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April 10, 2006

Rage Against the (Hybrid) Machine

Some California drivers are getting all steamed up that they have to share the carpool lanes with single-occupant hybrids, like the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic, under a new state program.  Some of the complaints, of course, should be taken with a grain of salt.  Said one fumer in an online discussion group:  "These [drivers] barely go 65 mph and allow no one to pass them on the right... Talk about road rage!"  It's hard to feel much sympathy for someone whining about not being able to exceed the speed limit.

But I do think there's reason to be concerned that extra hybrids in the HOV lanes may be slowing down carpools & buses.  From the LA Times article:

"There's not enough excess capacity to absorb the hybrids," said James Moore, director of USC's transportation engineering program. "I think the foreseeable outcome here is that the congestion advantage we traditionally attribute to [carpool] lanes will disappear."

Promoting hybrids could help save fuel. But there's plenty of reason to believe that -- looking at overall efficiency of road transport -- filling the HOV lanes with hybrids could do more harm than good.  Seems to me that California was smart in limiting the number of hybrids allowed in the carpool lanes, and studying the effects before proceeding.

Posted by ClarkWD | Permalink


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I'm not really clear how it's bad to have hybrids as SOVs but then entertain the idea of HOT lanes as a good idea. In both cases it's SOVs replacing people sharing vehicles.

Plus, most "hybrid" exemptions for HOV lanes only apply to the higher mileage ones like the Prius, Insight, and Civic - since it's usually promoted in terms of improving air quality.

Posted by: Joseph Willemssen | Apr 10, 2006 1:26:39 PM

Joseph -
Good point. My concern is that clogged HOV lanes slow down bus transit, making it less competitive with drive-alone commuting. In theory, HOT lanes don't do that.

Not only does bus commuting reduce GHGs (important in itself), it reduces demand for parking (which promotes compact urban development), and actually makes for safer transportation -- mile for mile, people on a bus are more than 10 times as safe as people in cars.

Posted by: Clark Williams-Derry | Apr 10, 2006 2:46:15 PM

Clark, I don't know if I mentioned it in the HOT lanes post months ago, but the "hybrid" exemptions expire in 2009 from the Fed law. Plus, states will always be able to limit the types of hybrids that are eligible (either by capping on a first-come basis, or by progressively upping the MPG and emissions requirements).

To me it's simply a question of who you want to reward with the quicker travel times - people who are willing to pay tolls, or those who are willing to pay extra for technology that lowers oil dependence, lowers gas prices, and lowers emissions for us all.

Posted by: Joseph Willemssen | Apr 10, 2006 3:24:26 PM