Weekend use of the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County’s high-occupancy vehicle, or HOV, and high-occupancy toll, or HOT, lanes is here to stay.

Following a pilot program this summer that opened the agency’s five HOV/HOT lanes for use on weekends, the board voted Aug. 25 to make the program permanent.

Under the program, the lanes will be operational seven days a week on a permanent basis. The addition will cost the agency up to $3.3 million, according to Nader Mirjamali, METRO HOV/HOT lane project manager, adding $644,500 to the agency’s contract with TransCore ITS to operate the lanes.

“This is part of an effort to say that, yes, our job is to connect people to jobs, but it is also to connect people to recreational opportunities, weekend trips, leisure trips, trips to schools, universities, you name it,” METRO Board Chair Sanjay Ramabhadran said at the Aug. 25 board meeting.

The plan includes METRO’s five HOV and HOT lanes along I-45 North, I-45 South, I-69 North/Hwy. 59 North, I-69 South/Hwy. 59 South and Hwy. 290. The summer pilot will end Sept. 5, with the permanent program commencing Sept. 10.

“Having the consistency for seven-day operation is a significant benefit, and we’ve also seen a good response to ridership along the five HOV corridors during the pilot phase of this project,” Ramabhadran said at the Aug. 25 board meeting.

By seven weeks into the pilot period on Aug. 13-14, use of the lanes had increased 82% to 6,379 vehicles on Saturdays and 70% to 3,419 vehicles on Sundays, according to Mirjamali. The lanes see 70%-80% more use on Saturdays than Sundays. Mirjamali identified I-69 South/Hwy. 59 South and I-45 North as the corridors that saw the most weekend HOV/HOT lane use.

“Any time you see 70% and 80% increase in usage over seven weeks, there's hunger in the marketplace,” Ramabhadran said at the Aug. 18 agency public safety meeting.

METRO’s HOV and HOT lanes allow vehicles with two or more passengers as well as motorcycles to bypass traffic during peak travel hours through a separate lane. The reversible lanes allow travel inbound from 5-11 a.m. and outbound from 1-8 p.m. Monday-Friday.

Vehicles with two or more occupants—and three or more during peak traffic hours on Hwy. 290—can use the lanes for free, according to METRO's website. Single-occupant vehicles must pay a toll ranging from $1-$7 to use the lanes but are not allowed on during peak commuting hours.