I drive a Honda CRX of some age that gets 38 miles per gallon on the highway. That is as good as many hybrids and better than some. It is also a two-seater, so it could never qualify for HOV-3 lanes during rush hour.
To the degree that my car uses less gas per mile than a hybrid, it is irrational to favor the hybrid.
But that’s government for you.
I’m 78, and there is zero chance that even in a three-seat car I could carpool, so I am penalized for something I cannot cure. And it is a penalty to chug along in bumper-to-bumper traffic while the HOV lanes are almost empty.
Not equal protection of the laws!
Gordon White, Deltaville, Va.
DG: White, a retired newspaperman, still drives to and through the Washington area via Interstate 95. In addition to contributing ideas about the best holiday routes along the East Coast, he also has written to say he just hates the HOV rules, which restrict the use of those lanes to carpoolers and drivers with exemptions.
This time, he focused his fury on one of those exemptions, which allows certain types of hybrid vehicles to use the lanes even if the drivers don’t meet the carpool requirements.
I don’t object to government intervention in the transportation system. Most of the transportation system — whether it’s the interstate highways or Metro transit — is the result of government intervention.
And I don’t have a problem with the high-occupancy vehicle system, which turned carpoolers into a privileged class of travelers. They earned it. They organized their commutes in a way that helps other travelers by removing cars from the rush-hour flow.
But I do share White’s concern about the weirdness of the hybrid exemption. This was of dubious value from the start. By encouraging solo driving, the hybrid exemption added to traffic congestion and diminished the incentive to form carpools.
The hybrid exemption was capped on I-95/395 and Interstate 66, but in the process, Virginia created even more rules, which drivers have difficulty following. That’s what happens when the rules are about managing the original mistake.
In a couple of years, the hybrid exemption for I-95 will go away, but we’ll have something new to argue about. After a period of dormancy, Virginia is rapidly advancing its plan to convert the I-95 HOV lanes to high-occupancy toll lanes.
Drivers in the corridor might have noticed that the HOV lanes have been closed from time to time for preliminary engineering work. The Virginia government hopes construction will begin this summer, and the lanes will be open in 2015.
The HOT lanes project adds tolls for car drivers who don’t meet the HOV-3 rules and subtracts the hybrid exemption. Drivers still will be paying for the privilege of solo driving in express lanes, just as they did by purchasing a hybrid car.