Tim Haab at Environmental Economics picks up on the problems with the growing dual uses of “high-occupancy vehicle” lanes on highways, which I wrote about in this post last month. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is setting federal standards for low-emissions/high-efficiency vehicles that could be permitted in HOV lanes regardless of how many passengers they carry.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t the original intent of HOV lanes to provide an economic incentive–decreased travel time and congestion–to drivers and passengers who voluntarily choose to reduce the number of cars on the road? The new fuel efficiency designation and HOV exemption seems to be at slight odds with this goal as it does not reduce the number of cars on the road and has the potential to increase congestion in HOV lanes.
He points out that HOV lanes have not been raging successes in many jurisdictions, so the overall impact might be minimal — it might be possible to add quite a lot of hybrids and low-emission vehicles to HOV lanes without congesting them significantly.
But if gas prices stay high and consumers start favouring smaller and more efficient cars for their own merits, I suspect that line of reasoning will go out the window. Solo drivers will get access to HOV lanes as a pleasant byproduct of choices made for other reasons, and the congestion problems HOV lanes were supposed to solve will come right back.