John Tierney had a column at the end of last month that blasted the California for allowing single-occupancy hybrids use HOV lanes. He wrote:
In Virginia, where they’ve been allowed for years in the car pool lanes, the lanes have become so clogged that an advisory committee has repeatedly recommended their banishment. The same problem will occur in California, where some of the car pool lanes were congested even without hybrids.
As traffic slows down, there will be more idling cars burning more gas and emitting more pollution, but politicians will be reluctant to offend hybrid owners by revoking their privilege. So it will be harder than ever to make the one change proven to speed up traffic and help the environment: convert the car pool lanes into what engineers call high-occupancy toll lanes.
I wrote a letter to the editor, but sadly it wasn’t published. So, I will take this opportunity to publish it here and present it as my general thought on hybrid cars: Good for an individual driver (presuming that the gasoline savings can overcome the greater expense for the car and for maintenance), but bad for society overall:
To the Editor:
John Tierney (“The Road to Hell Is Clogged With Righteous Hybrids,” Aug. 30), is right that hybrid vehicles will increase traffic congestion and gasoline consumption, but wrong about why. It is not that people buying hybrids are putting more cars on the road; they’re simply replacing the existing vehicle fleet with more efficient models. More traffic in hybrid/HOV lanes would be offset by less traffic in the regular lanes.
Traffic will increase because hybrids use less gasoline per trip. As the per-trip cost of travel decreases, people will be encouraged to drive more. This is the strange beast called Jevons’ Paradox — increasing efficiency leads to greater consumption.
To truly reduce our foreign oil dependency, we need to build cities and towns where people can have real mobility without a car. Officials in Washington could fully support all of Amtrak’s needs with a tiny fraction of the amount they spend on highways. Here in New York, public officials should encourage development near commuter rail stations, finance the first phase of the Second Avenue Subway and improve the dialog with “Critical Mass” bicycle riders.
New York, Aug. 30
– The Road to Hell Is Clogged With Righteous Hybrids [NYT - expired]
- Jevons Paradox [Wikipedia]