Buddy Lanes

Buddy Lanes

This morning National Public Radio aired a story on “slugging,” informal carpools, and NotionsCapital will post about this later. First, though, a few thoughts about the highway feature that makes carpooling more attractive, High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes. HOV lanes reward drivers carrying passengers (who might otherwise drive their own cars) by allowing use of the faster, less congested lanes.

The purpose of HOV lanes is reducing traffic congestion. Period. It is not saving polar bears or oil or reducing air pollution or encouraging use of hybrid and electric vehicles. Losing sight of this endangers the whole system. That is why the HOV-2 designation is either an interim measure, a cynical wink at the concept, or a sick joke. Allowing driver-only hybrids in HOV lanes, of course, is an abomination, unworthy of further consideration.

Is the USA a nation of commuters on Harleys, in Corvettes, SmartCars, and Ford 150 pickups? Then HOV-2 lanes make sense, since a single passenger brings these vehicles to full capacity. But we are a nation of six-seat sedans and SUVs, eight-passenger minivans, and four- and five-seat compact cars. Even our pickup trucks have four-passenger “crew cabs.” HOV-2 lanes designate mostly-empty cars as “high occupancy,” an affront to logic and language. These are “Buddy Lanes,” not HOV lanes.

It is said that drivers use HOV-3 lanes less than HOV-2 lanes, and constant whining about under-use of HOV-3 lanes motivates downgrades to HOV-2. Clearly, politicians are not giving the concept enough time to catch on. Drivers seem to cheat about the same on both types of lanes — about 20 percent of all HOV drivers are alone — so both kinds of faster lanes are equally atrractive. Clearly, drivers are resisting the logistical hassle and limitations of multi-passenger carpools, not HOV-3 lanes per se.

That is the beauty of the self-organizing system known as “slugging.”

Buddy Lanes
E. Joseph Deering, Houston Chronicle


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