NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 21, 2005

To encourage environmental friendly behavior, politicians have offered numerous incentives for people to buy hybrid cars. However, Ted Balaker (Reason magazine) argues that some of these incentives actually make the environment worse.

The author notes that in Virginia:

  • Officials allowed hybrid cars to use carpool lanes even if there was only one passenger -- clogging carpool lanes and increasing idle time for all cars on the road.
  • This hurt the environment, because cars stuck in traffic burn more fuel and emit more emissions than those driving in free flow.
  • Consequently, a single incentive managed to compromise the environmental benefits of hybrids, increase gridlock and decrease the incentive to carpool.

Despite these problems, other states like Massachusetts, Minnesota, Georgia and California are planning to follow Virginia's lead. Indeed, as hybrid cars become more popular, the problem is only going to get worse, says Balaker.

Unfortunately, says Balaker, this perk is unlikely to be repealed. Once an interest group gains a special privilege, they fight hard to keep it.

The author argues that the best policy is to treat hybrid cars like normal cars. He notes that air quality was improving even before hybrids. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), despite the fact vehicles miles traveled increased 155 percent in recent decades, pollution has been cut nearly in half.

Source: Ted Balaker, "Winner for Best Gaseous Emissions," Reason, February 25, 2005.

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