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Hybrid stickers in carpool lane should be sold at dutch auction.

In the SF Bay Area, there are carpool lanes. Drivers of fuel efficient vehicles, which mostly means the Prius and the Honda Civic/Insight Hybrids can apply for a special permit allowing them to drive solo in the carpool lanes. This requires both a slightly ugly yellow sticker on the bumper, and a special transponder for bridges, because the cars are allowed to use the carpool lane on the bridge but don't get the toll exemption that real carpools get.

I think this is good, as long as there is capacity in the carpool lane, because the two goals of the carpool lane are to reduce congestion and also to reduce pollution. The hybrids do the latter. (Though it is argued that hybrids do their real gas saving on city streets, and only save marginally on the highway, comparable to some highly efficient gasoline vehicles.)

However, oddly, the government decided to allocate a fixed number of stickers (which makes sense) and to release them on a first-come, first-served basis, which makes no sense. After the allocation is issued, new buyers of these cars, or future efficient cars can't get the stickers. (Or so they say -- in fact the allocation has been increased once.)

The knowledge that time was running out to get a Prius with carpool privileges was much talked about. And it's clear that a lot of people who buy a hybrid rush to get one of the scarce carpool permits simply because they can, even if they will almost never drive on the highways at rush hour with them.

Society seem to love first-come-first-served as a good definition of "fair" but it seems wrong here. At the very least there should be a yearly fee, so that people who truly don't need the stickers will not get them "just in case." I would go further and suggest the annual fee be decided by dutch auction. For those not familiar, in a dutch auction, all those who wish to bid submit a single, sealed bid. If there are "N" items then the Nth highest bid becomes the price that the top N bidders all pay. There may be a minimum below which the items are not sold.

This can be slightly complex in that you can do this one of two ways. The first is everybody pays their real bid, and losers and overbidders get a refund. This assures all bidders are serious. The other is to set the price, and then bill the winners. The problem here is people might bid high but then balk when they see the final price. You need a way of enforcing the payment. Credit cards can help here. As can, of course, being the government, which can refuse to licence your car until you pay the agreed fees.

Carpool lanes are a hot topic here, of course. The mere mention of the subject of kidpooling (Counting children to determine if a car is a carpool) makes the blood boil in the local newspapers. People feel remarkable senses of entitlements, and lose focus of the real goals -- to reduce congestion and pollution. Emotions would run high here, too.


First, Though it is argued that hybrids do their real gas saving on city streets, and only save marginally on the highway, comparable to some highly efficient gasoline vehicles. is likely a red herring. While the reward (driving in the carpool lane when otherwise not permitted) is tied to highway driving, unless drivers drive exclusively on the highway, they will drive some of the time on surface [city] streets. The DMV should determine which drivers are eligible for additional carpool privileges by an estimation of their potential benefit. The simplest metric is the MPG rating of the car, but the DMV should feel free to experiment with other impartial metrics.

Second, while your proposal seems fair superficially, it tends to discriminate in favor of richer drivers (who could simply "overbid" knowing they will pay the lowest of N bids in the long run). Also, while your method may generate more money for the DMV it fails to (a) allow purchasers of a hybrid to accurately determine the cost of the potential benefit at purchase and (b) focus on the incentive to the vehicle purchaser, rather than DMV funding.

Just my $0.02.

There is a slight bias towards richer drivers here, but I don't anticipate the price to be particularly high. However, I don't see much particular justification for first-come first-served, and price is one of the best metrics we have for need in society.

First-come, first-served means a lot of people get them "just in case." I certainly would selfishly want one, even though I don't commute to work, it just would be handy when I drive at commute hours.

Dutch auction would result in rich people also bidding on them who don't really need them. What this really changes is which set of people get them that don't really need them. In one case it's the first applicants, in the other case it's the rich applicants.

However, the bigger difference is in who doesn't get one that really needs one. With FCFS, it's anybody who enters the game late. With dutch auction, it's nobody as long as the number released is sufficient to keep the price in the range any hybrid commuter can readily afford.

And to top it off, it raises some extra money to maintain the lanes.

To be ideal, you would need to be more complex. The hybrid sticker is, as you say, more a reward for being fuel efficient, since it actually increases rather than reduces congestion on the road. As such I agree that the highway-mileage issue may be not so relevant. Ideally hybrids would only be allowed in the lanes when they have excess capacity. When they get full they should get left for people who are actually taking cars off the road. (Kidpoolers and, in theory even co-domiciled couples should also leave the lane at this time though it's pretty hard to enforce the latter.)

