VA Hybrids Get Another Year of HOV

In a move that surprised exactly no one, Tim Kaine & the Virginia Legislature have extended the HOV exemption for Hybrids on I-66 and the DTR until the middle of next year. The Hybrid Exemption is a bit oddly composed in Virginia: if you’ve owned your hybrid since before June 1st of 2006, you can use your hybrid without meeting the HOV criteria on 395 and 95, as well as I-66 and the DTR. But, if you bought your hybrid after June 1st of 2006, you can only use the HOV lanes on 66 and the DTR, not on 395 or 95.

The question becomes, are we extending the privilege to get more people interested in Hybrid cars? Are we rewarding existing Hybrid owners too greatly for their purchase? Is this actually a commute-faster-if-you’re-wealthy thing?

10 Comments so far

  1. Mike (unregistered) on March 21st, 2007 @ 12:13 pm

    Why would it be a commute faster if you’re wealthy thing?

    I can certainly understand why the legislature is reluctant to take away something they’ve already given out. It’s always harder to pull back.

    Hybrid cars have sold better where these types of incentives are offered. VA and CA are tops on hybrid car sales lists.

  2. Doug (unregistered) on March 21st, 2007 @ 2:48 pm

    Prius owners, or those on a waiting list, may want to take a look at this eye-opening article.

  3. Krempasky (unregistered) on March 22nd, 2007 @ 8:34 am

    “Why would it be a commute faster if you’re wealthy thing?”

    For starters, because hybrids are *considerably* more expensive then their traditional counterparts. Even ones with better mileage. (think a Civic DL vs. a Lexus SUV)

    the odd thing is – if a technology needs subsidy from government (tax breaks, credits, easy access to HOV lanes that everyone else deals with) doesn’t that *by definition* mean that the technology – regardless of raw sales figures – is not competitive in the marketplace yet?

  4. Tom Bridge (unregistered) on March 22nd, 2007 @ 8:36 am

    Krempasky, economies of scale will allow the better mpg technology to get cheaper: meaning, the more hybrids there are built, the cheaper the platform gets as a whole as the numbers involve allow for economies of scale.

  5. Don (unregistered) on March 22nd, 2007 @ 9:00 am

    Being competitive in the marketplace is a measure of direct costs. Tax breaks, etc, are a methodology for addressing the situations where adoption/rejection has notable impact on indirect costs. In the case of hybrids those indirect costs are CO2 emissions and oil dependence, as well as what Tom describes regarding trying to push manufacturing up to a point of lower costs through volume and encourage innovation.

    Personally I view HOV lanes – particularly for our area – as being more important with regards to congestion prevention than emissions issues, so I would like to see this hybrid allowance expire. For the same reason I’m not a fan of the pay-to-play options being discussed, nor do I believe a whit that they’ll ultimately result in improved funding. If there’s been one truth in the last 30 years (perfectly demonstrated by lottery revenues and education) it’s that when government comes up with a new funding stream to “supplement” an area you can be sure that standard funding for that line will reduce and be tasked elsewhere, resulting in the same baseline as before.

  6. Krempasky (unregistered) on March 22nd, 2007 @ 9:01 am

    True – but shortcircuiting the traditional life cycle of technology in the market should be acknowledged. And we’re not just talking initial purchase price, either – remember, it takes YEARS to recoup the investment through savings in gas mileage. (and that’s with a lot of driving – my dad has a hybrid as a commuter – but he’ll never drive nearly enough to make it a good investment, even with a tax break)

    And if we call everything with a gas/electric hybrid engine worthy of taxpayer subsidy (remember – every hybrid sold in the country comes, in part, out of your pocket) you’re also making choices against other forms of technology that may have more promise to be truly green.

    (in short – I’m not a fan of rent-seeking business)

  7. Krempasky (unregistered) on March 22nd, 2007 @ 9:09 am

    btw – i’m way more sensitive to the HOV questions. It’s just not the case that people without means can afford a hybrid car.

  8. rbb (unregistered) on March 22nd, 2007 @ 9:19 am

    Exempting hybrids from HOV-3 restrictions on I-395 accomplishes nothing except making the problem worse.

    The justification for HOV lanes is to reduce congestion – not pollution.

    Three hybrids with one occupant each produce more pollution than one car with 3 occupants.

    Three hybrids with one occupant each cause three times more congestion than one car with three occupants.

    Three hybrids with one occupant each use considerably more fuel than on car with three occupants. For example, consider a 50 mile round trip. I’ll spot the hybrids a charitable 50mpg, although according to the EPA, the real mpg rate of hybrids is much lower… For the regular car, 30 mpg. For the trip, each hybrid will use one gallon of gas for a total of three gallons. The regular car will use 1.67 gallons of gas – 1.33 gallons less than the hybrids. Now divide the gasoline used by the number of occupants of the vehicle. Each hybrid occupant uses one gallon. The occupants of the regular car use .55 gallons each. The hybrid occupant uses 1.8 times more fuel than an occupant of the regular car.

    So, hybrids in the HOV lanes pollute more, cause more congestion, use more fuel AND get a significant tax credit to boot! There is no valid reason to exempt the hybrids from HOV restrictions.

    The only case where hybrids work is when they replace a car in the REGULAR lanes or in the HOV lanes (IF they meet the HOV restrictions).

    As for the question is this a “commute-faster-if-you’re-wealthy thing?” I totally agree.

    I have been using the HOV-3 lanes of I-395 for over 13 years now (and never once cheated by having less than 3 in the vehicle). In the beginning, the fines for cheating were absurdly low. Self-important people, i.e., the ones who felt their time was more important than others, considered the tickets a cost of doing business. Then, the fines went up and points were attached to the violations. It wasn’t the money that bothered the cheaters, it was the points because they could not buy their way out of those. So, magically, about the same time, Virginia decided to violate federal regulations and exempt hybrids from HOV restrictions and give a hefty tax credit to buyers of hybrids. But, as I pointed out above, none of the reasons cited have been realized.

    So, who are the people who bought the expensive hybrids? The same people who could afford to pay the fines for cheating the HOV restrictions. They did not buy them to save the environment, they bought them so they could get to work without having to share a ride or use the regular lanes. The HOVs just became HOT (aka, “Lexus”) lanes and the price of admission is an expensive niche vehicle called a hybrid.

  9. Mike Yukon (unregistered) on April 9th, 2007 @ 10:17 pm

    I’m disappointed that the Virginia has yet again, extended the exemption for Hybrids. When I last talked to a GM factory rep, I heard that they will be coming out with a GMC Yukon SUV, so I’m be looking forward to trading my Yukon in on this new Yukon Hybrid or maybe I’ll get a Hummer that runs on Natural gas. This is very unfortunate and it does nothing for traffic congestion.

  10. Don (unregistered) on April 10th, 2007 @ 10:07 am

    FYI Mike, my reading indicates that using natural gas is not a very effective substitute for gasoline since it’s subject to about the same shortage issues. So if your goal is less expensive fuel or something less subject to shortages and import issues then natural gas is not the way to go. It burns cleaner but you could find yourself up the exact same creek as those of us with traditional gasoline vehicles.

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