Do I hear $500? How about $600?

Here’s a fun one: California state legislator Jim Battin has submitted a bill that would allow purchasers of carbon offsets to ride in the carpool lane. No environmentalist, Battin just wants to be able to drive his Lincoln Aviator (14 mpg) “guilt-free in the empty diamond lane.”

Meanwhile, Desmog Blog grumbles over Washington State’s proposal for new road tolls. The tolls are needed because vehicle fuel efficiency gains have slowed the growth of gas tax revenue. Desmog Blog argues (strangely) that the new tolls would unfairly punish drivers who bought cleaner cars.

TerraPass to the rescue! We have long advocated the enviro-econo-nerd’s favorite road revenue scheme: auction off permits to drive in the carpool lane and use the revenue to fund greenhouse gas reductions elsewhere. Everyone wins: Battin can pay the going rate to drive his tank in the fast lane; do-gooder hybrid owners avoid a surcharge; and environmentalists can fund programs that reduce emissions far more effectively than car pool lanes ever could.

This will never happen, presumably, due to populist outrage when carpool lane permits hit $1,000 a pop. Too bad — that much green could buy a lot of clean energy.

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  1. garry gibbs - March 5, 2008

    another tax, way to go, that is so creative …try politics next.

  2. Boudica - March 5, 2008

    So what you’re saying is that carpool lanes should become a tool for the rich people who can afford to pay $500 and upward for such access, instead of a way to reward people that make more environmentally-sound choices? Don’t the people who can afford to buy access to the carpool lane already have enough advantages at the expense of everyone else?

  3. Adam Stein - March 5, 2008

    Ah, excellent! As predicted — populist outrage will sink this like a rock. Let’s work through this a bit:
    Garry — your tax money already funds roads. So a proposal like this could lower your tax bill by pushing the cost onto those who actually use the roads and are most willing to pay for access to low-congestion driving.
    Boudica — that’s exactly what I’m suggesting (because I’m not a politician, and therefore can get away with such things). Rewarding people for making environmentally sound choices is grand if it works, but carpool lanes don’t appear to work very well. The money raised could be much better spent on, say, public transportation, which would benefit the general public and the environment more than carpool lanes seem to.
    If anyone is interested in the theory behind this, Google HOT lanes. You’ll turn up a ton of good stuff, including this lengthy but readable guide from the Federal Highway Administration. A HOT lane isn’t quite the same as auctioned permits, but it’s in the same general direction.

  4. steve - March 5, 2008

    car pool lanes are not an answer. what is an answer is mass transit. can’t find space for a rail system, how about the roads? close a lane of every major road and make it a bus only lane. cities already have bus systems that adjust light timing so busses do not have to stop, and if they are the only ones useing a lane, no congestion to worrry about. call it a “road train” and publish reliable usable schedules. people will use it if they can rely on it. can’t rely on public transit and you end up relying on yourself to get around in your own car.

  5. Lori - March 5, 2008

    I agree totally with Steve. Carpool lanes are not the answer. Besides carpool lanes never start early enough, and always stop and end up merging at the worst possible time with the rest of the backup traffic. Reliable mass transit, bus lanes, telecommuting, or dont approve new construction BEFORE you worked out the traffic implications.

  6. Aaron A. - March 5, 2008

    It’s an interesting idea, assuming you trust the government to not reapportion that money toward building more roads or toward politicians’ pet projects. Obviously, it’ll come off as another concession to The Rich, but I could easily see upper-middle-class folks paying $1,000 per year to knock an hour off of their daily commute. Perhaps we could integrate Steve’s suggestion and use the money to build more bike trails or commuter trains.
    Also, it seems that enforcement would be difficult; how is a traffic cop supposed to see a little tiny permit as the car whizzes by? RF tags, perhaps? (We have virtually no highways here in the Last Frontier, and thus no HOV lanes, so I’m pretty much in the dark. What would they do for, say, a Camry hybrid, which looks very similar to a regular Camry?)
    More to the point, though, this just makes single-occupancy driving more attractive. If I wanted to avoid a long aggravating smog-producing commute, I could share a ride with friends, catch a bus, ride a bike, telecommute… or I could buy a permit and be done. That sounds a lot like the “indulgence” argument that has plagued offset providers from the beginning: “don’t bother doing anything to reduce pollution; you can just buy your way to a Green Life

  7. Adam Stein - March 5, 2008

    More to the point, though, this just makes single-occupancy driving more attractive…you can just buy your way to a Green Life.
    There nothing green about buying a permit like this — you wouldn’t do it for environmental bragging rights. Right now, driving is massively subsidized. We all pay a lot of money in taxes for roads that most of us don’t use. This scheme just introduces some price discrimination so that the burden of paying for roads is more fairly distributed. (It also makes driving more costly, so I don’t really see how single-occupancy driving becomes more attractive in this situation.)
    There should be environmental side benefits to such a program, because it reduces the free rider problem: right now, I may as well drive as much as possible, because the roads are already paid for.

  8. Adam Stein - March 5, 2008

    Eric N. — not a bad idea, but you’d have to make the cutoff much more stringent than just allowing hybrids in the lanes. There are too many hybrids out there (and not all of them get great mileage). But in principle this is a cool idea that could act as a sort of feebate for super-efficient vehicles.

  9. Will. M - March 5, 2008

    Why not do what Japan and other countries do: make the cost of annually licensing your vehicle commensurate with its MPG? Draft a law that lets the small, somewhat less polluting high mileage vehicle be the cheapest to register annually, and charge the guzzlers the most? In CA, our gas prices already reflect a good portion of the taxes added to a gallon of gas, and yet we still don’t pay what Japan and other nations pay per gallon. And add text to the law which requires that the revenue be spent on public transportation solutions and NOT highway building or maintainence.

  10. Aaron A. - March 5, 2008

    Adam Stein said:
    There nothing green about buying a permit like this

  11. Anonymous - March 5, 2008

    Will M.- I love the idea! In fact, I proposed the idea in another message board where I came up with the following, proposed formula based on engine displacement (although you could tweak it to fit other criteria):
    $registration = $25+liters^5
    1.0 liters = $26 registration
    2.4 liters = $105 registration
    3.0 liters = $268 registration
    4.0 liters = $1,049 registration
    5.0 liters = $3,150 registration (watch out, Rustang owners!)
    6.2 liters = $9,186 registration (guess what? your H2 sucks anyway )
    8.4 liters = $41,846 registration! (because you NEED 8.4 liters!)

  12. Chad - March 6, 2008

    “$registration = $25+liters^5 ”
    Just slap on a gas tax. It is simpler and fairer. Someone who drives an SUV 5000 miles each year is every bit as “green” as somone who drives a Prious 20,000 miles a year. Why are you treating them differently?

  13. Eric N. - March 6, 2008

    I see your point, but I’m not sure I’d say they’re “every bit as green”, because they’ll always be less efficient (at least until someone brings us a 1.5L SUV). Surely, the equation could be made much more complex, but it the purpose was simply to demonstrate an example.

  14. garry gibbs - March 13, 2008

    Polution, carbon build up is the least of the problems.You will be glad to be even able to get the fuels here shortly, at any cost.So we need alternatives, like drilling where ever we can to get what we need until the tech. is available to make a real diff.Short of that they are out for your wallet, no matter how package it.

  15. dr2chase - March 20, 2008

    It’s not just the inefficiency of the SUV. Big cars have a second-order effect of intimidating other people into buying bigger cars, or not driving their little cars, or not biking (a Smart Car can pass a bike with room to spare without crossing the center line — not so for the larger SUVs).