California’s “Solo-Carpool” Hybrid Exemption is a Really Dumb Idea

By on May 15, 2007

In January, Gary “Mr. Roadshow” Richards of the San Jose Mercury News argued that hybrid cars with one occupant should be allowed in California carpool lanes because they reduce congestion, gasoline usage and smog. Richards was deploying the exact same argument used to justify the passage of California statute AB 2628 which allowed “solo-carpools” in the first place. Here’s a simple question about the logic employed: was the California Assembly on peyote when they cooked up this crap?

It’s certainly true that an average hybrid-powered vehicle uses less gasoline per mile than a “normal” (i.e. gas only) car. But it’s also true that putting two passengers into any car makes it roughly twice as efficient– in terms of mpg per person– as the same vehicle with only one passenger. So even if a solo hybrid is 40% more efficient than a solo car, it’s 60% less efficient that the comparative non-hybrid with two passengers. Put a third passenger aboard the non-hybrid and it’s game over– by a very large margin indeed.

Bottom line: solo-carpools increase congestion, rather than prevent it. To suggest otherwise indicates a failure to grasp elementary mathematics, and common sense. I mean, how do you reduce congestion without reducing the actual number of cars on the road? Answer: you can’t.

And yet AB 2628 incentivizes drivers to buy hybrids and use the carpool lane without human companionship. If they can drive solo, what reason do they have to go even a mile out of their way to pick up someone to carpool (in the previous, coherent sense of the word)? NONE.

It’s a question that would be well worth asking California’s 85k (at last count) carpool stickered hybrid drivers (more than half of whom live in the Bay Area).

Meanwhile, the 2008 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released its revised fuel economy ratings. The Toyota Prius’ combined 2008 numbers drop to 46mpg. The Honda Civic hybrid sinks to 42mpg, while the conventionally (though frugally) powered Honda Fit scores 31mpg. At the other end of the scale, the Chevrolet Suburban sinks to 17mpg and the Rolls Royce Phantom plunges to 14mpg.

Returning to our “passenger-miles per gallon” (PMPG) calculations, a Fit with two people on board gets 62 PMPG. A Suburban with a trio seems positively green at 51 PMPG– especially compared to a solo gas-electric Civic (42 PMPG). In fact, a chauffeur-driven Phantom with a brace of Grey Poupon sharers drains resources at the same rate as the hybrid Civic. Truth be told, a wide variety of luxury cars and SUVs with “real” carpools trounce solo hybrids daily.

What’s more, hybrid batteries lose their ability to hold an electric charge over time. In 2006, the Department of Energy conducted static battery testing on several end-of-life (160,000 miles) hybrids. They reported that two first gen Prii had “remaining battery capacities of about 39%.” [TTAC contacted Toyota PR about this study. They declined to comment.] In other words, the more you “carpool” your hybrid, the worse your mileage.

In terms of emissions, hybrids may have a relatively small “carbon footprint” compared to non-hybrids, but a stampede is still a stampede.

A Suburban driving three-up produces nine percent fewer greenhouse emissions than a solo driver in a Civic Hybrid. Two people in a Honda Fit produces 28 percent lower emissions per person than the gas-electric Honda. Hell, a run-of-the-mill Accord with a party of two achieves 14 percent lower emissions than a solo Civic hybrid. Where’s the bumper sticker for Hummer carpools saving the Earth?

Once again, we’re talking about new cars. As a hybrid’s batteries age, its emissions numbers will increase (the engine must run longer and more often to compensate). In fact, if you think about it, hybrids should never be allowed in the carpool lane regardless of the head count. After all, all hybrid cars produce lower emissions and consume less gasoline per mile in stop-and-go traffic than travelling unhindered in the carpool lane.

Anyway, as previously stated by this website, California’s solo-carpool caveat is a complete violation of the spirit of the entire carpooling concept. Even Mr. Roadshow admits that the inclusion of solo hybrids pisses on an idea designed to “get more solo drivers out of their cars.” “The law allowing solo drivers in hybrids that get 45 mpg or better to use carpool lanes doesn't help here,” Richard concedes.

But Richards and the California legislature are happy to clock hybrid vehicles’ EPA numbers and SULEV (super ultra low emission vehicle) status and back the pro-hybrid policy– without bothering to think through the implications of their PC posturing.

When you do the math, there’s no logical reason whatsoever for California’s solo-carpool stickers. It’s time for California to revoke the hybrids solo-carpool free ride and return the carpool lane to its original, effective form.

77 Comments on “California’s “Solo-Carpool” Hybrid Exemption is a Really Dumb Idea...”

• shaker

As Toyota ramps up its production of Prii (Priuses?), a ready market now exists. Sorry to say, but a large part of what an average American perceives as “freedom” is the ability to go anywhere they want, anytime they want, without having to taxi anyone else around. The aversion to carpooling is as “patriotic” as apple pie, and this move (although political, rather than logical), is merely facing that reality. It will reduce congestion in the short term by moving vehicles onto open pavement, but yes, it violates the spirit of the HOV lane.

This is just as asinine as the hybrid exemptions to London’s Congestion Charges.
I also enjoy that it seems no one creating the legislation cared to look at the fact that a hybrid runs just like a normal car on the freeway, under full gasoline power. Only in stop-n-go city traffic does a hybrid present any fuel savings. A Yaris 3dr or Mini Cooper or Fit get practically the same mileage on the freeways as a Prius, yet after a few years they don’t have useless batteries to dispose of! Where’s the environmental savings in that!
I feel hybrids are a good stepping stone to better energy efficient vehicles, but cetainly not all they are perceived to be by the general public and media.
A Prius will not save our planet.

• Megan Benoit

So, a hybrid Durango with three people in it is DOUBLY saving the world! I get it now! Great article.

• jurisb

It doesn`t matter if mathematically hybrids with one person are less economical than regular vehicles with fuel engines. what matters that a fuel efficient vehicle is given an advantage in a traffic. It`s an advertisement, or an invitation for people to buy more hybrids. and hybrids as such are more efficient vehicles. of course , there is also a bus lane, and people get encouraged to use buses, for it saves space etc. the same way people are encouraged to use hybrids, and it doesn`t matter if in some cases fuel vehicles are the same or even more practical and economical.the idea is to promote the usage of fuel efficient vehicles. I think it `is a smart move,.

• Economyst

Toyota has captured the mindshare of the public like apple and its ipod – it does not neccesairly have to be the best product on the market but as long as its perceieved to be the best product then it will continue to flourish. Prius has added more to Toyotas image than merely sales alone perhaps the accountants and money men running the big 3 should take notice.

• ash78

jurisb pretty much nailed it.

The hybrid exemption is not out of a purely rational belief that a hybrid is cleaner, even with just one person–it’s simply another incentive to get people into them. Taking the privilege away (which logically should happen at some point) is going to be a “cold, dead hands” endeavor, though.

Similarly, do they deserve tax incentives? Probably not, but it’s just another technique to help prop up demand (which ironically doesn’t need any help…at least not until recently). You could just as easily argue that hybrid buyers have a higher median income than the general population and thus don’t need tax help, but that would also be missing the point of what the tax incentives were meant to accomplish.

Ash

• quasimondo

Perhaps there should be tax incentives to get people to use mass transit as well instead of this crazy talk of artificially inflating the price of gasoline and congestion taxes.

When this legislation was initially passed, and the ony hybrids that dotted the landscape was the Prius, Insight, and Civic Hybrid, it might have made sense. But with more auto makers climbing aboard the Hybrid Express, it does seem a bit unfair that the owner of a Nissan Altima hybrid can breeze through the carpool lanes, while the owner of that Aveo is stuck with everybody else, even though the two cars share identical highway estimates.

