Smart Car might get the Green-Light on Green Licenses

As the world drives toward a cleaner environment, individual drivers, with the help of governments, are going to have to change their purchasing habits.

Some people will change their habits simply because they want to do what is right. Others, who are less altruistic, will require incentives to prod them to make decisions that take the general good into account. Offering incentives, as opposed to legislating outright bans, has the advantage of permitting individuals to make the final decision.

The federal Conservatives understood this approach when they offered in their spring budget to grant rebates of up to $2,000 to drivers who purchase superefficient vehicles.

Now, the provincial Liberals are thinking of offering something similar. Environment Minister Laurel Broten told a news conference last week the government is toying with the idea of creating what might be called a "green licence" plate. "This is another way of us helping Ontarians go green," she said.

The government could, for example, provide green-hued licence plates to drivers who use environmentally friendly, low-emission cars and trucks such as the hybrids which use electric motors as well as internal combustion engines.

Another vehicle that might apply is the Smart car, which, because of its small size, uses a minimal amount of fuel.

There are many perks that the owners of such vehicles could be offered. These might include free parking in municipally owned parking spaces and free access to commuter lanes usually reserved for vehicles with multiple occupants. The price of the green licence plates could be set below the current registration fees. The drivers might be required to pay only a minimal fee to cover the cost of issuing the licences. To their credit, the Liberals are taking their time with this subject and don't intend to implement a policy unless they are re-elected in the provincial election. The government plans to consult the vehicle manufacturers as well as environmental groups. The problem, of course, is that there is no perfect measurement of an efficient car.

A rating system may have to be somewhat subjective. A Smart car transporting just one person -- the driver -- for example, may be less efficient on a per-occupant basis than a larger car transporting the driver and several passengers.

Let's accept that, ultimately, the government might have to make some arbitrary decisions that will not please everyone. The goal in this case is not to produce a perfect policy but a reasonable policy. The pursuit of a greener world will make such a policy more than justified.