HOV lanes waste gasoline and are bad for the environment. How often have you sat idling, virtually motionless when an occasional vehicle drives by? How about watching the traffic reports on the news and seeing the HOV lanes severely underutilized while hundreds or thousands of cars sit idle or barely moving? Imagine the wasted fuel and exhaust emissions as tens or hundreds of thousands of vehicles sitting twice a day for hours while an adjacent lane is open. Let’s toss in the ill-conceived notion of FasTrak access while we’re at it.
Wasting gas and contributing to polluting the environment are the major drawbacks of HOV lanes. Discriminatory access is patently unfair. Productivity delays and wear and tear are secondary. The intent of the expressway system is to allow as much traffic as possible to move efficiently and safely. That’s it, no other function or purpose.
People will carpool if possible. They already use mass transit when they can. The cost of living is high, gas prices are never satisfactory, automobiles are expensive and people will carpool with the incentive of reducing costs. Penalizing other drivers by forcing them into less lanes while one lane is underutilized is nearly criminal in its stupidity, discrimination and environmental impact.
The original intent of the carpool lanes is to encourage or reward people who share rides going to work. Let’s look at who it penalizes:
- Company employees who don’t have co-workers living near each other.
- People whose schedules require them to do things outside of the normal commute to work and home. This could include children, classes, gym, errands, appointments, etc.
- Any employee whose job requires travel such as sales, repair, delivery, services, either regularly or sporadically.
- “Flex-hour” employees who drive before 9am or after 3pm.
- Any person who is off work during the week and must plan on traffic back-ups during the week while attending to personal business.
- Those that cannot afford, need or can drive a qualified hybrid or electric vehicle. How many minivans and pick-up trucks qualify for carpool lanes? Should they qualify? We’ll address that too.
Now let’s look what at the NEGATIVE aspects of more cars forced into LESS lanes
- Long back-ups consume more gas. Far more than the gas saved by the carpools.
- Carpool lanes contribute to congestion. Every commuter on 280, 680, 237, 85, San Tomas, etc. recognizes this every weekday. They force traffic into less available lanes. One estimate is twenty percent greater congestion: www.thenewspaper.com/news/10/1047.asp
- Longer back-ups cause more pollution. These are environmental disasters in every area where thousands of cars idle while there are under-utilized lanes that would allow the average speed of all traffic to increase significantly.
- Delays, pollution and consuming more gas negatively affect the economy. The money spent could be channeled elsewhere.
- Large speed differentials in two different lanes is dangerous due to visual perception, merging, etc.
And of course the failed logic of both carpool and FasTrak lanes:
- FasTrak lanes are not enforceable. They don’t have cameras to count occupants. FasTrak lanes with license plate cameras cannot know how many occupants a registered FasTrak owner has in the vehicle, penalizing the FasTrak owner if not solo when in a monitored lane. It’s ridiculous in the sheer stupidity.
- Enforcement is unrealistic. Wasting police time and slowing traffic spotting solo drivers only to find out there is a small child or infant obscured by legally tinted windows. Cameras won’t work for the same reason.
- Why do more fuel efficient vehicles get to travel more efficiently when less efficient vehicles are stuck in inefficient back-ups?
- Why do two people in a 15mpg truck get a pass over a 40mpg diesel (Update: actually 50mpg until the upcoming VW recall) in the regular lanes?
- Why are 40mpg gas/diesel vehicles not allowed when a hybrid SUV, possibly with a solo occupant is getting 28mpg or less?
- If the HOV lanes are fully utilized, then all the lanes are at capacity so what difference does it make that there is a restricted one?
- And finally, why do archaic toll booths even continue to exist? To waste more fuel?
The current and proposed incentives are also illogical. Motorcyclists, electric vehicle and (most) hybrid owners don’t need discounts, they are already saving fuel! Taxing gasoline isn’t a solution because hybrids and electric vehicles don’t consume as much gas but they still contribute to highway wear. The ride-sharing public? They already recognized savings and discounts by their act alone.
There is a real hypocrisy with hybrid SUVs and luxury sedans that are efficient, but do not “save” fuel consumption versus a less powerful or smaller sized vehicle. In other words, a larger, heavier or more powerful hybrid whose fuel efficiency is the same as a non-hybrid still receives a carpool sticker. This makes no sense.
If revenue must be realized by vehicles on the road then the best method is a reader system like the Washington State “Good To Go!” program. Their solution is a coded decal on the windshield or motorcycle headlight or a license plate mounted unit and supplemented by license plate readers for those who don’t have an account. Every vehicle on the road then accounts for its presence. Those who do not have an online account or credit card on file will simply be mailed a monthly bill. But NO method should ever be used to restrict lane access.
The bottom line is carpool lanes need to be abolished. All lawful drivers have the right to use all the lanes. If revenue must be raised, the only fair, logical, environmentally friendly and enforceable method to collect funds is license plate cameras or coded windshield decal headers regardless of the vehicle type of number of occupants. Its time our local and state representatives as well as CalTrans wake up and do what is right for commuters and the environment. Until then, the rest of us should drive in whatever lane is available and most efficient.