Hybrids in the HOV Lane?

You’ve got to love the feeling. Cruising in a carful of people in the HOV lane and zipping along at 70 (ahem) past a parking lot of single drivers. Several proposals around the nation could change this situation dramatically, by allowing tens of thousands of high-mileage hybrid’s into the HOV lane.

Nowhere could this be a more contentious issue than in California, where 30% of hybrids are registered (stat via Green Car Congress). In fact this issue will soon come to closure as the newly passed federal highway bill finally enables a California State law enabling hybrids with fuel economy over 45mpg into the diamond lane. The Sacramento Bee says it still has hurdles, while the AP claims it is a done deal, at least by the end of the year. There will be a limit of 75,000, just slightly ahead of current vehicle registrations, but something that will quickly be reached by the fast selling vehicles.

Is this really needed? Hybrids already enjoy hefty government subsidies, cool green appeal, and gas savings. Toyota just announced that they will have 10 new hybrid models and 1 million hybrids on the road by 2007. Is more policy response really needed?

Carpooling is decreasing. Statistics from BTS show that 89% of workers sit alone in their car on their drive to work and a 17% drop in the number of carpoolers since 1985 (although its up slightly from 1999).

So the question is: should we use this spare capacity in our carpool lanes to help push hybrids along. Economists will say no way — they advocate price-based rationing schemes and “hot lanes”. Virginia has already implemented hybrids in HOV lanes, and the results are simply dramatic overcrowding of the HOV lanes. Many predict the same for California.

The sticky issue is implementation. Currently with the 45 mpg ceiling, both the Ford Escape Hybrid and The Accord Hybrid won’t qualify — why not, and who draws the line? What about high efficiency diesels? What about biodiesels? What about TerraPass members? How about another proposal: auction off the surplus HOV rights and directly use them to subsidize pollution reduction programs or even hybrid purchases.

At $10 million to pave an extra mile (FHWA), and poor mechanisms to monitor the benefits, it seems like HOV lanes are a challenging place to implement public policy.

What do you think? Do you think hybrids should be in the HOV lane?

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