Another Benefit Of Hybrids: Discounted Tolls

We recently reported that the state of Ohio is "changing laws that allow any hybrid into the HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lane." What this means is that only those "hybrids that improve mileage by 50 percent in the city or 25 percent overall" compared to non-hybrid models will be allowed into HOV lanes. The notion that any hybrid-no matter how efficient-should be allowed into an HOV lane even if occupied by only one person generated some interesting discussion. Some argued that any car above a certain fuel-efficiency (say, 45 MPG, for instance) should be allowed into the HOV lane, while others argued that High-Occupancy Lanes should be just that: reserved only for cars with two or more occupants. Controversy notwithstanding, the fact remains that hybrid owners get several perks, such as the aforementioned HOV rights and tax credits. Now, to add to those perks, "a small but growing number of toll agencies around the world are giving discounts to owners of some alternative-power vehicles."According to the NY Times, "the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced last November that it would offer a $2 E-ZPass discount to the owners of three hybrid models, following the example of the New York State Thruway Authority, which introduced 10 percent E-ZPass discounts on those cars in 2006." In order to qualify for the discount, the vehicle must "get 45 miles a gallon on the highway and meet low emission standards." As a result, only three cars presently qualify: the Toyota Prius, Honda Insight (model years 2000-2004) and the Honda Civic Hybrid.

Signing up for the 'Green Pass' is easy: simply apply by mail, and include a copy of your vehicle registration. Says Michael R. Fleischer, executive director of the thruway authority, “the green pass not only makes traveling easier and more convenient for motorists who travel along the system, it also encourages the use of cleaner, more efficient vehicles." And unlike the HOV controversy, where it's unclear why a hybrid that gets 40 MPG is given special privileges, whereas a non-hybrid that gets 40 MPG does not, the Green Pass is very clear about what it is incentivizing: fuel-efficiency, and clean-air standards. In other words, the Green Pass is not limited to hybrid vehicles. Rather, any car that gets better than 45 MPG AND meets strict emissions standards qualifies for the discount. It just so happens that only hybrids currently meet those requirements.

In the meantime, similar programs are taking root in Europe. For instance,

This year, Milan started levying a charge based on vehicle emissions in five engine classes. Owners pay $2.90 to $14.50 on weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Vehicles with methane, electricity and hybrid engines, as well as ambulances and many motorcycles, are exempt.

Milan’s system, called Ecopass, is a variation on the congestion pricing used in Stockholm, where vehicles are charged different prices depending on the time of day they enter the city. Ambulances, large buses and motorcycles are exempt from the fees, as are cars that run entirely or partly on electricity.

Some are concerned that the tolls will reduce revenue as more and more people purchase qualifying vehicles. That, of course, is an argument that doesn't hold water. For one thing, tackling climate change will, aside from requiring more investment, generate more revenue from the auctioning of carbon credits and other more local programs such as congestion pricing. Furthermore, a cap can easily be set, so that once a certain percentage of E-ZPass owners are driving qualifying vehicles, the standard can be slowly ratcheted up. So yes, there will be less revenue, but the funds won't dry up entirely, and in the meantime states will be addressing a little problem called climate change, as well as improving air-quality and reducing our dependence on foreign oil. In any case, only "1,240 green tags out of nearly 2.3 million tags over all" have been issued so far, meaning that a "we'll cross that bridge when we get there (pun sorta intended)" mentality is most apropos here.

Still, I bring all this up because we often hear arguments against smart environmental policies that don't stand up to scrutiny. (See: EPA waiver denial and Detroit's reponse to higher CAFE standards, for two such examples).

Via: ::NY Times

See Also: ::Bloomberg's Traffic Plan Gets State and Federal Support, ::Friedman on "The Green Road Less Traveled", ::The Parking Meter Controversy of 1932, ::Survey: "Freedom of Mobility" or Public Transit?, ::Residents Protest Extended Congestion Charge, ::Should All Cars be Banned from London?, and ::People of New York: Tell Us About Your City

Tags: Driving | Fuel Efficiency | Hybrid Cars