Ohio to Chevy Tahoe Hybrid Drivers: Get Out of the Carpool Lane!
Over the last few years hybrid vehicles have become, for many within the environmental community as well as the greater public, a kind of panacea for problems ranging from climate change, to dependence on foreign oil, to air pollution. Of course, as we've discussed many times on this site, hybrids are not always the answer. For one thing, the most efficient vehicle in the world cannot address the rampant urban, suburban and exurban development that is built around automobiles rather than humans. Nor can it be of any use to those who cannot afford, or choose not to, drive a vehicle, and therefore rely on public transportation, walking, carpooling or cycling. Which brings us back to the fist point: car-centric planning makes alternatives to driving less attractive and less practical.
That said, the reality is that in America and, increasingly around the world, people love cars and aspire to own them. In the context of that paradigm, hybrids represent a real opportunity to improve efficiency and air-quality. Even better, the fact that hybrids have batteries means that they are only a modification away from being plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, with all their attendant benefits. These and other advantages are the reason why hybrid owners receive tax credits and the right to drive in carpool lanes. But as hybrid technology has been applied to more and more large SUVs and high-performance sedans, some have come to question whether allowing all hybrids in carpool lanes is truly productive. Now, the state of Ohio is "changing laws that allow any hybrid into the HOV lane. This means that GM's SUV hybrids are no longer allowed in the get-to-work-on-time lanes."
New national standards only allow "hybrids that improve mileage by 50 percent in the city or 25 percent overall" into high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes. States, however, can choose whether or not to adopt the national standard, or they can establish standards that are stricter than the federal standard. So why is Ohio penalizing drivers of large vehicles that have plunked down extra money for a slightly more efficient SUV? Well, aside from the philosophical and ethical considerations behind allowing single-occupant vehicles in carpool lanes simply because they have a hybrid drivetrain, Ohio has a rather compelling reason for adopting the new national standards: those states that do not comply receive less national highway funding.
Under the new law, "smaller SUV hybrids like the hybrid Toyota Highlander would still be allowed in Ohio's HOV lanes" because they offer a more significant fuel-efficiency improvement over the non-hybrid version. The question now becomes, what are we incentivizing? If we are purely interested in fuel-efficiency, then why should the driver of a 40/38 MPG Toyota Camry Hybrid be allowed in the HOV lane, but not the driver of a 40/34 MPG Toyota Yaris? The argument could even be made that from a pure air-quality and efficiency point of view, it makes more sense to allow the Yaris in the carpool lane but not the Camry, because hybrids really shine in stop-and-go traffic. On the other hand, are we really making the best use of HOV lanes by allowing single-occupant vehicles in them?
The bottom line is that the "Chevrolet Tahoe two-mode hybrid, which only gets an MPG improvement of 40 percent (over the non-hybrid Tahoe) will not be allowed in Ohio's HOV lane." What do you think readers, is this fair? Should a single-occupant Prius be allowed in the HOV lane? Should we devise a different system, such as allowing any vehicle above a certain level of efficiency (say, 40 MPG) into the HOV lane, and then slowly ratchet up that number over time?
See Also: ::Study Finds Hybrids Quickly Pay For Themselves, ::Hybrid Taxis Finally Arrive in New York City, ::Toyota: Better, Smaller, Cheaper Hybrid Systems in 2008, ::Top Five--Toyota's Hybrid Concept Vehicles, ::2007 Saturn Aura Green Line Hybrid: Fuel Economy, ::Hybrid Cars: What's in a Name? and ::George Bush on Car Pools