Large Truck Accidents | Featured Articles
July 20 2004 - Hybrid Allowances in California
With gas prices at unprecedented heights, California’s elected officials are racing to shower fuel-efficient hybrid car owners with the kinds of exclusive road privileges all drivers covet.
Los Angeles is considering granting free parking this fall to the vehicles, which run on both gas and electricity. In Sacramento, lawmakers are on the verge of approving a measure that would allow solo hybrid drivers to use carpool lanes.
Experts who have studied traffic flow say that just a few dozen extra vehicles in a carpool lane in an hour can cause a noticeable slowdown. There were 23,983 hybrids registered in California as of May, and state officials anticipate the number to increase more than fourfold over the next three years.
Yet even as automakers lobby furiously to include their hybrids, transportation experts are alarmed at any new additions to California’s high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes. Already, 23 of the state’s 56 carpool lanes are at or near capacity, including sections of the Foothill, Century and San Diego freeways in Southern California.
In written testimony, the California Assn. of Councils of Government last month called the bill irresponsible and said it “fails to recognize the extent of traffic congestion.”
“The lanes that we have in the state are a precious resource for travel,” said Martin Wachs, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Berkeley, who owns a Toyota Prius hybrid. “I can think of no rational reason why we should give away capacity to vehicles that will contribute as much to congestion, just because they’re clean fuel.”
Bay Area transportation officials have raised the strongest objections. They say the measure could scuttle their efforts to encourage more commuters to use express buses, and could cost as much as $2 million a year in lost toll revenue because drivers in some carpool lanes cross toll bridges for free.
Brian D. Taylor, director of UCLA’s Institute of Transportation Studies, said the bill was “bad policy” because it would attempt to motivate one goal—energy efficiency—by altering high-occupancy vehicle lanes that were designed to address the different objective of improving traffic flow.
“Why don’t we allow nurses and schoolteachers to use HOV lanes? They’re certainly doing good things,” Taylor said. “Do you want to say, ‘We want people to eat more roughage, let’s let those people use HOV lanes as well?’ Just because there are a lot of benefits of hybrid technology, that doesn’t mean there’s a logical nexus between that and HOV lanes.”
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