Cassidy and doctoral student Kitae Jang conducted a study of Bay Area freeway traffic before and after July 1, when the Legislature let lapse a 2005 program that allotted yellow stickers granting access to HOV lanes for low or solo occupancy to 85,000 hybrid vehicles. The researchers found that everybody loses. "Drivers of low-emission vehicles are worse off, (and) drivers in the regular lanes are worse off," Cassidy said in a statement.
But though transportation solons had predicted that removing hybrids' privilege would speed up car pool lanes, the opposite occurred: "Drivers in the car pool lanes are worse off." When regular traffic backs up, drivers in car pool lanes slow down, too.
Cassidy thinks that the best way to ease the commute would be to "put the 85,000 (hybrids) back, and then some." (This is probably a good place for me to mention that I drive a hybrid.) The "then some" could come by adding more hybrids or by allowing solo drivers to pay to travel in high-occupancy toll corridors.
Spokesman Randy Rentschler noted that the Metropolitan Transportation Commission prefers HOT lanes, as they are "more democratic" and "open to everybody, not a class of vehicles." Reason Foundation's Robert Poole also supports HOT lanes.
But Rentschler admits that the creation of more HOT lanes isn't likely to happen for years.
So bring back the hybrids.
Granted, this is one study. In a statement, the California Department of Transportation said that it "would need to analyze traffic for an extended period to verify that hybrid vehicles no longer being in the car pool lane (is) causing increased congestion."
Problem: The Legislature acted too soon. As California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton argued in the spring, Sacramento at least should have kept the yellow sticker program until 2012, when a federal program for new green cars begins.
California Air Resources Board spokesman Stanley Young explained that lawmakers added hybrids to the car pool lane to promote a new technology that is "now mainstream, so we are moving into the next generation of advanced technology vehicles." But the new green cars have waiting lists and higher price tags. It will take a long time to put 85,000 on the road.
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