Patterico's Pontifications

7/30/2005

Opening Carpool Lanes to Hybrids: Not a Good Idea

Filed under: Public Policy — Patterico @ 12:12 pm

The L.A. Times reports:

Motorists who drive solo in fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles will gain access to carpool lanes in California under a massive transportation bill approved by Congress on Friday that includes billions of dollars for projects statewide.

This change is not likely to have the impact that its proponents expect.

I have nothing against hybrid cars. I may buy one myself some day. But it is pure wishful thinking to believe that you can open up carpool lanes to hybrids and not significantly impair the utility of carpool lanes. The reasoning is set forth in a thoughtful op-ed first published in the L.A. Times in April, by Robert W. Poole Jr., director of transportation studies and founder of the Reason Foundation. Poole says:

When a policy proposal has the bipartisan support of Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Democratic state Treasurer Phil Angelides and the Natural Resources Defense Council, can it really be a bad idea? Quite simply, yes. That’s the verdict on the bill now in the state Legislature to allow hybrid cars getting at least 45 miles per gallon to use the carpool lane, even if they hold just one occupant.

Politicians should think seriously about the consequences of this proposal.

Carpool lanes — formally called high occupancy vehicle, or HOV, lanes — were put in place to ease traffic congestion and to improve the efficiency of our freeways. So the first problem with allowing hybrids into HOV lanes is that these additional vehicles will soon use up the carpool lanes’ capacity, making them nearly as congested as the regular lanes.

Proponents, such as Jeff Morales, former director of Caltrans, try to reassure us by noting that over the next 15 years, hybrids will make up, at most, 2% of the vehicle fleet.

But 2% of the 29 million vehicles already on our roads would be 580,000 vehicles. If even half of those hybrids tried to use the HOV lanes at rush hour, the lanes would be swamped. It is predicted by the Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission that by 2010, seven of the region’s 18 HOV corridors will be at capacity, and by 2025 nearly all of them will be congested.

It is true that the measure pending before the Legislature would expire in 2008, but by that time driving in the carpool lane will have become an entitlement for the 50,000 to 70,000 hybrid owners in the state. It probably would prove difficult to prevent the law’s extension. The larger the entitled group becomes, the harder it will be to alter the law.

There is a more important practical concern than simply allowing more hybrids in carpool lanes. We will also end up allowing more solo drivers in non-hybrids — cheaters — into those lanes as well:

Also, letting in thousands of hybrid cars probably would create an enforcement nightmare for the California Highway Patrol. Today, a Prius is instantly recognizable as a hybrid. But the hybrids due out in 2005, 2006 and 2007 model years will be identical in appearance to ordinary cars; it’s just an engine option, not a different body style. They would be identified as authorized HOV-lane users only by a small decal.

Once drivers of the nonhybrid versions of these same models catch on, many of them will take their chances in the HOV lanes.

I drive in carpool lanes every weekday, and I can tell you that there are already cheaters galore in carpool lanes. This bill will only add to the problem.

My post is not necessarily an endorsement of the concept of carpool lanes. I tend to think the best solution is to turn some (or all) carpool lanes into toll lanes, as Poole suggests in his op-ed:

Clogging up the HOV lanes also precludes the possibility of turning some of them into high-occupancy/toll lanes, where single-occupant vehicles are allowed to use the carpool lane if they are willing to pay a toll. Higher tolls are charged electronically during rush hours to manage traffic flow, as has been done for years in San Diego and Orange County. Plans are underway in a dozen other metro areas around the nation for similar toll lanes.

These high-occupancy/toll lanes do three very good things.

First, they give all drivers the option of paying for a faster trip when it’s really important to them.

Second, they add only a limited number of cars to the lane, controlled by the size of the toll. That gives express bus service an uncongested guideway — offering a real speed advantage over freeway driving.

And third, they generate toll revenue to help pay for expanding the HOV/toll system.

It is characteristic leftist soft-headedness to think that you can just make more of a good thing with no adverse consequences. Introducing hybrids into carpool lanes is simply the latest example.

20 Responses to “Opening Carpool Lanes to Hybrids: Not a Good Idea”

  1. Ironically, you would save more gasoline by allowing randomly selected SUVs into the diamond lanes than allowing in hybrids.

    This sounds ridiculous, I know, but it illustrates another issue: Because hybrids efficiently handle stop and go and low-speed driving, they have inverted mileage numbers — they get better city mileage than open highway mileage.

    For example, the Prius EPA rating is 60 city and only 51 highway. Letting a Prius into the HOV lanes wastes gasoline on the margin. SInce gasoline SUVs have better mileage at highway speeds (albeit abysmal), they use less gas in the HOV lanes than in the stop-and-go congestions.

    This isn’t to say that one shouldn’t encourage hybrid cars — they are indeed the middle-term answer to high gasoline prices and CO2 production — at least as much as large SUVs are the problem. What it says, though, is that using HOV lanes as the carrot is unwise. Increasing the income tax writeoff for Hybrid purchase would make a better incentive.

