This is one California trend that I’m not excited to see extended to the Northwest: Gov. Schwarzenegger just signed into law a bill to open up carpool lanes to hybrid cars.

We’ve written about this before, but it’s probably worth repeating: though undoubtedly well-intentioned, this measure probably wouldn’t save any energy.

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  • The measure is obviously designed to boost sales of hybrid cars. But hybrids don’t really need the help—Toyota’s Prius hybrids are already flying off the car lots as fast as they can be built. Moreover, opening up the carpool lanes to hybrids increases highway capacity, and adding more cars to the road—even efficient ones—means more gas consumption. The measure probably won’t even do much, if anything, to ease congestion, because most of the “extra” lane space will soon be snapped up by other drivers.

    Finally, if implemented in the Northwest, the law could actually undermine one of the main benefits of HOV lanes: providing a relatively free-flowing corridor for transit buses and vanpools, which really do reduce congestion. A full bus might carry 40 or more riders. If all of those riders switched to driving alone to work, they’d clog one highway lane for almost a minute and a half. So a fall in bus ridership caused by clogged HOV lanes would mean that everyone on the road would lose out.

    Opening HOVs to hybrids might sound like a nifty way to give hybrids a boost, but let’s not rush into it ourselves, OK?