California Yanks Prius Perks: No More Hybrid HOV-Lane Access

Follow John

CA 'Access OK' Clean Air Vehicle carpool lane sticker

CA 'Access OK' Clean Air Vehicle carpool lane sticker

You may remember that in California, 85,000 lucky owners of three hybrid vehicles were granted special stickers giving them access to High-Occupancy Vehicle lanes, even with only a single occupant in the car.

Well, their luck runs out on December 31, the last day those stickers are valid. While Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill yesterday that extends certain HOV-Lane Access stickers for four more years, the ones for hybrids aren't included.

Instead, the extended stickers apply only to far less common green vehicles: Fully electric cars (including the Tesla Roadster and 2002 Toyota RAV4 EV), and those that run on natural gas (e.g. the Honda Civic GX) or hydrogen (a la the 2010 Honda FCX Clarity).

Tesla Roadster with CA Clean Air Vehicle sticker -- flickr user jurvetson

Tesla Roadster with CA Clean Air Vehicle sticker -- flickr user jurvetson

Enlarge Photo

Toyota RAV4e electric vehicle, San Francisco, March 2010

Toyota RAV4e electric vehicle, San Francisco, March 2010

Enlarge Photo

Those vehicles have white HOV Access stickers, while the three eligible hybrids--the 1999-2006 Honda Insight, the Honda Civic Hybrid, and the Toyota Prius--stickers are yellow. And those yellow stickers still expire on December 31 of this year.

That impending expiration caused howls of protest earlier this year by the 85,000 lucky hybrid owners. But hybrids' success may have worked against them: Hybrids of all models are now almost 3 percent of overall U.S. vehicle sales, but considerably more in California.

In June 2009, insurance-claim processor Audatex calculated that one of the three models with an HOV-Access permit was worth $1,200 to $1,500 more than one without. Presumably that value has declined steadily as expiration approached.

The measure (AB 1500) signed yesterday by the Governator was one of several so-called Prius Perks, which many commentators expect to be superseded by similar perks to encourage purchase of plug-in vehicles that are just coming into the market.

New battery electric cars, primarily the 2011 Nissan Leaf, already qualify for the newly extended white stickers.

But a separate California bill, SB 535, would extend HOV access both to plug-in hybrids (e.g. the 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid) and electric cars with range-extending gasoline engines (e.g. the 2011 Chevrolet Volt). That bill has not yet passed.

California's original goal was to reduce congestion, thereby encourage purchase and use of hybrid cars that used significantly less gasoline, reducing emissions of both tailpipe pollutants and greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide.

Extending the white permits through January 1, 2015, keeps at most a few thousand electric, natural-gas, and hydrogen vehicles in the HOV Lanes. Removing 85,000 hybrids, though, will free up space for electrics like the Leaf--and potentially the blended plug-ins too.

Plug-In America, an advocacy group that works to support and encourage plug-in vehicles, lauded the passage of AB 1500. The group has a list of current privileges for electric vehicles offered by 21 states and the District of Columbia.

Plug-In America is also working to build support for incentives at the Federal level, especially the Electric Vehicle Deployment Act (Senate Bill S 3442, House H.R. 5442).

For more detailed information on California AB 1500, see the text of the bill and the Legislative Analysis.

Hybrid parking spot, by Flickr user rscottjones

Hybrid parking spot, by Flickr user rscottjones

Enlarge Photo
Follow Us

Comments (16)
  1. It's incorrect to say California's original goal was to increase adoption of hybrid cars. You obviously read the legislative analysis, and I am mystified how you could have come to this conclusion on reading that document. The original purpose of the HOV lane is to decrease traffic congestion and decrease pollution. In 1999 was the first time it was extended, to cover electric vehicles, not hybrid vehicles. Partly because hybrid vehicles weren't yet on the market, of course. It wasn't until 2006 that the program was extended to cover hybrid vehicles. But it's also clear that the other goal, reducing traffic congestion, got lost in the shuffle of rewarding hybrid car owners.

  2. Luck had nothing to do with the situation. Almost all the prius's were bought after the law put the incentives in place. I'm proud to be a Civic GX owner doing my part for clean air and not sending money to terrorists. GX's are not that expensive and you're rewarded with $1 a gallon gas from PGE and a break on the natural gas you use for heating. GX's are available now -- a great opportunity to make your own luck. (Like I did)

  3. @David Herron: Fair point. I knew that but what I wrote obviously didn't it say it that. I've adjusted the copy accordingly.

  4. It's about time!
    I'm a proud owner of a little Honda insight that is also very efficient on the MPG (40!) so why I shouldn't get this type of 'service' from my state?

  5. this is good since hybrids are much more efficient in stop and go drive like what you would find in a trafic jam, and not that efficent at highway speeds due to the fact they have smaller gas motors then an equilvent non hybrid car and that the electric motors are more suited to low speed driving 35 mph.
    these HOV lanes should be used more for big SUV's can get much better gas milage if they are driving at a constant hwy speed (15 to 25 mph depending on the model) but get horrable milage if they are traviling in stop and go traffic (less then 15 mph and could be as low a 8 or 9 mph). also why cant diesel cars get this sticker they can be much more efficent the hybrids cars especially at HYW speeds.

