I’m driving a car with “green” plates this week, a Ford C-Max Energi. It’s one of the few cars with enough headroom for my 6’4” son, and while the battery takes up most of the trunk space (a fact Iremembered as I stuffed 200 bucks worth of groceries onto the back seat yesterday), it also allows me to use the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes with only one – me. And that’s where the guilt begins.
I know full well as I zip along I’m using just as much fuel as many of the poor bastards stuck in the slow-moving Tetris game to my right. My hybrid switched from the electric engine to the gas one long before I left the on ramp.
As HOV lanes have been introduced in the Greater Toronto Area over the past few years, prickly arguments are made when the rules get stretched. Initially, it was fun to hear of people using blow-up dolls as passengers; some try to argue that a pregnant woman counts as two people, which of course is an entirely different debate. Let’s just say if you’re pregnant and get caught using the lane, you’d better be prepared to give birth right there and then to avoid a ticket.
In Ontario, those green plates allow you access until June, 2015. Incentive, of course, to buy that hybrid. To go along with all those other government rebate incentives you get because so few people can stomach paying an overwhelming amount of money for an underwhelming amount of car. But while I can trundle along in my borrowed righteousness, I’m passing a lot of vehicles that get excellent fuel economy, too. Why can’t that motorcycle use these lanes? Why not that Smart car?
HOV lanes are a congestion win while being a psychological loss. If you’re not in that lane, you hate the people who are. On a crowded highway, try to make your way over to that lane. Try to get out of it to get to your exit. There are drivers who are better at blocking than whoever won the last Super Bowl. Those clearly marked entry and exit points make good sense on paper, but I think you should be able to exit commuter lanes when it’s safest to do so, not when the paint says you can.
An older gentleman, a little rattled by a previous incident, asked me about commuter lane etiquette. “Am I required to speed excessively just because the person behind me wants to?” he asked. Good question. Ask a cop, you’ll get the standard mumble about speed limits. Truth is, we’ve been conditioned to pass on the left. If the passing lane now has another lane to the left, that must be a passing passing lane. I told him the truth: if traffic is moving decently, just cruise in the right-hand lane. I am a firm believer in extracting yourself from any driving situation that makes you tense or angry. If that means the highway terrorists win, I can live with it. I’m not going to play Stand Your Ground with an idiot piloting a death machine as he takes a break from an eight-hour shift of playing Grand Theft Auto.
A recent traffic study released by TomTom put Vancouver in fifth place for the worst traffic congestion in North America, while Toronto landed ninth. It’s nice to be included with the heavy hitters, like New York and San Francisco, but it’s a problem that costs billions in lost productivity every year, and it’s getting worse instead of better. There is talk now of using the lanes as toll generators – you can pay to be special. It would be a novel idea here in the GTA for a toll road to generate money for use in the region it resides in; the 407 Express Toll Route was trumpeted as an answer to endless commutes, but instead is just a cash cow for the Spanish company that owns most of it.
The problem? If present HOV lanes are converted to High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes, some present users will probably get turfed out because of space. In several American jurisdictions, they work because cars have to have three or more occupants to use them free, while singletons can pay the toll. This might mean if you and your spouse are currently carpooling, you’ll be back with the great unwashed.
Traffic gurus can push around all the numbers they like, but the bottom line is that if I have to suffer, so do you. It doesn’t have to make sense; this is not reasonable people pushing shopping carts around a grocery store. We’re talking about overcrowded roadways full of people spending too much time bottled up in their vehicles while everybody thinks public transit is for someone else, and without a cohesive plan in place, it really is.
Those green-plated tree-hugger buggies? Still just more cars on the road.