One can even go further with the argument that since the hybrid will burn less gas being stuck in traffic than the Aveo will, the exemption really should go to the Aveo.

As it stands, the only way to rectify this situation is to modify the legislation so that the exemption applies to vehicles that has a fuel economy rating above a designated threshold.

• Am I the only one who sees government intervention to encourage a particular type of vehicle as a bad thing? I'm no transplant basher, but it strikes me as inherently unfair.  Even if you accept the principle that the government should encourage sales of high mpg vehicles by effectively punishing "true" car poolers (by adding congestion), this is NOT the right way to go about it. By incentivizing one type of propulsion system (i.e. gas – electric hybrids), you de-incentivize (is that a verb?) others. Why not just set an EPA mpg limit for vehicles using the carpool lane? Any vehicle over 40mpg, for example. That would allow diesels and efficient gas engines to get into the game. Still, any change along this line still pisses on the spirit– and benefits– of the carpool concept. So I'm with Alex: keep it simple, keep it pure.

• “To suggest otherwise indicates a failure to grasp…common sense.”
Bingo.

Interesting info about the DOE study of hybrid batteries. That’s not gotten much press, it seems.

jurisb: “what matters that a fuel efficient vehicle is given an advantage in a traffic.”

Okay, where are the incentives for my Civic.
It’s fuel efficient. Should I not get a HOV pass?

Even more to the point, should I not receive a tax break for buying a fuel-efficient car? I think so. But no, because Honda pulls off damned respectable MPG numbers with a normal engine 26/35 MPG new EPA #s, it does not count. It should. Then again, that requires the use of that all-too-rare thing called common sense…

Great editorial.

Edit:
RF said: “Why not just set an EPA mpg limit for vehicles using the carpool lane?”
EXACTLY.

• ash78

RF,

Agreed that any Gov intervention is worse than none at all. Efficient cars should stand on their own, and they’d still probably sell just as many–at least in the first few years–as they would without extra incentives. Remember, every tax break is just a transfer payment. So all the non-hybrid drivers have to pay slightly for all the hybrid drivers, though the per capita amount is very small.

And if we are to believe the Glorious Leader yesterday, he essentially said the primary auto goals moving forward are reduction of CO2 and higher mpg (often one and the same). So does this mean carte blanche for Diesels, even though the EPA is unusually tough on them (compared to, say, Euro4)? Not likely, he’s probably just blowing more soot…er..smoke.

• nick2ny

I know this comment isn’t totally pertinent, but “passenger-miles per gallon” (which is what the unit in question is called) is something that’s been on my mind lately. I rode a pedal bike last June to see how far I could travel on the amount of energy in a gallon of gasoline (31,000 Calories- I made it 633 miles– there’s a podcast about the ride on Scientific American, it starts about halfway through).

So a cyclist gets 600mpg, and a person driving a car gets 40mpg. Well, what about with 2 people? Lets say a car gets 40mpg. With one person in the car, that’s 40 passenger-miles per gallon. With two people in the car, it would achieve 80 passenger-miles per gallon (move two people 40 miles with one gallon). Four-up, it would get 160 passenger-miles per gallon (4*40mpg). More on the bike later.

This concept is especially important when calculating the environmental impact per person of mass transit. A bus, which gets an abysimmal 4mpg, gets 160 passenger miles per gallon with 40 passengers on board (40*4mpg). The trouble is, if a bus holds 40 people, and you want to move 41 people, you need two buses. you double the amount of fuel consumed to move that extra person, and the passenger-miles per gallon of the convoy comes down to 81. (from: 41 passengers*(4mpg/2 vehicles))

A 75% full 747 gets 30 passenger-miles per gallon, and a cruise ship gets about 10-passenger miles per gallon.

So what about a bike. I got 633 miles per gallon, but what if two people go on a bike ride. It takes twice as much energy for two people to ride bikes, but they get twice as many “passenger-miles.” So the efficiency stays the same. So whether one person rides to work, or everyone rides to work, each person is getting 600 passenger-miles per gallon [ 2*(600 mpg / 2 vehicles) ]. And you don’t have to go in the same direction as anyone else!

I saw a guy with a kid in a child seat on the back of his bike on my way to work this morning and thought, holy crap, (approx.) 1200 passenger miles per gallon!

• nick2ny:

Riding a (pedal-powered) bike is wonderful this time of year. Problem is, it sucks come the 5-degree days of wintertime. Not to mention the joys of snow, sleet, ice and slush. Otherwise, sure, bikes work as an alternative.

• ZoomZoom

At the moment, I don’t have time to read the article and prior comments in their entirety, but I did want to say that I agree that hybrid drivers should not receive a “gimme” on this.

It’s not fair to change the rules (of the carpool lanes) to accomodate some favored new class of driver. And it defeats the purpose of the carpool lanes, which is to get more cars off the roads.

Anyhow, I’ll come back later as time permits.

• brettc

A Jetta TDI gets about 45 MPG on the highway on a bad day. So when I was carrying around 3 other people the other day, I was effectively getting 180 PMPG. Very nice! Hybrids are nothing but a fad that's going to leave a lot of hard to dispose of waste in the end. I like how Toyota is even down to offering incentives now on Prii to move them. When the diesels start coming, I doubt much will be needed in the way of incentives, even in CA. Of course, we're talking about the People's Republic of Kal-i-fornia (as Ahnold would say), where diesel passenger cars haven't been available new for years, so there will be a lot of pent up demand for something efficient besides a hybrid or a Fit/Yaris.

• Amen. Two things to add.
1. How about we give a jump start to Commuter Cars (commutercars.com) by allowing them to use the lane. They take up half a lane, thus easing congestion WITH the same number of vehicles on the road. There is logic to this.
2. If it is purely to save resources, then why not give this designation based upon plain ol’ MPG instead of MPG+ one specific type of drivetrain. I find it illogical that a Civic Hybrid can HOV but a more efficient Metro XLI (or electric vehicle, or small diesel) cannot.

• HEATHROI

I wonder if Gary Richards has a Prius?

In this vein could I use a Corvette in the carpooling lane? its relatively efficent too. come on mr policeman sir its a small car.

• miked

RF – you’re exactly right. Every time the government gets involved, it ends up screwing stuff up. Rather than getting smart people to look at the problem and make a reasonable regulation (e.g. your idea of any car above 40mpg gets the HOV lane), they make some stupid very specific rule.

The reason this is bad is that market specializes in optimizing its way around regulations. So if you make a bunch of specific rules the market will find it’s way around them, often by violating the spirit of the law. The key is to make regulations that make sense and which contain the spirit of the law in the wording.

In this case, it may be much cheaper for a car company to make a hybrid-in-name-only vehicle that barely gets better mileage than it would be to make a gas only high mileage car. If they only have the money to introduce one new model, guess which one they’ll pick?

Examples of dumb laws

Hybrid in HOV only (better would be to regulate certain MPGPP in HOV Lane)

Outlawing Incandescent light bulbs (better would be to regulate the efficiency of all light bulbs and let the market find the cheapest way to make them)

I could type more, but I need to head out to work now.

Mike

• William C Montgomery

Robert Farago: “Am I the only one who sees government intervention to encourage a particular type of vehicle as a bad thing?”

You are not alone. This proposals is either the result of bureaucratic ineptitude, as intimated by Alex’ piece, or there is a wealthy special interest behind the movement. Has anyone looked in to see how much lobbying Toyota or other big hybrid manufacturers have contributed to the “well intentioned” politicians pushing this? I would like to know.

Either way, government meddling in this is a bad thing.

