Monday, August 15, 2005

HOV for Hybrid vexes many

The Sacramento Bee points out two areas of hypocrisy in California's new Hybrid HOV law:

Two reader gripes: Aren't carpool lanes supposed to be used to reduce air pollution by encouraging more commuters per car, not more cars in the lane? And wouldn't a hybrid be saving more gas if it was stuck in the jammed-up freeway lanes where it presumably would be running on its electric motor, rather than zipping through the carpool lane on its gas engine?

One answer to the first question is that politicians have been changing their philosophy of carpool lanes over time. Hybrids are not, in fact, the first group of cars to be allowed in carpool lanes during commute hours with just one occupant inside. People in all-electric and compressed natural gas vehicles already have the green light for the carpool lane. Motorcyclists, too. And buses.

The experience of one of those drivers suggests this may take some getting used to for California Highway Patrol officers. One reader reports his son has been pulled over by the CHP several times for driving alone in a carpool lane. The officers failed to notice he was driving an electric vehicle with carpool lane stickers.

Meanwhile, back to the question of why allow hybrids in the higher-speed carpool lane if the most popular hybrid, the Toyota Prius, runs on electricity at low speeds, and mostly gas at higher speeds?

From her comments, it is clear Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, who authored the bill, is interested in getting more hybrids on any road, and the carpool lane privilege is just a politically supportable way of doing that - at least, until the carpool lanes start to get clogged. At that point, presumably the end of 2007, the state will kick the hybrids out of the carpool lanes.