Monday, February 12, 2007

Everyone in to the Pool


IF the California state bureaucracy were a reality TV show, it might very well be called "American Idle."

Two news stories that appeared over the weekend underscore the point:

One reported that there is so much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that even if concentrations remained at current levels, the effects of global warming would continue for centuries.

That grim assessment came from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, which also concluded that the world was in for centuries of climbing temperatures, rising seas and shifting weather patterns.

There is still hope, the panel concluded, that prompt and decisive worldwide effort could blunt the most serious consequences of global warming.

The other story told us that the state Department of Motor Vehicles had issued all 85,000 car-pool lane stickers available to hybrid drivers under a state law passed in 2005.

The passes allowed drivers of hybrids that get at least 45 miles per gallon to drive in freeway car-pool lanes, even if they are alone. Three vehicles qualified: the Toyota Prius, the Honda Insight and the hybrid Honda Civic. But no more. Those still contemplating a hybrid purchase have one other option: buying a used hybrid that already has a sticker. The stickers stay with the vehicles when they are sold.

Taken together, we can can surmise the following from these two stories: At the same time the world teeters on an environmental precipice, the folks in Sacramento led by our Hummer-hugging governor are telling potential owners of cars that reduce gasoline consumption and air pollution to put it in park. Incentives? We don't need no stinking incentives.

Lawmakers, it seems, are becoming concerned that car-pool lanes are filling up with those pesky hybrids. They want to reserve those lanes for car-poolers. Of course, car-pooling in this country has never exceeded 20 percent of the commuting public, according to studies by the Transportation Research Board which used census data to determine its findings.

The fact is that 85,000 carpool stickers is not a big deal in a state that has nearly 33 million registered vehicles. Indeed, a California Department of Transportation study revealed that only about 4 percent of car pools showed more congestion between April 2005 and 2006.

According to a published report, the study said there was "no clear indication" that car-pool lanes were becoming congested after stickers were introduced.

So here's a plan: Not only should current and future hybrid owners have continued access to car-pool lanes, they should be given free and unlimited parking whenever feasible on public streets and they should receive substantial savings on their insurance - plus a generous tax break on top of that.

If we are going to get serious about global warming - and it would appear the time has come to do exactly that - it is folly for the state of California to throw up a roadblock at hybrid transportation.

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