• NICKNICK

Any time the gov’t incentivizes anything you will have problems. Look at state sales tax laws: food is tax-free, but candy is not. Well, how do you define candy? They’ve gone with flour content. As a result, some cookies are food, others are candy, and the spirit of the law is forgotten.

There should be no tax breaks because there should only be taxes based on use. If you use the road, you pay for the roads through gasoline. (I’ll try not to get off on a holding pen, i mean school, tax discussion). If you drive a hybrid, well la-de-dah.

If you want to buy into the “who killed the electric car” conspiracy, why not ask *WHY* the gov’t is promoting a certain type of vehicle (or any vehicle at all). Is it favoritism lavished on the “imports?” Is it to drum up sales? Is it to get everyone financed and indebted to death?

People who drive high MPG cars do get a tax break every time they fill up their gas tanks. Michigan drivers pay \$.19 state tax, \$.184 federal tax plus 6% sales tax and 0.875 cpg for environmental regulation fee for refined petroleum fund. At the current 3.29 a gallon in Traverse City, a car that gets 40 MPG pays a per mile tax of about 1.5 cents per mile and the driver of a 20 MPG car pays about twice that amount or 3 cents per mile.
http://www.gaspricewatch.com/usgastaxes.asp
To see the impact of taxes on the price of fuel.

Robert Farago: “Am I the only one who sees government intervention to encourage a particular type of vehicle as a bad thing?”

No. The law of unintended consequences always prevails. But they sure do get to “feel good” about it.

• How long do you think it will be before fake “Hybrid” badges will be a big deal on the black market, and hybrid owners have to worry more about stolen badges than stolen license plates?

• ash78

NICK NICK
If ONLY food were free of sales tax in everywhere. Most states exempt it, but we pay a full 9% on food and OTC medicine, which really adds up, especially for the “poor” who should have more financial incentive to eat at home and take care of illnesses.

That’s off-topic, but just pointing that out lest anyone think it was a nationwide thing.

• Geotpf

This was an incentive to get people to purchase hybrid cars; nothing more, nothing less. I believe they have stopped handing out stickers for the program (although the existing ones are still good). In any case, carpool lanes are pretty dumb in general-unless they actually cause people to carpool (a few, but not many), the only people who use them are people who would carpool even if the lanes didn’t exist-which means if the lane is mostly empty, then traffic in the other lanes is higher than it would be if the carpool lane was a normal lane, creating more pollution from the idling cars.

And, yes, Priuses do get significantly better mileage on the highway than a normal car does. It’s not quite as dramatic as thier advantage in the city, but there are hills and stop and go driving on the highway, which require braking, which allows the batteries to be charged via regenerative braking. Remember that while the Prius is rated 60 city, it’s also rated 51 highway (2007 numbers).

As for incentives on the Prius-they significantly increased production of it recently, and therefore added some minor incentives to keep them moving at the higher rate. Sales are up 73.7% year to date (Jan-Apr).

• ash78

NICK NICK
If ONLY food were free of sales tax everywhere. Most states exempt it at least partially, but we pay a full 9% on food and OTC medicine, which really adds up, especially for the “poor” who should have more financial incentive to eat at home and take care of illnesses.

That’s off-topic, but just pointing that out lest anyone think it was a nationwide thing.

• KixStart

HOV Lanes themselves are ridiculous. We’ve got one such setup here in the Twin Cities. It’s underutilitized, has limited accessibility, has expensive dedicated bridging and ramps and does nothing to solve the problem of what to do with the traffic at the end of the HOV lane.

Hartford, CT, has a similar setup. Expensive, limited utitility and lots of extra asphalt.

What’s the point? Congestion is easily managed, at lower cost to society as a whole, by either implementing a congestion tax or jacking up the price of gas. Either provides individuals an incentive to make compromises and use mass transit or carpool. Jacking up the gas tax years ago would have avoided some of this absurde HOV construction and freed those resources for other projects.

By the way, the article author might consider the possibility that hybrids are allowed into the HOV lane, not to provide an incentive to buy cars that generate less pollution or reduced GHGs or use less gas or whatever but to fill up underutilitzed HOV lanes without admitting that HOV lanes are a colossal waste.

• rprellwitz

Glenn Swanson: said “Even more to the point, should I not receive a tax break for buying a fuel-efficient car? I think so.”

You do. I know this varies from state to state but in Wisconsin (where I live)\$0.309 / per gallon excise tax and the Federal excise tax is \$0.184 for a total of \$0.493 / per gallon. I assume your 26/35 mpg numbers are for your car and you can achieve a mixed driving number of 30 mpg which compared to the 16.2 mpg achieved by my RS4 nets you a tax savings of \$0.014 per mile and all because of your choice of vehicle.
http://www.gaspricewatch.com/usgastaxes.asp This link has gasoline taxes for each state.

And you didn’t have to pay a gas guzzler tax when you took delivery.

It seems that if the government powers really want to affect the total consumption of gasoline they need jack this excise tax up to a rate that promotes meaningful changes.

On an eco friendly note I bike my 25 mile (one way) commute 1 – 2 times per week from march through october thereby increasing my effective mpg to approximately 23.

• Cowbell

Geotpf, I’m not sure about California, but in Northern Virginia, the HOV lanes certainly do get people to car pool. Specifically up 95 to 395 and into Washington. There are large parking lots to the south where people park and then wait at what look like bus stops for people going in the right direction. It’s HOV-3 (3 people in the car) and I’m sure almost all of the people in those lanes would not be car-pooling without the regulation.

• Economyst

Congestion is a symptom not the cause which is a multitude of factors ranging from lifestyle choices, poor public planning, through to people travcelling further to jobs as their is less job security and less are making the commitment to living closer to work. So any solution that deals with the symptoms will inevitably fail. Even if cars had 100mpg and were filled with 4 passengers you would still have congestion.

• jthorner

1) No more stickers are being given out.
2) They sure look easy to reproduce.
3) Carpool lanes do not achieve the intended purpose of getting more people to double up. The vast majority of those using the No. Cal carpool lanes would have had two or more peope in the vehicle anyway. They are very popular with construction crews who already had 2-4 guys in the truck going between jobs. Most of the good jobs around here are not fixed schedule 9-5 type deals. You are not going to get ahead at work if you have to bug out at 5:19 PM to meet your carpool buddies. Years ago I tried it and it simply didn’t work. Now I’m self employed and work from home which is great, but most folks are not in a position to pull that off.

The real problem is adding jobs to a region faster than housing has been added. Most city government geniuses (many with degrees in “planning”) love jobs and hate housing because housing costs more to support with schools, police, fire, roads and trash collection whilst giving lower taxes per acre than commercial and industrial development.

Mr. Roadshow’s area, where I also live, could fix it’s traffic problem by allowing the construction of more and higher density housing in the cities like Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara and San Jose where the jobs are. People don’t really want to commute an hour or more to work, but there simply isn’t enough close in housing available to do otherwise. The reason individuals give for living far away is the cost of housing, but the high cost of close in housing is due to restricted supply. Fix the housing supply problem and the traffic problems and excess fuel use fix themselves. Building carpool lanes ever further out from the jobs center is simply the wrong way to solve the problem. Prius stickers are a curiousity of an issue compared to this big one.

• Paul Milenkovic

There is still that comic video from Larry David (writing genius for the Seinfeld show), where he is on the cellphone with his pal inviting him spur-of-the-moment to the Dodgers game, he is stymied by the traffic congestion that he knows he will face, and then he hails a young woman plying a trade to get into his car and offers to pay her for the service of occupying a seat so he can use the carpool lane.

