Baltimore is catching hybrid incentive fever, but confusion still abounds on emissions. According to the Baltimore Sun, on Monday, October 31, a new program will provide hybrid owners substantial discounts on monthly parking permits at 15 different locations around the city, including parking in special first floor spots. Right now, Baltimore notes that they have only 17 hybrids registered for these permits; its goal is to get 200 in this first round of incentives. You can check out the full list of locations in our incentives section.
On a good note, the city has chosen the three most fuel-efficient models on the market—the Honda Insight, Honda Civic Hybrid, and Toyota Prius—to be the only models to qualify for this incentive at this time. The rationale, however, was a bit confusing. Cindy Parker, a Prius owner and a board member of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, got it right:
"Encouraging people to move away from fossil fuels needs to be done with a combination of incentives and disincentives," said Cindy Parker, who owns a 2004 Toyota Prius, one of three models covered under the program. "The more incentives the better."
More fuel economy equals less dependence on foreign oil. On the more confused side comes this from the mayor’s spokesman, Derek Slap:
"It's worth doing whatever we can to improve air quality," said Slap, who said one reason the city launched the program was to curb high asthma rates.
Okay, here we go again. While there is certainly growing evidence linking global warming pollution with asthma, what Slap was probably referring to is smog-forming emissions. And as we’ve said before on HybridBlog, hybrids give automakers the opportunity to combine fuel efficiency and low smog-forming emissions into one package, but manufacturers have to make that choice. The model year 2005 and older Civic Hybrids with lean-burn engines and manual transmission Insights available in Maryland rate only a 2 out of 10 on the EPA’s smog-forming emissions scale. While Honda’s 2006 Civics are all a sparkling 9.5 on emissions, the Baltimore incentive does not limit the perk to the ’06 model, and the manual Insight has not been cleaned up. So some fuel-efficient, but high-emissions vehicles are going to be given this “air quality” perk.
I make this distinction not to chide Baltimore for their efforts, but as an important reminder that we need to understand the opportunities and limits of hybrid technologies, and not see anything with the “hybrid” label as a silver bullet for oil dependence or air pollution issues. Incentives, just like smart hybrid buyers, should help push manufacturers to bring the most efficient, least polluting vehicles to the market. Sacrificing emissions for improved fuel economy, or sacrificing improved fuel economy for a boost in power, are unneeded tradeoffs that harm the long-term value, and credibility of the hybrid market.
Posted by: ScottN