    Kevin Murphy (6a7945)

  2. How will they identify hybrid vehicles? How long will it be before the black market will offer stick on hybrid placards?

    With Democrats it’s always a zero sum game, like the economy.

    bill (7c942b)

  3. Just another example of endless government tinkering while the tough decisions are avoided.

    The simplest way to encourage conservation is to raise the gasoline tax. But people notice tax increases. So instead they hand the highway patrol another nuisance duty.

    KenS (012be0)

  4. Opening carpool lanes to hybrids may not be a great idea in and of itself, so here’s a better one: open them to everybody.

    Xrlq (158f18)

  5. And X, and idea I think is even better than yours…

    Just freaking build more lanes. But I’m not bitter.

    Joel B. (c3cbe6)

  6. hybrids have access to HOV lanes in VA… which, if nothing else, has led to more hybrids being sold. In VA, hybrids get special plates, with, I believe, a CF designation (Clean Fuel).

    steve sturm (d3e296)

  7. Dream Interim Solution:

    Every freeway should be double- or triple-decked; the upper levels should all be tollways (transponder in the car, toll billed at the end of the month, so no need to stop and throw money); and there should be multiple monorail lines on top of the top level. It wouldn’t be as expensive as building a new freeway, because the really expensive part — obtaining all the land — is already done.

    Might be a little heavy, though. More reinforcement.

    Those of us who hate driving crowded roads could ride the monorail to anywhere the freeways went (either express or local), then walk or bus from there. And if driving is necessary or desirable, I will happily pay a toll to get there faster.

    That will do, at least until we all have individual air cars, like in the Jetsons.

    Dafydd

    Dafydd (f8a7be)

  8. Hmmm, you make some good points here.

    purple_kangaroo (1858dd)

  9. Pay us a visit at the OC Blog — we’ve had a great deal to say about the uselessness of carpool lanes — http://www.google.com/search?sourceid=navclient&ie=UTF-8&rls=GGLD,GGLD:2004-30,GGLD:en&q=carpool+site%3Awww%2Eocblog%2Enet

    Lurk (14779d)

  10. Instead of micromanaging which individuals are compassionate enough to drive in which lanes, we need to build more lane-miles overall. To start out, build 4 lanes in each direction on the 101, the entire length of SFV. These new lanes need to be isolated to avoid sympathetic congestion (where a stall in 1 lane causes all other lanes in sight to slow down due to perceived and actual danger).

    We really need to get over the fear of multiple level freeways. Any 4-year-old playing with blocks will tell you the cantilever design of the I-880 Cypress Section that collapsed in the ’89 Loma Prieta quake was retarded. Any engineer familiar with the material used to build those cantilevers would tell you they weren’t much good for anything.

    LA deserves to have shit freeways as long as it has such pathetically low expectations. The LA Times peddles this voodoo that it is workable for LA to have the same amount of trains/acre as NY, and everything must defer to that. I say Los Angeles should have the most awesome over-the-top freeways in the world.

    Shredstar (91b3b2)

  11. Personally, I’d like to see the carpool lanes abandoned completely, since they have utterly failed to accomplish their purpose for existence (ie: to encourage people to carpool to work). In the meantime, I’m all for allowing hybrids to use the carpool lanes. If it makes the lanes more congested, well good, because that means the lanes for non-Hybrid and non carpool drivers is a little bit less congested.

    Sean P (9b92a0)

  12. In VA they allow hybrids in the HOV lanes but they require a “clean fuel” license plate, it’s not just a placard but a state provided tag that costs extra. If you have a Prius but no ‘clean-fuel’ tag you get a ticket. My roommate has the Honda model and he gets about 55+/- riding up 95 to work every day. So a van with 4 people getting 15 MPH has a marginally lower fuel cost, until you factor in the ride to get all the people into the van.

    He is thinking of trying to transfer his ‘clean-fuel’ tag to his Corvette, I’ll let you know if they let him.

    They also allow the natural gas vehicles to use the HOV. According to my mechanic roommate, that’s where most of the cheating comes from as there are trucks that are dual-fuel. So the guy gets a ‘clean-fuel’ tag for his truck and then doesn’t use the clean-fuel option.

    Veeshir (68e89d)

  13. If I wanted to be snarky, I’d suggest requiring all large SUVs (and only large SUVs) to use the HOV lanes, so the rest of us could see. But that would be wrong.

    Kevin Murphy (6a7945)

  14. Actually, the whole idea of government incentives to buy hybrids is silly.
    To understand this, simply run down to your local Toyota dealership and try to buy a Prius. They’ll offer to take your order, and give you a call in five months or so, when your car comes in. If you want a Prius right away, you’ll have to buy a used one – possibly for more than the new price.
    If hybrids are already selling faster than the factory can turn them out, what for do we need special incentives?