• pete

Have people seen the HOV lanes in the Bay Area – they’re nearly full and one of the causes is indeed the explosion in the number of tin-Prii with their little stickers!

In the more rural sections of the freeway system these green machines can be seen doing over 80mph – how green is that? What is the CD of a tin carrying batteries?

• Alex Dykes

“”HEATHROI:
I wnder if Gary Richards has a Prius?””

Why yes, yes he does, complete with solo-carpool sticker.

jsrb,

The problem with incentivising hybrids in this fashion is that it is contrary to the goals of HOV lanes which are to reduce congestion, reduce smog and reduce gasoline usage. By clogging up the carpool lanes in the Bay Area with an extra 45,000+ hybrids impacts everyone including real carpools who will get worse gas mileage because the lanes are congested with solo-hybrids. If you want to incentivise hybrid purchases, give a tax break, or subsidize research or something, but keep them out of the carpool lane and perhaps these Prius drivers would pick up a passenger and get 120 MPGPP in the carpool lane. Fact of the matter is, if I had a hybrid with a solo-carpool sticker, you can be damn sure I’m not going to make any attempt to pick up anyone to carpool. You’ve just created an atmosphere that is inherently anti-carpool/anti-ride-share.

• Fred D.

The issue of hybrid declining battery capacity is rarely mentioned. Check out the Dept of Energy’s web site for hybrid testing results:

http://avt.inel.gov/hev.shtml

One noticable item — Prii fuel economy drops off about 10% after 5-10k miles. Is this because the battery has lost it’s “newness”???

This almost amounts to fraud on Toyota’s part. It gets good fuel economy for govt testing purposes, but in real life it drops off quite a bit as it’s used. That affects the payback figure quite a bit.

• SunnyvaleCA

California also allows “kiddypools.” Non-licensed people count towards carpooling. How is driving a your own child to kindergarten every morning and then driving back solo–two trips EACH rush hour–ameliorating traffic? Someone with two children but only one going to school can get the carpool bonus each way for their good work at overpopulating the world and causing even more traffic woes for the future generation.

• Martin Albright

California also allows “kiddypools.” Non-licensed people count towards carpooling.

Every HOV lane I’ve seen only specifies “2 (or 3 or 4) or more persons per vehicle” Not “licensed drivers” but “persons.” And I, too, wonder why a driver with a child or other nonlicensed person should be using the “carpool” lane. After all, it’s not like little Timmy has the ability to drive himself to school but has agreed to “carpool” with mommy.

Incidentally, motorcycles are also allowed to use HOV lanes, by federal law. Unfortunately, some states don’t realize this and solo motorcyclists have been ticketed for using the HOV lanes, with varying results. Here in CO the HOV lanes have signs on them that say “motorcycles OK” so it’s not an issue.

• carguy

Maybe the carpool lane should be based on a per occupant fuel economy. For example a vehicle that makes 20MPG with two passengers would have a 40MPG/passenger. A Chevy Tahoe (about 15MPG) with 4 passengers is 60MPG/passenger. So if you set the qualifying threshold for the carpool lane at, for example, 50MPG/passenger then there is no discrimination against any kind of technology. Except, of course, ethanol which has a lower energy density and so more volume is required than regular gasoline or diesel. So lets make that Carbon dioxide emissions per passenger.

I will leave it to someone else to accurately calculate the relevant figures and to figure out how to enforce it ;-)

• voltron1011

You are not going to get ahead at work if you have to bug out at 5:19 PM to meet your carpool buddies. Years ago I tried it and it simply didn’t work. Now I’m self employed and work from home which is great, but most folks are not in a position to pull that off.

This is so true… My wife and I drive 20miles one way to work. We both work withing 1 mile of each other and we work about the same hours (8 to 5). We did the carpooling thing for about 3 months, however we stopped it because my work was suffering. Everyone at my work is expected to work late at a moments notice. So, many times my wife would be stranded at her work waiting for me to be done with my work.

• Drew

The article and comments are missing one critical bit of information:

CA specifies what single passenger vehicles are allowed in the carpool lanes by emissions. It so happens that the only vehicles that meet the emission criteria are hybrids.

However, not all hybrids qualify. The Altima, the hybrid Escape, and that Saturn SUV are not allowed in the carpool lanes because they are not clean enough. Diesels don’t qualify because, although they get good MPG, their emissions are not up to snuff.

So, while allowing any single passenger “carpools” is a stupid idea to begin with, at least CA is implementing it in a rational manner.

Emissions really makes more sense than MPG because the purpose of CA carpool lanes was to cut down not only on traffic, but also SMOG. For both of these, an actual carpool with 2 or 3 people is far superior.

• Yuppie

I heard somewhere that those Carpool OK stickers on Prii in CA expire at the end of 2008 or so.

• carlisimo

Around here (the San Jose area), carpool lanes don’t last long anyway, as in you have segments of carpool lanes that end when the freeways narrow, and then everyone’s stuck in traffic. Plus, the carpool lanes are nearly empty anyway, so it only helps to move some solo drivers into it. Oh and at the start of it all, they announced a limit on the number of stickers they’d give out, with provisions to issue more if congestion wasn’t becoming a problem. I think they’ve been intelligent about it.

They’re running out, and as a result, used Priuses with the stickers are selling for \$4,000 more than Priuses without.

It’s simply a government incentive to encourage the purchase of hybrids – and it’s practically FREE! For the price of a sticker and a bit of bureaucracy, they’ve given people a service that those people value at \$4,000. It’s the most cost-effective energy efficiency incentive ever!

• quasimondo

If it’s done by emissions, does that mean vehicles that are PZEV rated (like the Focus PZEV) get the exemption sticker as well?

• Hippo

People will always scam the system if given half a chance.
You think the break for the Prius is bad? how about the break for “light” (ROFLMAO) hybrids? or alternative fuel vehicles?

In AZ they actually gave tax credits, “environmentally friendly” license plates and the right to use HOV lanes to what amounts to full size SUV’s and trucks with a propane tank (the vehicles are theoretically operable on propane) that no one ever uses.

Ain’t America great?

• Geotpf

I believe to qualify for a carpool sticker in California, the car has to get a combined 45 MPG and be SULEV or PZEV rated. The Focus doesn’t get 45 MPG. Diesel VWs pollute too much, even though they get 45 MPG (and, in fact, are banned for new sales statewide because they pollute too much).

If somebody comes up with a non-hybrid gasoline powered car that gets 45 MPG and gets at least a SULEV pollution rating, I believe it would qualify. Of course, no such beast exists, at least not for sale in the United States.

• tirving

This whole discussion misses the really BIG point: HOV lanes are NOT profitable in terms of fuel economy overall. Those in the HOV lanes win, but many more are going much slower, even stop and go, which is very bad overall for fuel, brakes, emissions, etc. And don’t forget the big slowdown and all too often collisions when the vehicles in the HOV lane merge back to the regular lanes to exit.

Dump all the HOV.

• Drew

If it’s done by emissions, does that mean vehicles that are PZEV rated (like the Focus PZEV) get the exemption sticker as well?

No.

I talked to somebody in the Governor’s office about this about a year ago and I was partway wrong in my previous post. The vehicle also had to be “alternatively powered”. So, electric, fuel cell, hybrid, or natural gas vehicles were the only ones that could qualify. They still had to meet the ATPZEV emissions standards, and have fuel economy of 45 MPG or greater on the EPA highway cycle.

