High Occupancy Goverment (HOG)

The worst of Hurricane Sandy seems to have passed through the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast and now people are dealing with the aftermath. By the Grace of God, we fared OK here in Washington, DC. A cynic might argue that, with an election at hand, the country would be better off if Sandy had ripped a big hole through the nation’s capital, but I’m not a cynic. OK, stop laughing.

I had the pleasure of driving my daughter to school this morning, which is no small task on a normal day, given the 16 miles of rush hour traffic it takes to get to her school. It was particularly bad this morning because of the storm.Well, except the first major tie up had nothing to do with the storm. I-270 was bumper to bumper for about 5 miles because the brilliant Maryland State Police decided to pick an already miserable traffic day to start pulling cars over for HOV lane violations. I will pause briefly for the benefit of readers without HOV lanes in their home state to explain what it is. HOV, in theory, stands for high occupancy vehicle and an HOV lane is one that can be used only by cars with 2 (or, in some cases, 3 or 4) occupants during rush hour windows. When this silly idea was conceived 30 years ago, the goal was to reduce traffic on highways and lower auto emissions by encouraging people to carpool.

It was a dumb idea then and it’s an even dumber idea now. More important, it is yet another tax on the wealthy. I have a call in to Mitt Romney to encourage him to campaign on the “abolish the HOV lanes” platform. No return call yet, but I’ll keep you posted.

Let me parse this out a bit more for you, in case you haven’t yet seen the glimmeringly obvious flaw in this inane concept. First, let’s talk about the carpool, and I don’t mean the one you drive with 4 kids to baseball practice in your minivan. That carpool is alive and well, but generally does not take place at 6:30 AM. I’m talking about the carpool where 4 working stiffs grab their lunch buckets and stand at the front door waiting for “the carpool” to arrive for pick up.

In case you’re having trouble picturing this, here is the last legit carpool.

And here is the last legit carpooler.

Why is Ward looking so troubled? Could his carpooling days really be over?

Note the troubled look on Ward’s face. Why do you suppose that is? Allow me to explain. Just minutes before this picture was taken, Ward’s boss came into his office and this conversation took place.

Ward’s Boss: “Hey Ward, we’re exiting the 50s and heading into the 60s. Soon it will be the 70s and then the 80s. Unfortunately, your days of getting in at 9 AM, taking an hour for lunch, and punching the clock to go home at 5 are officially over. We’re about to be competing against the Japanese and, after that, the Chinese. We’re going to have to work a whole lot harder.”

Ward: “What do you mean, I work very hard for 8 solid hours every day. Well, OK, 7 if count my lunch hour.”

Boss: “You’re missing my point, Ward. Some days you may have to work past 5. I may need you in here at 7 AM some days.”

Ward: “Ha ha ha.”

Boss: “Ward, did I say something funny?”

Ward: “Uh, no. I just thought you were kidding. Sorry, there’s no way I can stay past 5. That’s when my carpool leaves. And, the carpool doesn’t even pick me up until 8:45 AM in the morning. Coming in at 7 would be impossible.”

Boss: “The carpool is dead.”

And, there it was. Dateline 1958. The carpool died. Twenty years later, the HOV lane was created to accommodate the carpool.

So, this begs the question of who is actually using the HOV lanes. If today’s experience is any indication, I guess there are plenty of cheaters. I will confess (but later deny if accused in a court of competent jurisdiction – no idea what that means, but I really like the official legal sound of it) that I have solo’ed in the HOV lane many times when I’m late and the traffic is bad. But, who’s using them legally? Here in DC, my guess is federal government workers. Now, I got my wrist slapped recently on Facebook when I posted something about bad traffic at 3 PM being the early exodus of government employees so I need to be careful. But, I think it is a safe bet that the average federal government worker is putting in far fewer hours than their private sector counterpart. Thus, they end up with predictable 9-5 (or 7-3) type hours and can likely enjoy all the benefits of a carpool and the HOV lane. Maybe we should call it the HOG lane (High Occupancy Government).

Likewise, my guess is that folks in the 1% or surrounding areas cannot work such predictable hours, can never carpool, and thus never get to use the HOV lanes. Stay with me here – that means that the higher income folks, who pay a higher percentage of taxes, pay more to build HOV lanes and never get to use them. What’s my solution? Either get rid of them altogether or allow people to use them based on how much they paid to build them. Hell, I’d even go for a pay as you go system, whereby anyone could buy an HOV pass and use the lane with impunity, regardless of how many occupants in the car or the time of day. The government could give the money to Solyndra and everyone would be happy. Hey, I’m just trying to be a little creative here. Your ideas are welcome too!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I hear a horn honking outside. My carpool must be here.