are in the lane,” said Bobbie Dahlke with MnDOT.

There are loop detectors — or sensors – in the road at every half mile. Those loop detectors measure how many cars are in the MnPASS lane and how fast they are travelling.

gq mnpass lanes 0221t213157b How Does MnDOT Set The Price Of A MnPASS Ride?

(credit: CBS)

The pricing for the MnPASS lane is not directly affected by the traffic in the non-MnPASS lanes.

MnDOT computers then use that data to automatically update the pricing every three minutes. So if the sensors recognize a slow-down in the MnPASS lane, the price of the ride increases.

The idea is to keep the MnPASS lane flowing at 50 miles per hour.

“The price they see in front of them in downstream a ways, it’s not right in front of them,” Dahlke said. “So, people will call up and say, ‘There was no traffic.’ Well, sure, right in front of you there was no traffic, but down the lane, it indicates something has happened.”

Snow, accidents or congestion from other roads can have a big impact on how quickly the cars are moving.

When the price increases, people are less likely to jump into the lane. On a typical Tuesday morning, the 35W MnPASS lane in the morning average $2.48, has about 2,800 riders and brings in almost $7,000.

On a snowy morning, that same route will average $4.03, has about 2,300 riders and brings in slightly more than $9,000.

MnDOT officials said the MnPASS program is not a revenue generator for them because all of that money goes right back into maintaining the MnPASS system.

Dahlke said MnDOT research has shown having a MnPASS lane helps with congestion along that corridor because it encourages people to carpool or take public transportation.

“The point of the MnPASS lane is to relieve congestion, give people that reliable trip time and move more people through the corridor,” she said.

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