So, not as intelligent as I made it out to be. Stickers for hybrids were limited to 85,000 – which is still a lot when you look at the congested carpool lanes. I believe you can still get stickers for electric and natural gas vehicles, but I’m not 100% on that.

http://www.arb.ca.gov/msprog/carpool/carpool.htm

• ZoomZoom

I see that it’s time to dispel a couple of myths…

Fred D.:

The issue of hybrid declining battery capacity is rarely mentioned.

One noticable item — Prii fuel economy drops off about 10% after 5-10k miles. Is this because the battery has lost it’s “newness”???

Not true. The Prius is rigged to try to keep the battery between 50% and 70% charged. Very little overcharging, and very few deep-discharge cycles make for a much longer battery life. The proof is in the numbers. And the length of time, because prior generation Prii have been on the road for 10+ years.

And I can support that with my own experience. I have about 45,000 miles on mine, and fuel economy has not dropped off. I consistently show 47 to 50 MPG on my computer which typically works out to 45 to 48 MPG when mathematically calculated. The same as when the car was new.

Whenever fuel economy falls off, I make a note to check the air pressure in my tires. Usually one of them is low and/or has a puncture.

This almost amounts to fraud on Toyota’s part. It gets good fuel economy for govt testing purposes, but in real life it drops off quite a bit as it’s used. That affects the payback figure quite a bit.

It’s working as designed, and Toyota hasn’t misrepresented that, the government testing policies and/or calculation methods for fuel economy notwithstanding. That’s not fraud.

• ZoomZoom

Okay, I’ve read the article, and I still feel the same way. If a traffic lane is designated as “High Occupancy”, then drivers or cars fitting into some special “classification” not directly associated with “high occupancy” should not be allowed to circumvent the law.

Period. Fair is fair.

As for fuel economy, Alex’s math makes sense, although in this event, that’s not the real point.

The real point is that the legislature is letting some people skirt the intention of the HOV laws/regulations while enforcing others to abide by them.

This has been written about extensively by a bunch of smart guys in the mid-to-late 1700’s. It’s constitutionally and morally wrong.

I too am with RF on the issue of government doing too much. This in and of itself usually complicates laws beyond comprehension, and as a result, it creates inequalities, usually even worse than those it intended to correct!

But that’s what you get every time you separate the population into groups, “special” and “not special.”

• ZoomZoom:

When Mr. Dykes’ article suggested that Prii battery effectiveness lessened over time, I checked the source material (listed in a comment below), and then contacted Toyota for comment (as the article states).

They simply stated that the batteries are guaranteed not to malfunction. Their performance is not guaranteed.

They did not wish to deny or refute the DOT’s findings.

• ttilley

I agree with the obvious point that exempting hybrids from carpool lane restrictions increases congestion. Even though I agree with legislative efforts to encourage hybrid use among those for whom the technology is appropriate, and agree with stronger CAFE rules, I don’t think the carpool lane exemption is a good idea.

That said, some of the math is a bit confused, partly because CA carpool lane rules are equally confused. Comparing the per-person emissions of a single-occupant Prius with those of a three-occupant Suburban ignores the fact that most CA freeways define a carpool as two persons. A few, such as the I-80 Eastshore and the Bay Bridge toll plaza, define it as three persons…unless the vehicle is a non-crew-cab-pickup…or a Miata…or a Motorcycle, although the latter exemption does decrease congestion because Motorcycles are allowed to lane-split.

Comparing a two-occupant Suburban to a single-occupant Prius yields a pretty obvious conclusion that doesn’t help the Suburban.

Almost finally, as a regular _SJMN_ reader, I’m pretty sure Gary Richards has acknowledged the congestion-versus-pollution trade-off inherent in the exemption, which as others have pointed out he does have. I think it makes more sense to use HOV lanes solely to address congestion, but I think the argument should be made explicitly.

And Finally, I had to post this on your “classic” interface site because, when trying to post this otherwise using Firefox 2.0 on Mac OS X I get a javascript error. Please repair this.

• Areitu

I was always under the impression that someone from Toyota lobbied for the Hybrid-HOV lane thing, rather than the government mandating it on their own.

• This article misses what I consider to be the really dumb thing about incentives for hybrids. (forgive me if someone has already made this point). The goal of the incentive is a fleet with better gas mileage. But there are hybrid trucks that get worse mileage than most conventional ICE cars, both petrol and deisel. Once you start rewarding people for driving a specific technology, that technology will be applied more and more to gas guzzlers. If you have a goal, you need incentives or mandates to achieve that goal, not incentives to use a technology that some think is optimal to achieve that goal. (Had we had mandates to achieve a specific level of passenger safety, rather than mandates for airbags, we might have had the option of racing harnesses, which probably would have been cheaper, and theft proof.)

The other problem with the article is that it fails to recognize that the goal of the law is to improve fleet average, not to improve mileage specifically on the carpool lanes. Who cares if the Durango with 3 passengers gets better passenger mpg than the Prius. Most of the time most Durangos, like most cars, are going to be driven with one passenger.

• carlisimo

David, the only cars that qualify have to meet one of the emissions categories (SULEV? forgot exactly which), AND get 45mpg or better. Only the Insight, Civic Hybrid, and Prius qualify right now.

• So what if some diesels come into the mix that do better than 45 mpg? Or supposing I have an old Civic VX (I think that was 52 mpg). I’m glad to hear that gas guzzling hybrids aren’t going to qualify–thanks for the info–but I think it’s very stupid for the gov’t to promote a specific technology to meet a goal (MPG) rather than the goal itself without reference to a technology. They are tying the engineers’ hands.

• Pch101

Every time the government gets involved, it ends up screwing stuff up.

Building highways instead of mass transit and creating an oil-based economy are also forms of government involvement.

I think that we need to wake up from our libertarian fantasies and come to the realization that everything that the government does and doesn’t do is a form of social engineering.

When The Gov’mint decides to plow an eight-lane behemoth through a neighborhood, constructing a concrete vehicular canal that produces smog and noise in a given locale, and maintaining a foreign policy doctrine that is centered on preserving access to the lifeblood of that system (read: oil), those are just as much forms of government involvement as are building a mass transit line or constructing a green belt. In each instance, the state is using its powers and cash to either affect some sort of change or to defend the status quo. The realistic question becomes not whether government should be involved — it will be by default — but what involvement should it have, and how its conduct will be managed.

California’s HOV hybrid concept makes perfect sense, assuming that you believe in the veracity of the underlying technology. The idea here is to create a critical mass of demand that will eventuall spur the use of this technology into the mainstream. It’s a temporary limited incentive that can used to further that objective.

Which is fair enough. As I am the classic late adopter, you won’t find a hybrid in my driveway for quite some time, but I applaud the early adaptors and innovators who are serving as the test mules of the technology today so that it can be refined and improved for tomorrow.

Hybrids offer far more upside potential than do diesels, and the oil burners need to accept that diesel has rather limited potential for improvement. Unlike hybrids, which promise considerable upside as systems and batteries are improved, diesel is a mature technology that cannot be expected to offer anything more than incremental improvements going forward. Betting big on that horse is doomed to result in losing the race, and given my fondness for winning, I’m inclined in this race to favor the upstart.

• diesel is a mature technology that cannot be expected to offer anything more than incremental improvements going forward.

Is that an expert’s assessment? I don’t know about diesels, but there is a very exciting new concept coming out of MIT which could boost petrol engine efficiency by something like 25%. Who’dathunkit? I’m absolutely NOT a libertarian, but I don’t want people in government determining which technology we’re going to use. They can specify mpg goals, or mandate carbon taxes to spur sales of high mpg cars, but which technology wins needs to be up to the combo of the market and the engineers.

• Pch101

Is that an expert’s assessment?

