Thursday, September 01, 2005

Telling You So Since 2004

Ah yes, the NYT picks up the Hybrids-in-the-Carpool lane ire we've been expressing for years now, with a column on the unintended (or ignored) consequences of passing out unnecessary benies to the Priused among us:

That's the same mistake being made with hybrids. In Virginia, where they've been allowed for years in the car pool lanes, the lanes have become so clogged that an advisory committee has repeatedly recommended their banishment. The same problem will occur in California, where some of the car pool lanes were congested even without hybrids.

As traffic slows down, there will be more idling cars burning more gas and emitting more pollution, but politicians will be reluctant to offend hybrid owners by revoking their privilege. So it will be harder than ever to make the one change proven to speed up traffic and help the environment: convert the car pool lanes into what engineers call high-occupancy toll lanes.
Oh, so close.

HOV beats HOT on this blog, even though HOT lanes are still open to HOVehicles. Allowing folks to buy-in, aside from the fun class warfare arguments, still sets the stage for increased lane congestion and all the environmental ills described above. HOT lanes can be carefully controlled for flow based on an econ-student's dream scenario: the toll required for entry varies based on the lane's speed and volume. And I'm sure the traffic science of achieving the optimum number will be easy to suss out.

The thing that gets me about this piece, however, is that it continues to feed the foolish idea that an incentive is needed to promote hybrids - you know, those cars for which months-long waiting lists still exist? The basic assumptions here are wrong. Those who buy the cars do so out of environmental concerns and the fuel savings. SUV drivers don't buy their cars because they cost more, they buy them either because of how they look or because they are sure their kids soccer bags just won't fit in a station wagon. And I'm guessing drivers who will waste thousands of dollars a year on gas for their pretty, huge vehicles will be fine forking over the cash necessary to get into the HOT lanes. So the righteous pleasure the columnist predicts hybrid owners will feel at seeing SUV owners pay more to get into their special area will be little more than greenhouse gas induced self-delusion.

Get the hybrids out. Keep the pocketbooks closed. And continue to encourage carpooling to ease congestion - which is, as ever, the real goal behind the lanes. Cleaner air is just a perk.


Anonymous said...

HOT lanes will never happen in CA because we are broke. We can't pay to fix the roads, so how would we ever be able to afford the reconfiguration and expansion of our already-clogged freeways to put in HOT lanes? Impossible.

This state needs to turn its highways into turnpikes to get people off the roads and into carpools and public transportation.

Oh, and hybrids in HOV lanes is lame. Super lame.

cd said...

several bay area HOT lanes have been - at least preliminarily - approved. also, it doesn't necessarily require the construction of new freeways - something that will happen shortly after hell and the San Fernando Valley freeze over - it just requires the redesignation of existing car pool lanes and the sticking up of a few more transponder monitors, etc.