Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am writing in response to your question about owner's opinions of their hybrid automobiles.

I have owned my Toyota Prius since April 2002 and am quite impressed with its technology, comfort, lesser environmental impact and economy.

I live in Dale City and use the HOV lanes every day. While it is usually convenient to have that exemption, it is not the reason that I purchased the car. I was very impressed with the solid engineering that went into bringing this car to the mass market, and the impression has not diminished over time.

I encourage anyone in the market for a new automobile to at least consider the hybrid vehicles available today. I have been driving this Prius for 13,000 trouble-free miles and, at this point, I would not trade it in for anything other than another Prius.

I would really appreciate your passing on to your readers, however, that automobiles with the clean fuel license plates (ending in the letters CF) issued by Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles are authorized to be in the HOV lanes. Please stop shaking your fists (and other things) at us.

Rick Pearce

Dale City

Thanks for that report, Mr. Pearce. I'm excited about the cleaner-emissions and super gasoline mileage of this vehicle, and its cousins, the Toyota Insight and the Honda Civic Hybrid.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

You asked how hybrid drivers like their vehicles. I love my Toyota Prius! I have owned it for one year and have almost 25,000 miles on it. Aside from routine maintenance and oil changes, all it has needed is an alignment because of the deplorable condition of the surface streets in the District.

Pros: HOV-1 saves me about an hour a day; 48 mpg on regular gas with virtually no emissions; and a one-time $2,000 federal tax deduction for clean fuel make it both economical and environmentally friendly.

It is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside -- good head room, good leg room, plenty of space in the trunk for a large suitcase, golf clubs or more groceries than I ever purchase at any one time. It can fit into a whole world of parking places that I can't put my SUV.

And, no, you don't have to plug it in at night -- the battery for the electric motor is recharged from the gasoline engine.

Cons: We can't put our bikes in the back like we do with the SUV.

Summary: This is the perfect commuter car! I hope that auto manufacturers will produce more vehicles using hybrid technology.

I see no good reason every vehicle couldn't be a hybrid.

Lynn Simon

Gainesville

HOV Success Story

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Is HOV a failure? Not on Interstates 95 and 395. First, in a previous Post article, the point was made that these lanes carry as many people as do the regular traffic lanes in fewer vehicles at a better pace. This alone indicates success, both for traffic flow and reduction of pollution emissions.

Second, look at what happens when the HOV lanes are opened to all traffic -- gridlock on both HOV and regular lanes.

Third, with HOV and slugs, my commute from Woodbridge is just 45 minutes door to door, compared with over an hour and a half on the regular lanes.

Bottom line: Virginia, Maryland and the federal government need to work together to find a way to provide HOV lanes for the Beltway and other major arteries. It works!

Naomi Snell

Woodbridge

A Step Solution

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I am writing to suggest that Metro provide access for higher volumes of people and lower repair costs by replacing short escalators with steps. This would give more room for riders to enter and exit the stations.

The extra room on steps, as opposed to escalators, could be very important in an emergency, especially with the power out. Putting in steps would also be a one-time expense, freeing up resources for elevator repair and the maintenance of long escalators.

Thomas Sigler

Vienna

Ironic that Metro has the most escalator-dependent subway system in the world because planners wanted to save customers the long trek up and down stairs.

Now, with the escalator system apparently broken indefinitely, it may be time to consider your proposal, Mr. Sigler. Tear out the short escalators and put in steps.

I'm not aware of a better proposal at the moment.

Federal Exemption

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I commute to work in the HOV lanes on the Dulles Toll Road and on Interstate 66 inside the Beltway. I very often see individuals driving alone along those routes in their Crown Victoria or Marquis, or the occasional Lumina.

These cars have some indication of being affiliated with a law enforcement agency, such as red/blue light boxes on the rear counter or inside the grille.

The license plates are standard state plates from Virginia, Maryland and the District -- certainly not government plates of any description. Clearly, the state patrol cars leave them alone.

The drivers are usually in typical business attire. Near as I can tell, they are really just federal employees who are on their way to work. I know that the rest of our dedicated federal employees arrange their commutes to either beat the rush or use the HOV lanes appropriately, or endure the traffic.

Those of us who do carpool get tired of seeing others ignore the law and drive down the HOV lanes. Why should we feel differently toward these federal employees, whatever agency they work for?

Bob Acker

Ashburn

I can sympathize with your frustration. But drivers of police vehicles are given an exemption from HOV restrictions. It doesn't matter if they are responding to an emergency or just commuting.

I'd focus instead on the bigger problem in HOV lanes: the run-of-the-mill cheaters. They are the ones who bollix up the lanes.

The General Assembly needs to increase the fine to several hundred dollars per offense. I haven't heard of this being considered in the current session. Too bad.

Dulles to the Rescue

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

You've surely heard many stories of woe stemming from the great blizzard of February. I'd like to share a positive story with you.

My wife, 18-month-old daughter and I arrived into Dulles International Airport on Feb. 16 at 3:30 p.m., in the height on the snowstorm. We were on a Swissair flight from Zurich, one of the handful of flights to land on Dulles's single open runway that day.

We spent three -- yes, three -- hours in the airport waiting for our bags to arrive, because the baggage cart was stuck in the snow, and because customs agents wouldn't allow passengers to leave without our bags. The agents finally relented, and we headed out of the airport at 7:15 p.m., fatigued from the trip and the long wait and worried about our prospects of getting home to Arlington.

We boarded the shuttle bus to the economy parking lot. (Our first surprise was that the shuttles were even running during the storm.) When we arrived at the Green Lot, we were met with a surreal scene: a sea of white with hundreds of white lumps, one of which was our car.

Since we have an all-wheel-drive Subaru Outback, we were fairly confident that we could make it home if we could manage to get the car unstuck from the snow. What happened next was nothing short of amazing.

Dulles officials had made appropriate arrangements for this situation. First, a courtesy van showed up to keep us warm. Then, a plow came by and cleared our parking lane as well as a space behind our car. Then, a man popped out of another truck with a heavy-duty shovel in hand and dug out the nearly two feet of snow around and on top of the car.

After only about a 20-minute delay, we made it out of the lot and then slowly made it home on a relatively clear Dulles Access Road and Interstate 66.

We are exceedingly grateful to the operations managers at Dulles for taking the initiative and ensuring that customers like us were able to make it out of the airport under such terrible conditions. I hope their action sets an example for other Washington-area service providers.

Mike Brown

Arlington

Thanks for an extraordinary story. The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority can take a bow.

A Foggy Issue

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

It may be possible for some of your readers to answer the question of why do people drive in daytime traffic with their fog lights on when there is not a cloud in the sky.

In fact, two of these people I saw today were inside the parking garage at Landmark Mall.

George Bogart

Alexandria

I'd like to know. I'll bet that our accumulated aggravation over fog lights exceeds the benefits to drivers who own them. Now I've seen fog lights as big as headlights, meaning you get four big lights in the face instead of two. They might as well mount a searchlight on the roof.

Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.

Dr. Gridlock appears Sunday in the Metro section and Thursday in Prince William Extra. You can write to Dr. Gridlock, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers to receive e-mail, at drgridlock@washpost.com, or faxes, at 703-352-3908. Please include your full name, town, county and day and evening phone numbers.