Internal combustion technology, both gas and diesel, have been with us for over a century. There’s no reason to believe that there is any radical transformation on the horizon in conventional gas or diesel motors, and it’s completely reasonable to expect future changes to be generally evolutionary at best.

Hybrid technology makes sense because it works on a negative principal — it allows the internal combustion engine to do less work, and therefore burn less fuel. The premise accepts the inherent constraints of internal combustion while also harnessing its primary advantages over electric motors: (a) the distribution network for the fuel is already in place and (b) the refueling process is a matter of minutes, rather than hours. These factors effectively give internal combustion motors near-unlimited range, which is something that can’t be said or expected of pure electrics. (If the engineers can figure out how to recharge a car in a matter of a few minutes, this might change. But being that they can’t even do this with my cordless phone, I can’t see how they’ll ever accomplish this with a car…)

I see no reason why diesel engineers, whom nobody elected, are in a better position to facilitate this than some officials whom I did elect and who are simply temporarily allocating a bit of unused carpool lane capacity to further a goal that, in the final analysis, is worth attaining. We didn’t wait for the free market to create the Manhattan Project, and in the final analysis, there’s no reason to believe that we should have.

• ZoomZoom

Robert Farago to ZoomZoom:

When Mr. Dykes’ article suggested that Prii battery effectiveness lessened over time, I checked the source material (listed in a comment below), and then contacted Toyota for comment (as the article states).

They simply stated that the batteries are guaranteed not to malfunction. Their performance is not guaranteed.

They did not wish to deny or refute the DOT’s findings.

Yes, I understand that. I don’t know why Toyota didn’t want to go on record, but it matters little, because I can deny and refute it from the personal experience of myself and many others who frequent the various Prius forums.

One thing I had forgotten to mention was that I did see a slight dropoff of fuel economy (about 2 MPG) when I replaced my original Goodyears with Michelin Hydroedge tires. But that was a smart decision, because I live in a state that sees heavy rains.

It still goes back to my personal experience, with one car. Low gas mileage (in my personal experience with my car) is most often due to one or more tires with low pressure.

Restoring the pressure restores the gas mileage. This is cause-and-effect, and cannot be attributed to a battery losing its effectiveness if my mileage is restored EVERY TIME I pump up the tires.

And the second most common reason (again, in my own personal experience, with my own personal car) is my heavy right foot. Sometimes I could swear I’m wearing one of Iron Man’s boots!

Again, it’s cause-and-effect. Lightening up on the pedal always restors gas mileage, unless the tires are also in a low-pressure condition.

Even though it is my own personal experience here, I believe it’s safe to say that fuel economy in the Prius does NOT decline after 10,000 or 15,000 miles.

So yes, I’m calling this “report” a myth.

• hybrid guide

I fully agree with the opinion that hybrids should not get special treatment in car pooling or tax incentives. I mean what is the reason they really deserve it? Sure it’s a small step towards having a better environment but not worth all the special treatments everyone wants. Why not save the money for people or companies who doing really creative and radical things. Things that would make a real impact. Let’s see some hybrids that incorporate solar or biodiesel tech. Today’s gas electric hybrids hardly take us closer to not depending on foreign oil.

• You’re refuting a DOT report based on personal experience? So you’ve driven your Prius to “end of life” and scientifically measured your car’s battery performance?

If so, well, I’d still like to see a larger statistical sample (from both you and the DOT).

And I would really like to know what Toyota makes of this. I was taken aback by their silence.

• Pch101: I see no reason why diesel engineers, whom nobody elected, are in a better position to facilitate this than some officials whom I did elect and who are simply temporarily allocating a bit of unused carpool lane capacity to further a goal that, in the final analysis, is worth attaining.

You are so missing the point. The engineers come up with their best shots, and the market decides which of those best shots are really the best. Provided the politicians don’t interfere with artificial incentives. As for what you said about ICE having been around for 100 odd years and improvements are likely only to be incremental, someone could have said the same thing in, say, 1970. Since then the efficiency of ICE has about doubled. It’s just that the efficiency has been applied largely to improve power rather than fuel efficiency.

• Pch101

The engineers come up with their best shots, and the market decides which of those best shots are really the best.

That’s actually far from the truth. Government policies and programs facilitate what the engineers are hired to do in the first place.

Here’s a nice example of “artificial incentives” — the highway network If the government hadn’t built highways, the automobile would have been nothing more than a rich man’s toy, because there would have been nowhere to drive them. Creating the highway infrastructure made the market possible, and gave the engineers a marketplace to sell to.

If we’re going to be honest with ourselves here, we should accept that the highway program provides a nice fat subsidy for the automakers, trucking industry and a whole host of other businesses. It’s just libertarian ideology to ascribe everything that the government does as “artificial,” when what it does is both quite real and can have an enormous impact, whether good or bad, on the lives of its citizens.

Since then (1970) the efficiency of ICE has about doubled.

I would dispute the amount. But even if you are correct, a doubling of efficiency over a period of 37 years would equate to an compounded rate of less than 2% per year. Improvement that small, by any measure, is “incremental” at best.

If Toyota’s announcements to be believed, the hybrids will be delivering far more than that, in both relative and absolute terms.

• SunnyvaleCA

Hybrid vs diesel… why not just have both! When comparing diesel use in a hybrid verses gasoline use in a hybrid, the diesel makes even more sense: diesels work best when you have barely enough engine and run it quite hard, diesels idle very poorly (both pollution and NVH), and diesels run especially poorly when cold. A hybrid system that can run for a while on batteries alone (GM’s Volt) would help the cold-engine diesel problem immensely while allowing the engine to be tuned to exactly 1 RPM and 1 load.

• Pch101: Here’s a nice example of “artificial incentives” — the highway network If the government hadn’t built highways, the automobile would have been nothing more than a rich man’s toy

Nonsense. My parents, who were not exactly rolling in dough when they started out, got their first (used) Studebaker in ’48, about six years before the interstate program got started, and about four years before the NJtpk was built. They drove it from Boston to DC (about 450 miles today on the interstates) for their first jobs after college. And they commuted from what is now the middle of Silver Spring to downtown DC (probably about 10 miles each way) every day. My father drove the car from Boston to Seattle via Denver in ’52, when he got his first university job (my mother and older brother flew). My first memories, probably from 1954, are in Studebaker #2. Maybe you’re young, but I assure you there were plenty of cars back then.

Actually, your allusion to the highway program is quite irrelevant to what I was saying (although you certainly are correct about the subsidy inherent in the highway program, which is pernicious in many ways). I’m saying that in pursuing goes such as automotive efficiency, the gov’t should make sure its incentives are technology-neutral. I don’t care how promising hybrid technology may seem. If it’s that good, it will survive in the market, but you as a non-expert are not in a position to make an educated guess (and neither am I).

As for the incremental nature of ICE improvements, these were done without a lot of incentive. Stiff carbon taxes or gas taxes (either of which would be technology neutral) would unleash a lot of creativity. There is a lot of interesting and potentially far more than incfremental work going on in ICEs. (Look up the most recent auto issue of the Boston Globe Magazine for a good example).

• Pch101

My parents, who were not exactly rolling in dough when they started out, got their first (used) Studebaker in ‘48, about six years before the interstate program got started, and about four years before the NJtpk was built. They drove it from Boston to DC (about 450 miles today on the interstates) for their first jobs after college.

This actually proves my point. The combination of low-cost fuel and cheap and free highways (whether Interstate or otherwise) create an incentive to drive. That’s an obvious example of government intervention, which serves as the foundation of my point — you don’t really object to government intervention, just so long as it supports your favored activities. But because hybrids rub you the wrong way, you resort the anti-government shtick, as if ideological arguments are a substitute for an objective consideration of the topic at hand.

