A sticker wicket for California

A silver Prius from the rearDave at Rattling the Kettle, via the magic of WordPress’s tag-surfer feature, points out a story from USA Today last month about how the state of California has essentially handed the owners of certain hybrid cars several thousand dollars by giving the vehicles access to the state’s carpool lanes even if the driver is the only occupant.

The catch is that California has given out 85,000 access stickers and stopped, because that’s all that legislation allows, and now the stickered cars are tradeable. Hybrids with stickers are worth more than hybrids without.

Now that no new permits are available for hybrids, asking prices average $4,000 more for used Priuses with stickers than without, the survey by car-price tracker Kelley shows.

“It appears people buying Prius vehicles had a different angle” than just saving fuel or polluting less, says Eric Ibara, Kelley’s market valuation director. Kelley sampled prices of 30 2004-06 Priuses offered at used car websites. That’s sufficient to confirm the price difference, Ibara says. He says not enough used Civic hybrids were for sale to include them.

Technically, the Kelley Blue Book survey just found that asking prices for the stickered Priuses (“Prii”?) were $4,000 higher than for the non-stickered, but it certainly makes intuitive sense that drivers would be willing to pay more for cars that are allowed to travel in less-clogged lanes.

Now California is in an interesting bind, in which it’s forced to confront the question of what exactly its highways’ carpool lanes are for. If the primary value of carpooling is supposed to be that it leads to less pollution per commuter, the state needs to start issuing more stickers to environmentally friendlier cars, and stat. Not only that, but the benefit shouldn’t just attach to the drivers of hybrids, but to any car that gets great mileage and meets stringent emissions standards, whether it’s a hybrid or a Smart Car or powered by a battery plugged into solar panels at the owner’s house. The program ought to be interested in results, not the technology used to achieve them.

But if the carpool lanes are supposed to be about reducing traffic and dampening demand for more lanes on busy roads, well, this whole thing is a big step in the wrong direction, encouraging more single-occupancy vehicles, more congestion, more nightmares for California’s traffic engineers.

Don’t expect state legislators to have an easy time with that one.

Photo credit: Flickr/Beige Alert.

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2 responses to “A sticker wicket for California

  1. Pingback: HOV confusion continues « The EcoLibertarian

  2. Pingback: What are gas taxes for? « The EcoLibertarian

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