Of course, if you are going to reward the hybrid driver for buying a lower fuel vehicle, it actually would make more sense to reward me (the non-commuter) even more, as I am doing a great deal more to cut fuel consumption by working at home. In the past, I would either bike commute on nice days and drive on rainy ones, again making me much more effective than the regular hybrid commuter. Ditto the commuter who takes the train mostly, but sometimes drives.

In the end, the right way to reward the hybrid buyer is by making gasoline much more expensive. The dedicated lane should be reserved for the people taking cars off the road.

I find it somewhat amusing that my 50mpg (yes really, I checked) VW TDI cannot get a carpool sticker because it doesn't use "hybrid" technology (I guess that means it doesn't have a lot of dangerous heavy metal batteries), yet gets better milage than a Toyota or Honda hybrid in the very same carpool lanes it allows access to. (Hybrid benefits are mainly in stop and go city traffic, they have no benefit at highway speeds)

I just marked it down to fashionable political posturing - making is seem like our lawmakers are "doing something" while in reality completely missing the point.

But you should have applied for a carpool sticker, cited the EPA mpg of your vehicle, and then let them deny you one. Then drive in the carpool lane anyway, and if you get a ticket, challenge it and show the documentation.

I agree entirely. I also don't understand the hype on "new" stuff.
Since 1994 I have been driving cars which get 60 miles per
gallon or more. (Note for folks comparing European "litres
per 100 km" and American "miles per gallon": divide 240 by
one figure to get, approximately, the other. Thus, 4 litres
per 100 km is 60 m.p.g.). First a VW Polo 48-horsepower Diesel,
now a Skoda Fabia 69-horsepower Diesel (SDI). The latter has
the advantage that it also runs on "biodiesel" made from rapeseed
oil. Both of these cars are normal, stock models---no modifications.
The Polo had a top speed of 160 km/h (100 m.p.h.) and the Fabia
185 km/h (110 m.p.h.). Let's face it: no-one needs more horsepower,
with the possible exception of people living in mountainous areas
or pulling trailers. Outside of Germany, no-one (except perhaps
police, ambulances etc) needs a car which can go faster than
140 km/h. Ever.

We need to decrease carbon-dioxide emissions. I think the only
way to do this is to punish people who use too much. Necessary
is to tax the production of carbon dioxide. This punishes driving
too much and using more per kilometre than necessary. However,
it's not sufficient: someone who spends a million on a car (and
such cars produce a lot of emissions) won't worry about higher
fuel cost. However, the punishment has to be based on actual
harm to the environment. First off, low emission is low emission.
It is silly to punish someone getting 60 m.p.g. with 10-year-old
technology and favour someone getting half that (perhaps with a
much larger and more powerful car) just because he is using
new technology. Also, only mineral-oil--based fuel should be
taxed, since biodiesel etc is essentially neutral with respect
to carbon dioxide. (It also burns to carbon dioxide, but that
is essentially just that released which the plants absorbed during
their growth.)

I completely agree. The current policy is regulation. Policy makers should realize that market forces are almost always better than regulation.

Might the "bias toward richer drivers" be a red herring? After all, limiting the sticker availability to hybrids already presents a bias toward those who can afford a hybrid.

Since the carpool lane is largely an incentive to reduce the number of vehicles (directly reducing energy consumption, emissions and congestion - plus some of congestion's associated energy and emissions), and that incentive is reduced as more vehicles use the lane, selling permits to those who will seldom use them may be the desired outcome....

On the issue of co-domiciled occupants, I think there are some who carpool because the lane can be used. I know of one example, a couple with a long commute, whose work schedules are offset by two hours - but they save enough time by being able to use the carpool lane to make it workable and worthwhile.

There may be some number of couple-carpoolers who would otherwise have taken two cars, but I would have to guess that's a tiny minority. Given the goal -- getting cars off the road -- allowing couples to be carpools is a very poor way of doing it. Which is more "fair" -- letting 99 couples who were already carpooling into the lane (at a cost to other users of the lane, and unfairly to all the other people not allowed in) and not allowing 1 truly carpooling couple, or the other way around?

Of course in places where 3 is a Carpool this is much less of an issue.

And the other issue is that it's almost impossible to enforce a rule declaring couples not to be a carpool. So in spite of the fact that it would be better, it's not really practical. In the reverse, not allowing kidpooling, because it removes very few cars from the road makes things easier to enforce, as you no longer have all the cars that look solo but have a baby in the back.

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