As for the incremental nature of ICE improvements, these were done without a lot of incentive.

Without government involvement, we got virtually zero improvement. Again, you’ve actually offered an argument in favor of government intervention — left to its own accord, the free market won’t do much of anything about it.

Gains of less than 2% per year are wholly unimpressive, and in light of the political outcomes seen today, were clearly inadequate.

The next generation Toyota hybrid system is allegedly going to deliver performance that is a good 25 mpg / 50% better than an equivalent turbodiesel, while delivering lower emissions. If a few stickers from the state of California help to create consumer awareness of the benefits, I can’t see a single good reason why to oppose laying the groundwork for more of that.

• pch101,

I never said I was against gov’t intervention. I am absolutely not a libertarian. What I am against is gov’t trying to pick technologies, rather than supporting whatever the goal of the technology is. It is entirely appropriate for the gov’t to mandate safety standards and gas mileage standards, and/or taxes that wouild encourage people to buy fuel efficient cars, and/or to have incentives. What I object to is the gov’t specifying a particular technology to meet the goal. But gov’t has made some terrible errors about specific technologies. Like nuclear power. And promoting cheap oil.

As for hybrids, I have nothing against them. They may well prove to be the best way to reduce automotive GH emissions consumption for the next 20-30 years. But then again they may not. (You obviously haven’t read about the MIT technology for improving ICE efficiency, which also may or may not prove a winner, but which is probably just one interesting alternative out there.)

I don’t see what’s wrong with promoting gas mileage rather than a technology on the CA HOV lanes (assuming you thikn it’s a good idea to give that kind of advantage on a HOV lane). Can you explain to me why CA should specify a specific technology rather than a level of fuel efficiency?

By the way, I don’t know what you’re trying to prove by insisting that there were highways all over in the ’50s. I can remember, for example, crossing connecticut largely on a four lane divided road with traffic lights just about every mile for part of the way. And various dinky two lane non-divided roads for other parts of the trip. There was at that point no big program to create highways, and prior to the NJtpk, it could take 5-6 hrs to go from one end of the state to the other, compared to about two hours today. ANd even in the west, where you would often have one road going a few hundred miles because there just wasn’t much out there, when you did reach a town, you went right through the main street.

By the way, rather than being rich men’s toys until there were highways, affordable cars go all the way back to the Model T, and Henry Ford’s revolutionary idea that he could sell more cars if his workers could afford to buy them.

• Pch101

What I object to is the gov’t specifying a particular technology to meet the goal.

You’ve provided no sound reason why the government should be technology agnostic, you simply restate the position as if its reasonableness is self-evident. But ultimately, this position of yours is an ideological one — you just don’t happen to like government taking a position on such things — rather than qualitative.

I see no reason why the state of California shouldn’t create an incentive for hybrids if it chooses to, and there are logical reasons to hold such a position. California has longstanding goals to improve fuel economy and reduce emissions, and hybrids appear not only to do both (which is logical, given that a hybrid’s primary operating principal is that the internal combustion motor is used less than it otherwise would), but have much more potential for upside.

The next Prius is supposed to get more than 90 mpg, something no diesel could ever hope to accomplish. Unlike hydrogen fuel cells, the hybrid technology is with us today, which allows us to get a more immediate solution on the road while allowing the marketplace to provide plenty of testing data that can be used to improve the breed. Unlike standard IC motors, the gains appear to be revolutionary (50% increases in one generation), not snails-pace evolutionary (less than 2% per year.) Unlike pure electrics, the issues of range and refueling are irrelevant.

Between the market awareness created by them and the benefit to R&D created by putting more test mules on the road, there is absolutely no good reason why the state should sit on its hands and pray that the “free market” (whatever that means — the economy and government are co-dependent and related, not wholly independent) fixes it, when a few stickers can broaden consumer awareness and encourage more end users to experiment with the technology.

By the way, rather than being rich men’s toys until there were highways, affordable cars go all the way back to the Model T, and Henry Ford’s revolutionary idea that he could sell more cars if his workers could afford to buy them.

Henry Ford would never have been able to sell that many cars and automaking would have never become such a substantial business if no one bothered building roads to drive on. Ford needed volume sales, volume required demand, and demand required cheap roads and cheap fuel. Like it or not, it’s the extensive degree of government involvement that made a mass-market auto industry possible. Not many would bother making driving such a substantial part of their lifestyles if there were no roads to drive on…

• PerfectZero

Can you explain to me why CA should specify a specific technology rather than a level of fuel efficiency?

As someone stated, the current law in CA does not necessarily single out hybrid technology, it specifies an emissions requirement (SULEV and ILEV). Certain hybrids (not all of them) just happen to be the only vehicles that qualify under those rules. So in essence, they’re doing exactly what’s being suggested, but with emissions rather than mileage.

• pch101–You are obviously not reading what I’m writing. the gov’t should stay out of technology decisions bcause they get it wrong too often. Nuclear energy was a lot of \$ thrown away for not all that much energy. Imagine if they’d given solar and wind a decent shot (wind is growing worldwide at 4x the rate of nuclear in abolute terms).

I have no objection to their setting performance goals and leaving it to the engineers/market to figure out which will work the best to meet the goals, because they don’t have the info to make those predictions. Even the engineers can’t predict that sort of thing, but when you have a lot of people working on different approaches, eventually one wins. As for your 90 mpg prius, that would be a huge step forward but I’ll believe it when I see it. If it’s going to be that good though, I don’t think it needs gov’t help. And if it’s not, let it duke it out with other technologies.

And by the way, you were talking about a rich man’s toy re highways, not roads, and now, you’re saying roads. Well, as for the roads, it was the bicycling community that first lobbied heavily to get decent roads.

• Additionally, you seem to think I’m being a libertarian, although if you had read clearly what I’ve written so far you woudl see that I’m not. (And I don’t mean to pass any judgment on libertarians.) I feel at this point it is very important for the gov’t to enact policies to reduce fossil fuel consumption, such as mileage standards or a tax on gasoline, or a tax on carbon (the latter is in my opinion the best, although that and mileage standards would be fine, too). Why should the gov decide the policy and not the technology? I don’t expect the gov to do a perfect job on the policy, but I think it’s a much simpler problem than figring out which technology is going to work the best, and I don’t think the gov needs to help the technology, especially in this case when the goal is so clear.

• Pch101

the gov’t should stay out of technology decisions bcause they get it wrong too often. Nuclear energy was a lot of \$ thrown away for not all that much energy.

I’m no fan of nukes, but somehow the French (who aren’t exactly known for their lack of governmental involvement) managed to create a situation in which most of the country’s power is derived from nuclear plants. Meanwhile, in the US, where much of this is handled by the private sector, the whole thing has been a dud.

If anything, nuclear power is a good example of something that could be better executed if the government gets involved and leads the way. By allowing the automakers and oil companies to become the de facto managers of the US’ energy policy, the result is exactly what you’d expect a private sector driven by short-term profits to deliver: congested multilane roads that are getting slower by the year.

It’s a myth to believe that the private sector is a cure-all of all of mankind’s ills, when many of today’s problems are due to a lack of planning and excessive reliance on the private sector to fix problems that the private sector was never meant to fix.

Why should the gov decide the policy and not the technology?

You’re grossly overstating what is happening here. The state provided a one-time incentive to a limited pool of drivers to motivate them to experiment with a low-emissions vehicle. Nobody in California told anyone that they couldn’t utilize other technologies if they so choose. It’s ultimately much ado about nothing.

