Economics - General

Do hybrids increase traffic?

Hybrid cars are supposed to save the environment, but they will also increase traffic. How can this be?

Example 1

Let us suppose that Hybrid Harry has a hybrid car which gets 50 mpg. Gas-guzzler Gary has a truck which gets 20 mpg. Both Harry and Gary live in San Diego and have relatives in Los Angeles that they visit over the holidays. Gary is much more likely to take the train to LA than Harry. Let’s see why:

It is about 240 miles to go from San Diego to LA and back. This means that Harry will use 4.8 gallons of gas. If a gallon of gas costs $3.50, than Harry will spend $16.80 on his trip.

Gary will need to use 12 gallons of gas to get from San Diego to Los Angeles. At $3.50 per gallon, Gary’s trip will cost $42.

If a train ticket costs $30 round trip, then Hybrid Harry will decide to drive while Gas-guzzler Gary will make the environmentally friendly choice of taking the train.

Example 2

Using a similar logic, Hybrid Harry will be more willing to live in the suburbs or exurbs and have a longer commute to work. Since commuting is cheaper for Hybrid Harry than Gas-guzzler Gary, Gary is more likely to live closer to his work.

Thus, we see that Hybrid Harry will be driving more miles than Gary and creating more traffic.