Ambivalence

Today I was gently dressed down for being a “highly educated, articulate, upper middle class white person” who “didn’t pay taxes to support L.A.’s crumbling infrastructure.” Huh? I guess I earned the epithet, but let me explain.

For some time now, California has allowed certain vehicles to drive in the car pool lanes with a single occupant if they met a certain environmental standard, which typically required super low emissions and high mileage. Both the Prius and the Honda Civic hybrid qualified. This program came to an end in California about a year ago, and all the folks with the “stickers” got booted from the car pool lanes as a stricter standard was rolled out.

I knew this was going to happen before it did, and because I am a frequent commuter into LA, I researched which cars might meet the new higher requirements. Of the likely candidates (including the Tesla roadster, the Ford Think, the electric smart, the natural gas Honda Civic, and the all-electric Nissan Leaf) I settled on the Leaf, and got on a waiting list. My car was delivered on December 4th, and I got my new car pool stickers about three weeks later, and all was well.

(As an aside, I usually take transit to work: I drive about eight miles to a train station, then take Metrolink to LA Union Station where I transfer to the Metro Red Line subway and ride three stops to my building. The Leaf in the car pool is really for those days when I have to leave the office for a meeting in a location transit doesn’t serve, or stay in the evening after the time the last train home has run.)

A new traffic easing measure is about to be implemented near downtown. The last eight miles or so of the 110 Freeway are being converted to express toll lanes, which will now be open to anyone willing to pay the “congestion pricing” rates to use them and escape the rush hour parking lot which is the regular lanes on that stretch of road. In theory, this new broader access to the express lanes is supposed to encourage enough cars to move out of the regular lanes to ease the flow there. (Doesn’t that argument suggest that the express lanes will become as congested as the others? But I digress.)

Oh, and by the way, those of us with the car pool access stickers for our more environmentally sensitive cars will lose our free pass to the lanes, and need to pay the toll just like everybody else. I am irritated by this, because after all my waiting, I will have enjoyed my free access for less than a year.

I have now expressed this situation to a few different people who are involved in the situation. In two of three instances, I was told that with my fancy electric car, I wasn’t paying any gasoline taxes, so why should I enjoy this perk? So, let me get this straight: if I were to extend that logic to its extreme, wouldn’t it suggest we should encourage people to use as much gasoline as possible in order to pump up the tax increment coming from fuel sales so we can fix the dang roads? Maybe the recent experimentation with alt fuel cars should be reversed, and the express lanes opened to giant gas-guzzling V-12s and monster trucks whose drivers spend $100 on gas for a round trip from Anaheim to LA.

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