As for added fuel taxes, carbon taxes, etc., those have about zero chance of ever being imposed in the US. The US is far too opposed to any form of added fuel tax to ever allow that to fly. People are already paying over \$3 per gallon, and the last thing that the electorate will accept is higher fuel prices imposed by the government. The power to hand out stickers is one thing, the power to tax is quite another…

• Why should the gov decide the policy and not the technology?

You’re grossly overstating what is happening here. The state provided a one-time incentive to a limited pool of drivers to motivate them to experiment with a low-emissions vehicle. Nobody in California told anyone that they couldn’t utilize other technologies if they so choose. It’s ultimately much ado about nothing.

I’m not grossly overstating anything. These kinds of hybrid incentives are being considered all over the country. And in MA, for example, unlike CA, such incentives would apply even to gas guzzling hybrid trucks. If it were just this one incentive in Calif, I woiuldn’t worry about it. But in your insistence that I’m overstating, I can’t help thinking you’re finally agreeing its a problem.

As for added fuel taxes, carbon taxes, etc., those have about zero chance of ever being imposed in the US. The US is far too opposed to any form of added fuel tax to ever allow that to fly. People are already paying over \$3 per gallon, and the last thing that the electorate will accept is higher fuel prices imposed by the government. The power to hand out stickers is one thing, the power to tax is quite another…

You’re not paying attention to how worried people are finally getting about the greenhouse effect. When people like one of the Alaska senators (I forget which one, but this happened earlier this year) start worrying about it publicly, a total about face for this former denyer, fuel and carbon taxes are moving intot he realm of the possible, or even the probable.

As for nuclear power, despite huge gov’t subsidies, in the US it only represents about 15% of electricity, give or take a bit, and electricity is only around the same % of total energy use. Had the money that went into nuclear gone into renewables, they would be MUCH further along. They didn’t put much of anything into renewables. Besides huge R&D subsidies, the nuclear industry has a huge insurance subsidy. Ever hear of the Price Anderson Act? If a nuclear power plant accident were to render your house inhabitable, you’d have no recourse.

jRemember what I said before, that wind is growing four times as fast as NP in the world today? That’s without much subsidy. It’s a far less complex, less expensive technology.

• Pch101

And in MA, for example, unlike CA, such incentives would apply even to gas guzzling hybrid trucks.

Let’s not resort to the baby-with-the-bathwater types of arguments. The California law doesn’t allow for inefficient hybrids to receive the incentive. If you don’t like the specifics of one proposed program, it does not follow that all programs should be eliminated.

You’re not paying attention to how worried people are finally getting about the greenhouse effect.

I see no movement underway to increase fuel taxes, and inefficient vehicles still hold considerable market share in the US. When people put their money where their mouths are, I’ll start listening. Until then, I assume that they’ll follow tradition, i.e. go ballistic whenever anyone raises the possibility of increasing their taxes.

Remember what I said before, that wind is growing four times as fast as NP in the world today? That’s without much subsidy.

When you begin with a small denominator, the resulting percentage appears high. But in any case, both the federal and numerous state governments provide tax credit incentives for renewable energy development, including wind. The industry is lobbying for extensions of this tax credit.

In other words, government is doing the very thing you oppose to prop up the development of your favored course of action. Should I assume that you’ll be writing your congressman to eliminate the renewal energy tax credit that provides the equity to build wind projects that would otherwise never be built without them? (Without the tax credits, wind farms don’t generally make much economic sense.)

• Regarding the CA HOV lanes, if they really have a gas mileage floor, I’m not too concerned about it, but a hell of a lot of people don’t understand that hybrid does not necessarily equal good gas mileage, including my legislators here in Mass.

As for NP, first of all, the various govt programs–incentives, R&D– are piddling compared to what the nuclear industry has gotten. We’re talking at least an order of magnitude difference. This is one of the reasons I think gov’t should stay out of this sort of stuff. The Iraq war is another example. Promoting corn-based ethanol is another disaster, because it’s not clear you get more energy in ethanol out than the fossil fuel you put in, and because industrial agriculture is environmentally very destructive, and because having fuel compete with food raises the price of both. I would rather the gov get completely out of promoting energy sources than continue on the current course.

But as for NP vs wind, I’m talking absolute (not %age) growth in the WORLD. In other words, in the world, for every additional MW of nuclear capacity, there are four additional MW of wind capacity.

And finally, re the greenhouse effect, no, there aren’t movements to raise fuel taxes or carbon taxes yet, but the public perception of the issue is so drastically different from a year ago that I’d bet that there will be within the next five years or so.

• i6

Quote:
“Why not just set an EPA mpg limit for vehicles using the carpool lane? Any vehicle over 40mpg, for example.” -Robert Farago

That’s what this does, only better. It effectively sets a Passenger-mile per gallon limit, and if that number happens to be 40PMPGs then it is perfectly rational to exclude the Fit but allow single-occupant hybrids.

So you get the same result using a different yardstick (though dual-occupant egomobiles wouldn’t clear that bar). All in all it’s rather ingenious and clearly not worth crying over, unless you just have a thing against hybrids, which as it turns out is what this author spends most of his space decrying.

• Pch101

Regarding the CA HOV lanes, if they really have a gas mileage floor, I’m not too concerned about it, but a hell of a lot of people don’t understand that hybrid does not necessarily equal good gas mileage, including my legislators here in Mass.

California offered two permit choices. The alt fuels variant applied to all alternative fuel vehicles, not just hybrids,and included two threshhold requirements: an EPA highway rating of over 45 mpg AND a low emissions rating (ULEV, SULEV or PZEV.) There was also another permit for non-alt fuels vehicles that could meet both SULEV and ILEV. (Here’s your serving of alphabet soup for the day:
http://www.dmv.ca.gov/vr/decal.htm)

The state’s primary goals are to lower emissions and to encourage alt fuel vehicles. Much of this is motivated by the fact that California produces an abundance of smog, and that LA is one of the most polluted cities in the countries.

I see no sinister plot here, and I see no reason why government needs to avoid this. Our laws and tax codes are chock-a-block full of incentives and taxes meant to encourage some behaviors, while discouraging others. In the scheme of things, this is one of the cheaper and simpler programs that has been devised for quite some times.

It’s time to move away from political ideology as if a visceral loathing of government is, by itself, a rebuttal to whatever merits this program may have. The fact that people are talking about it and that alternative vehicles are being discussed in the mainstream is clear cut proof that it is working.

Technology initiatives fail if they fail to generate buzz, and this simple California law creates a whole lot of buzz at virtually no cost. As noted, I won’t be buying a hybrid for some time, but I have little doubt that in time, every car will be equipped with a hybrid system, all of which will be much improved over today’s systems thanks to the R&D benefit gained from the sales made to today’s consumers, who generally aren’t buying them purely for economic reasons.

• I never said or implied I saw a “sinister plot.” I merely thought it was not the best way to do things. In this case, from what you say the it sounds like the mitigation rather than the devil is in the details. From what you have just described, it sounds reasonable, even if not quite the way I wouild have designed it.

I have also said nothing to suggest a “loathing of government.” I’ve said several times that I’m not a libertarian, and that I thought Government had a role–just not selecting the technology.

• The Hybrid sellout was nothing more than the Air Resources Board using their authority to drive some short term sales tax revenues for the State.

It raised a quicke \$240 million when the State was faced with a \$15 Billion dollar shortfall. That \$240 million helped save the CARB budget.

There are other government incentives for carpool that could be used to combat:

– Global Warming
– Air Pollution
– Traffic Congestion
– Us Competitiveness in the Global Economy.
– High Energy Costs
– Shortage of Remaining Oil (44 years…thats all folks)
– Oil over War

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