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Emissions nudges are better than nothing

If you own a Prius and live in California — particularly freeway-dense Southern California — you’ve gotten a good deal since 2004. A law went into effect then allowing hybrid owners who bought one of a limited supply of yellow “clean air vehicle” decals to drive in the carpool lane, whether or not they were carrying a passenger. But as Felicity Barringer notes in a neat little New York Times piece this morning, the deal is ending on July 1, and decal owners are mad.

It’s easy to see these complaints as whines from over-privileged yuppies, which is how most of the politicians the piece quotes frame it. There’s certainly some of that, but it could be that those over-privileged yuppies have a point. People respond to incentives, and getting to drive in the carpool lane is at least something of one. As UCLA economics professor Matthew Kahn says in the article, California hybrid owners are “a mixture of people wanting to signal their virtuousness and people wanting to get to work quickly.” If the decals spurred people in the latter category to buy hybrids who wouldn’t have otherwise, then they’re doing something right.

To read the full blog post in the Business section of the Washington Post with Bloomberg by Dylan Matthews  click here.