  6. This is a sad and uneducated decision from the Governor.
    Currently there are about 25 million cars registered in California. The fact that only 85'000 of them have the yellow HOV lane stickers indicates it does not and will not create traffic congestion in the diamond lane. While it is already a negative that new stickers are not available anymore (great incentive to encourage the purchase of new ULEV Hybrid cars) why canceling the current fleet of car driving with the yellow stickers? There is no point.
    I speak from experience as a 4 years HOV lane commuter. I drive 5 days a week on the 405 freeway carpool lane from Los Angeles County to Orange County. My drive is 50 miles long one way and it takes me between 50 to 55 minutes to go each way, to and from work. Without the HOV lane it would takes me about 2 hours.
    My car is the first generation Honda Insight. Unlike the newer generation of Hybrids, the 2000 Insight gets much better gas mileage on a steady freeway drive rather than in stop and go traffic. For the past 4 years my car has averaged 60.2 miles per gallon. By losing HOV lane access my commute will be more than twice as long and my fuel consumption will drop to 35 MPG.
    So much for encouraging clean air, reducing fuel consumption, reducing traffic jams and promoting alternative option to commuting.

  7. I used to own a 91 geo metro and used it to commute 35 miles one way everyday for 5 years. I got more MPG in that thing then most (not all) hybrids currently out (based on consumer comment not sticker numbers) at 47mpg on average 43mpg with a/c being used. I drove mostly country back roads,almost no highway usage. I never understood why that car was not more popular with commuters. It drove well, was very inexpensive to maintain, initial retail price was very low,low enough to be just an extra car for commuting as mine was. The only reason I could ever see for it not being desired is people being more worried about their image then being smart. Too bad that car died off of GM's line. The Altima hybrid is lucky to get 34 or 35mpg on average, not much more then its not hybrid counter part. I work on them daily so I do talk to the consumers who own them.

  8. One important clarification to the article: If SB 535/Yee (aka, the Volt bill) is signed in its current form, the 85,000 owners of the current, yellow-stickered hybrids (Prius, Insight, and Civic) will get another 6 months of carpool lane access.
    From the June 29, Senate analysis, #8:
    "Extends until July 1, 2011, the sunset date for current HOV lane privileges for hybrid vehicles that meet specified emission criteria and have a fuel economy rating of at least 45 miles per gallon (mpg), unless the SOS first receives notice from Caltrans that federal law does not authorize HOV lane access for single-occupant vehicles that meet those standards."
    In any case, expect to see yellow, green and white stickered vehicles in the carpool lane!

  9. @Metro Owner - The GEO line was mostly non-GM vehicles. Actually I don't think GM made (in house) any of the GEO cars. Metro was Suzuki made, as the "Prism" was a Toyota Corolla, NO wonder why as you mentioned they where getting better MPG than most at the time, and maint. was good and the only thing GM did was put the badge on it. As far as this access sticker deal... REALLY? 85,000 cars... this is another example of small brain/stuck in the box thinking. I dunno, here's an idea - make the HOV lane a normal lane, and just give a tax credit to people who buy hybrids. If we (1) added an extra lane, (2) unrestrict the HOV lane, (3)try and get people to commute less, with others or increase our public transit, wouldn't those three things help the traffic move quicker on the freeways, thus getting better milage for ALL the cars on the freeway and creating less conjestion...?

  10. I think this is really unfair. The government giveth, and then the government taketh away. I drive a 2007 Prius that consistently gets 48 mpg. I'm in marketing and must drive all over the place on a daily basis. I know I must save between 1-4 hours a day by being able to get in the HOV lane. If I am sitting in traffic, I'll be wasting productive time, spewing more emissions than if I were driving, and getting worse mileage. How do these things happen? My opinion is that anything that is a "good idea" is nixed by our elected officials, but things that make NO SENSE are ratified easily and enacted immediately. Anyone interested in a class action lawsuit?

  11. I've own a Hybird vehicle since 2005, the only reason I purchase this vehicle is because I drove 160 miles a day from home and work. I've seen it all going on six years of driving on the HOV lane, from the 71 to the 57 on the 60 you find a lot of vehicles driving solo with no Hybird vehicle. Then there's the jerk that speeds up makes a lane change, just to cut off the Hybird, then slow's up a minute or two later. Prompting me to go around this jerk. The HOV lane does shave about 15 minutes of my travel time. Then you have the the speeders who use the HOV lanes, to pass trffic jams. Most of the time I would see the same vehicle right next to me some 60 moles down the road. This only goes to prove that the HOV lane is not working now and won't work any time soon. What this state really needs is a FasTrak HOV, were the cheaters will get caught. Good Luck!

  12. What pisses me off is when I legitimately go into the HOV lane with 3 people in my car and some jerk-off with a Prius is driving 50mph causing a huge backup in the lane. The HOV lane is a FAST Lane, slow traffic get the hell to the right!

  13. Nothing like putting 85,000 more cars into the wonderful world of parking-lots everyone likes to call freeways. To basicly empty those underused HOV lanes. What if CA opened up the HOV lanes to all traffic and stopped widening the freeways. Take the money that would have been spent on freeway expansion (that obviously doesn't work) and build a public transportation system that would. CA would rather keep expanding the freeway systems and is proposing toll roads in place of the HOV lanes on the 10 and 110 fwy. I guess when you can't solve any real problems just come up with a plan to screw over the people you basicly begged to buy hybrids. Incentivizing the purchase with HOV access. All 85,000 will mist likley dump their crappy hybrid and buy a fancy new EV. Politics at it's best.

  14. Well, this combined with the new "pay for HOV" concept being tested in the Bay Area, it will be all lanes for everyone. HOV for those willing to pay to go slow.

  15. Slow cars shouldn't be allowed to drive HOV!

  16. My only comment is...if California was going to make this a temporary program, why did they give me permanent dang stickers?

Commenting is closed for old articles.

Get FREE Dealer Quotes

From dealers near you

Find Green Cars


© 2015 Green Car Reports. All Rights Reserved. Green Car Reports is published by High Gear Media. Send us feedback. Stock photography by izmo, Inc.