    Eric Wilner (3936fd)

  15. Dafydd-

    Monorail? Sounds like more of a Shelbyville idea to me.

    the wolf (241e95)

  16. Daily Headlines and Blog Posts

    LA Politics Today — Express your views on the topics of the day
    MONDAY, AUGUST 1, 2005
    Includes Weekend Roundup

    Big Ideas 4 LA (1d819a)

  17. For a look at the future, just go back a few years, when our government opened up the San Bernadino Freeway busway to carpools of 2 or more (it was 3 or more up to that point). It was an unmitigated disaster with the carpool/bus lane ending up going slower than the rest of the freeway. Pressure finally mounted so that during rush hour, the 3 or more persons per car rule was put back in place.

    Darryl (227d8b)

  18. For example, the Prius EPA rating is 60 city and only 51 highway. Letting a Prius into the HOV lanes wastes gasoline on the margin. SInce gasoline SUVs have better mileage at highway speeds (albeit abysmal), they use less gas in the HOV lanes than in the stop-and-go congestions.

    Hrm… Okay, I own a 2004 Prius, I drive in VA which as others have noted, lets you drive in the HOV lanes solo via state-sanctioned license plates.

    I find the above logic a bit strange. We should let SUVs in the HOV lanes because they have horrible gas miliage, but not quite as horrible as when they are sitting in traffic? The reason we shouldn’t let hybrids in the HOV lanes solo is because of the topsy-turvy nature of their gas mileage (worse on the highway)???

    Methinks enacting such a thing would cause the exact opposite of what you would want: People would buy inneficient SUVs because they could ride in the HOV lanes solo. Letting the hybrids into the HOV lanes was designed to encourage the purchase of hybrid vehicles. And damn if it didn’t work like a charm. Before the legislation in VA, ride-sharing was low and the HOV lanes were under-utilized. Now they’re pretty busy, with several (possibly a majority) being hybrid vehicles. Less cars in the regular lanes and the HOV lanes are up to capacity. This is, IMHO, a good thing. Not the greatest of things, which would be HOV lanes full of carpoolers, running at capacity in hybrid cars, but better than what it was.

    Oh, and if you were wondering… I get about 52 mpg in typical commuting, and I just returned from an all-highway trip to West Virginia where I got about 45 mpg.

    Brian Hepler (6960d1)

  19. Since these are no longer “high occupancy vehicle (HOV)” lanes, I suggest they be called Lanes of Compassion. Soldiers who’ve received a Purple Heart or the Congressional Medal of Honor should be able to use the Lanes of Compassion (LOC) at any time as well. Oh, and Nurses and Teachers too.

    Shredstar (91b3b2)

  20. “Carpool lanes — formally called high occupancy vehicle, or HOV, lanes — were put in place to ease traffic congestion and to improve the efficiency of our freeways.”

    Then they were a failure. A better way to ease traffic congestion and to improve the efficiency of our freeways would be to let all drivers, regardless of whether we approve of the # of people in their car, select the safest lane available to them. Add mine to the chorus decrying carpool lanes. Carpool lanes are idiotic and I have never heard any good, objective argument for preserving them.

    “So the first problem with allowing hybrids into HOV lanes is that these additional vehicles will soon use up the carpool lanes’ capacity, making them nearly as congested as the regular lanes.”

    If that’s true, it would be a good thing. It would be a more efficient use of the number of lanes we have built, than at present. Having an empty or nearly-empty lane on the left hand side of the freeway is not a traffic advantage and does not equal low congestion. By this idiotic logic, we’d be even more “efficient” if we were to block off all but the rightmost lane to all traffic.

    Another problem with this: I don’t know where the author lives, but where I am the carpool lanes are often nearly as congested as regular lanes *anyway*, during rush hour at least.

    Someone mentioned carpool lanes getting opened and then becoming *more* congested than other lanes. This is because they are called “carpool lanes” so anyone eligible perceives them to be quicker and tries to join them. The solution is to paint over the damn white diamonds and remove special signs calling them “carpool lanes”. Then people would select lanes according to their usual criteria, not try to shoehorn themselves into the leftmost lane even if it’s more congested.

    “Clogging up the HOV lanes also precludes the possibility of turning some of them into high-occupancy/toll lanes, where single-occupant vehicles are allowed to use the carpool lane if they are willing to pay a toll.”

    Heaven forfend! Yet another idiotic avenue of social engineering will have been closed off to the government. The horror!

    “Second, they add only a limited number of cars to the lane, controlled by the size of the toll. That gives express bus service an uncongested guideway — offering a real speed advantage over freeway driving.”

    Again, why not just close down all but one lane and have these express buses use the rest. Apparently it’s important for express bus trips to be faster than regular car trips, so let’s force that to happen by slowing down all cars! Truly Mafia logic at work here.

    I’m convinced. Let the hybrids join the carpool lanes. Anything with so many idiotic arguments arrayed against it must have something to it.

    blixa (286371)


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