Pimp My Ride

We’ve covered the topic of hybrid vehicles a couple times here at Wizbang, but this week I’m making the leap and buying a hybrid.

Why?

It’s not environmentalism or a burning desire for better fuel mileage that informs my decision, though those are nice side benefits. The real reason is that use of HOV lanes. Northern Virgina does not have a lot of them, but it seems like most of them are on my path to the office. Worst of all is that Interstate 66 is HOV only in at rush hour inside the Capital Beltway.

The interesting factoid about hybrids use of the HOV lanes (which may expire in July 2006) is Virginia may depress the market for these vehicles by removing their HOV exemption, all in the interest of keeping carpoolers happy. At this point VDOT hasn’t committed to renewing the allowance for hybrids in HOV lanes when it expires in 2006. They’re worried that HOV lanes would be overcrowded by the vehicles.

Aside from the fact that the overcrowding is still a myth, the better question is by what right the carpoolers claim exclusive province of the HOV lanes? The reason behind the lanes creation are clear – reducing emissions. There’s no mandate to make commuting easier for groups of 2 or 3, the only mandate is that the big cities reduce pollution levels. The commuting convenience is a nice byproduct.

In that light 3 single passenger hybrid zero emissions vehicle (ZEV) are preferable to one three passenger vehicle producing more emissions than the three hybrids combined. Of course this will produce howls of outrage among carpoolers who have grown accustom to using the less traveled HOV lanes. The thing is I have no sympathy for their position – HOV was designed to keep emission producing cars of the road by hanging a nice carrot in front of drivers. With the advent of low or zero emission vehicles that reward structure needs to be re-evaluated by transportation policy makers. I haven’t checked by I’d suspect that major metro areas are still under orders from the EPA to reduce emissions and hybrids and HOV’s are both paths toward that goal. Preferring one over the other seems counter productive.

As to their concerns of carpoolers about crowded HOV lanes I say, “welcome to the commuting world the rest of us live in”

Update: I forgot to mention another net positive of buying a hybrid, a federal tax credit of (I think) $2,000, which at the top tax rates is a little over $600 net. Even that does not trump the “time is money” factor of 1 1/2 years (at a minimum) of reduced drive time.

I’ll do the math for you. Assume I save 30 minutes a day in total commute time, and that there are 375 commuting days until July 2006. If you assign $50 an hour for that time (YMMV, but I’m using DC prices here) the total value of the time savings in $9,375 over that year and a half, or a little over $6,000 a year.

With the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic Hybrid, and Honda Accord Hybrid priced competitively with similar non-hybrid models I’d have to be nuts to pass up over $10,000 in savings over the next 1 1/2 years, not to mention the reduction in grey hairs and stress. If they extend the exemption my saving just continues on…

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