Sunday, April 16, 2006

Life in the Green Lane

Good op-ed in the New York Times about how hybrid technology is not as important as gas mileage when it comes to being green.

And yet like fat-free desserts, which sound healthy but can still make you fat, the hybrid car can make people feel as if they're doing something good, even when they're doing nothing special at all. As consumers and governments at every level climb onto the hybrid bandwagon, there is the very real danger of elevating the technology at the expense of the intended outcome — saving gas.

Several bills floating around Congress, for instance, have proposed tax incentives to buyers of hybrid cars, irrespective of their gas mileage. Thus, under one failed but sure to resurface formulation, the suburbanite who buys a hypothetical hybrid Dodge Durango that gets 14 miles per gallon instead of 12 thanks to its second, electric power source would be entitled to a huge tax incentive, while the buyer of a conventional, gasoline-powered Honda Civic that delivers 40 miles per gallon on the open road gets none.
That is why I think there should be a $2 a gallon tax on gasoline but no tax breaks for hybrids. The whole point of the hybrid is to save gas. But it is not the only way to save gas, and it shouldn't be favored against the others. The best way to limit gasoline use is to tax it directly. This way, hybrids will be used where they really do save lots of gasoline, like taxis and buses and not so much in other cases where other technologies can save more gasoline for less money.
And under some imaginable patchwork of state and local ordinances, the Durango buyer might get a special parking space at the train station and the right to use a high occupancy vehicle lane, despite appalling fuel economy and a car full of empty seats, while the Honda driver will have to walk to the train from a distant parking lot after braving the worst of morning rush hour traffic on the highway just like everybody else.
Instead of allowing hybrid cars to use the HOV lanes, I think they should have a minimum miles per gallon per passenger rule. If you get over 40 mpg per passenger then you can use it. So, a Prius with one person getting 40mpg is in. Or a Honda Accord with 2 people that gets 20mpg. If you are driving a Hummer getting 10mpg, if you have 4 people then you are eligible. It is the amount of gas you are using per person that is important, rather than the technology or the car. This might be tough to do technically right now, but it is definitely possible for the future.

And ironically, it looks like while hybrids get much better mileage than normal cars in stop and go traffic, they get no advantage and possibly a disadvantage when travelling full speed on the freeway (as in an HOV lane).
On a cross-country excursion in a Prius, the staff of Automobile Magazine discovered mileage plummeted on the Interstate. In fact, the car's computer, which controls the engine and the motor, allowing them to run together or separately, was programmed to direct the Prius to spend most of its highway time running on gasoline because at higher speeds the batteries quickly get exhausted. Indeed, the gasoline engine worked so hard that we calculated we might have used less fuel on our journey if we had been driving Toyota's conventionally powered, similarly sized Corolla — which costs thousands less.

1 comment:

viral said...

interesting stuff ... though i have to say that i don't have the same experience as they do w.r.t. prius on the highway ... i still get over 40 on the highway and i drive economically, about 48. ironically, in traffic-y conditions you can get 52.

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