Texas-Sized Automobile Subsidies


Down in the Lone Star State, officials in the Dallas-Fort Worth area have come up with a Texas-sized subsidy to spur folks to retire old cars and buy cleaner new ones:

In an effort to improve air quality in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the state will offer up to a $3,500 bounty of sorts on vehicles that are more than 10 years old - pre-1996 cars and trucks that emit up to 30 times as much pollution as late-model vehicles.

Owners who agree to "retire" their vehicles will get $3,000 vouchers that can be used toward buying a new car or truck or a late-model used vehicle. If they opt to buy a hybrid, they can get $3,500. The program is strictly voluntary.

It's "strictly voluntary"--except that the funds to pay for it come from mandatory fees. This strikes me as a fairly clever way to line the pockets of relatively wealthy people, who will both be more likely to buy new cars and to work the system in the first place.

More to the point, the program apparently won't bring the area into compliance:

If half of the 40,000 vehicles come from the Dallas area, it could have a fairly substantial impact on air quality.

"Let's say emission amounts for old vehicles are 10 times as high as new vehicles," said Mr. Marston of Environmental Defense. "You multiply that 40,000 by 10 times and that starts to be a real number. In Dallas, that would be equivalent to about 10 percent of the vehicles on the road."

That alone is not enough to bring Dallas into compliance, but every step counts.

There has been a program in place, which offered $1,000 to "low-income" drivers to retire their cars ("low-income" was not defined in the story). It went widely unused and accumulated some $100 million in non-disbursed funds. So now more money will be available to more people:

"The old bill just didn't have juice. It was ineffective. We restructured the program to make it available to a wider population and to make it more enticing. EPA deadlines are looming, and we want to make our program as effective as we can," [state Sen. Kip Averitt (R-Waco) said.]

Hey wait a second: Me thought steroids bad!

The full Dallas Morning News story lays out most of the reasons why this program won't be any more successful than the one it's replacing. The weird incentives regarding dealers are pretty interesting. And there's the question of people with a serviceable beater that's paid for deciding to pay $20,000 for a new car.

Hat tip: Michelle Shinghal.

No discussion of Texas-sized anything is complete without former Dallas Cowboys Roger Staubach's most bizarre moment so far: