I have long argued that economics and conditioning can explain most things in the world.

A great example of an economics concept applied is — HOV a.k.a carpool lanes. In US and several other countries, road and highway providers typically reserve one lane for high occupancy vehicles (HOV) — the intent being that they want more people to travel in fewer cars, resulting in lesser fuel consumption and lesser emissions. Obviously, the underlying assumption is that there are a disproportionately low number of HOVs and it will not increase significantly even after implementing HOV lanes.

The author of this CD Howe article argues that HOVs have limited effectiveness in controlling congestion and hence they should be converted to “premium lanes”, the premium for which shall be waived for HOVs.

My view of the situation is as follows –

Implementing HOV lanes is a strong message — when you are on a general lane and you see HOVs are whizzing past you, and when you realize you cannot “buy” that privilege, it is a strong sign that you should consider including more people in your ride. It is for the same reason some states — California for sure — allowed — in addition to HOVs — hybrid cars in the HOV lane. In that case, the messaging is “get more people in your ride OR get a hybrid car OR be left behind”

By making this a premium lane, the fundamental concept will change. Even if 10% of non-HOVs start paying a premium to ride in the HOV lane, it wills enough to congest the HOV lane/s, making it unattractive for anyone, especially. Eventually, HOVs and hybrid vehicles will not have enough incentive to plan pooled rides or buy hybrid cars. HOV lanes will become just “front-of-line” passes.

My conclusion –

The proposal included in the article fundamentally changes the purpose / spirit of using a special purpose lane. Also, the premise of the proposal is incorrect — my view is that the purpose of HOV lanes is not to decrease congestion, but to promote HOVs.

Special purpose lanes are examples of powerful mass communication tools and should be used that way. By making them something “money can buy”, the value decreases significantly.