CA’s Green HOV-Lane Access: Off To A Slow Start?

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Green HOV-Lane Sticker

Green HOV-Lane Sticker

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Earlier this year, the State of California launched a new, green HOV-lane sticker, letting qualifying plug-in hybrids drive in the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes, even if there is only a single occupant in the car. 

According to California's North County Times however, fewer than 4,000 stickers have been issued since the scheme was launched in January, leading it to question the scheme’s popularity.

Is the scheme really off to a slow start, or are there other factors at play? 

Only two cars eligible

Unlike California’s white HOV-lane sticker, which a wide range of all-electric, compressed natural gas and hydrogen fuel cell cars are eligible for, there are only two cars currently on sale that are eligible for the green HOV-lane sticker.

2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid

2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid

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While the scheme has been officially running since January, the two eligible cars -- Chevrolet Volts fitted with Chevy’s Clean Air Package and the 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid -- have only been available since mid-February.

In other words, the scheme started before either eligible car went on sale.

Hybrid cars preceded yellow stickers

In its article, North County Times points out that a now-ended yellow-sticker HOV lane access scheme for hybrid cars issued 85,000 stickers between 2004 and 2007. 

But when the scheme was first introduced, hybrid cars had already been on sale in California for four years. 

It’s worth noting too, that in 2003, the year prior to the start of the scheme, around 11,500 eligible hybrids were sold in California. 

So far, far fewer Prius plug-in hybrid and eligible Chevrolet Volts have been sold in the state than there were hybrid cars already on the roads of the U.S. in 2003.

To date, only 2,643 applications from Prius plug-in hybrid and 1,114 applications from Volt owners for the green stickers have been processed by the DMV.

With less cars on the road,and eligible cars on sale for less than six months, it is unfair to pass judgment on the scheme just yet.  

2013 Chevrolet Volt

2013 Chevrolet Volt

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Sales already influenced

Although there are relatively few cars in California currently displaying the green HOV-lane access sticker, the existence of the scheme is directly influencing sales of plug-in hybrids in the state. 

Since the start of the year, sales of both the Volt and the Prius plug-in hybrid have increased, although neither car has reached the popularity hybrid cars enjoyed by 2004. 

But with a 40,000 car cap to the green HOV-lane access sticker program -- which runs until January 1, 2015 -- we’re unlikely to see the scheme become oversubscribed for some time to come. 


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Comments (24)
  1. allowing gas burning cars access to HOV lanes is a perfect example of hidden agenda forces at work.

    i always wondered why the nation tended to follow CA's lead in so many things when its obvious the residents are essentially slaves to a much more powerful force

  2. I have never burned a drop of gas using those HOV lanes during my commute. Why is that wrong? Motorcycles are allowed to use them and they are burning gas.

    Other hybrids were allowed to use them. People with 7MPG gas cars with only 2 people allowed in those lanes...

    FYI, it is NOT green lanes or gas free lanes, it is HOV lanes. Get a grip of yourself...

  3. First of all, many of the Volt owners that I know who qualify for the stickers don't bother to get it. They don't live near the congested Carpool lane area. Also, some of them don't want the sticker on their nicely painted bumpers...

  4. It is interesting that Prius Plugins have far more owners applying for the HOV stickers (2643) vs the Volt owners (1114) when the Volt out sells the Prius plugins. I have heard from just about every Pris Plugin owners that one of the reason that they are buying Pip was due to the sticker (where their Prius can't even stay in EV mode at hwy speed). But most of the Volt owners that I have talked to did NOT get the car for the HOV sticker. They got the car b/c they love the ride...

  5. Good points. My experiences have been the same thus far. PIP is better mpg wise(when both are using their gas engines) for long commutes or trips on freeways...and is $7K less dough too. My pick would still probably be the 2013 Volt with longer EV range n a few standard features.

  6. That is true. Pip gets better hwy mileage. I disagree on the $7k. Prius get $2,500 instead of the $7,500 on the Volt. So, the "net" difference is only $2k.

    Volt is also cheaper to operate if you drive less than 60 miles per day on average.

  7. Credit not same as a rebate though. True though that the Volt is going to be the more cost effective vehicle if driven in primarily EV mode such as you and apparently many other smart people are doing.

    I'm really looking forward to the 2013 Volt and seeing what kind of improvements have actually been made n the increased sales numbers potential. I'm still betting 2013 is going to be a very good year for Volt.

  8. Sure, credit aren't the same as rebate due to income restrictions. But I seriously doubt that most people who purchase a $30k+ car won't qualify for the $7,500 tax credits. Also, if it is a major worry, leasing will always take the saving upfront in terms of the low monthly leasing cost (Volt currently has that).

    I agree. I think 2013 is even better with more range. But we will have to see if people can get past the 4 in the first digit. That seems to be the most shocking thing to most people. Sticker shock is usually what prevent people from even trying the car out.

  9. With all the plugins coming (Accord, C-MAX/Fusion Energi, Volvo, ELR...etc), I wonder if they are all going to qualify for the HOV stickers...

  10. This is a poor article, once again, about a non-issue at this point.

    First, the author should have used the word program or incentive instead of "scheme." Check the source for the actual name next time:

    Second, as GCR has reported before, many Volt owners are treating their vehicles like EVs. Meaning they are trying to drive only on electricity and avoid using gas at all. Many of them have commutes less then 40 miles so they are able to do that. Most PIP drivers, it seems, don't give a hoot about trying to run in only EV mode cause its range is so short. However, PIP drivers love the 50mpg, extended 500+ mile range, and using the carpool lane when needed.

  11. @Erik: We'll have to agree to disagree on whether this is newsworthy or not. Given the degree of excitement among CA Volt owners in particular about single-occupant access to HOV lanes, this informs readers not as versed as you are that plenty of stickers are still available. Given the numbers of plug-ins sold, that's a predictable outcome at this point, but for our broader audience of readers, we feel it's a good point of context.

    As for "scheme," it's used in the British sense--meaning "program."

  12. I hear ya but you should use the term that is being used by the agency responsible and where it is being applied....CARB (California Air Resources Board) uses "program" or "incentive." Scheme is incorrect and has more a negative connotation then program or incentive for most people.

       [skeem] Show IPA noun, verb, schemed, schem·ing.
    1.a plan, design, or program of action to be followed; project. underhand plot; intrigue.
    3.a visionary or impractical project.
    4.a body or system of related doctrines, theories, etc.: a scheme of philosophy.
    5.any system of correlated things, parts, etc., or the manner of its arrangement.

  13. Third, Toyota and GM are selling only so many of thsee plug-in hybrids in CA right now. Toyota will not likely ship to CA more than a few thousand PIPs a year for the next few years. It is primarily a compliance vehicle for them.

    However, GM can and will build many more Volts for CA. The 2013 Volt is even better with a slightly longer EV range, more needed standard features, and now a proven history of reliability...combined with the same price....I think we'll see the CA green pool sticker applications for the Volt be more near 5K a year for the next couple years.

    Fourth, even with more plug-in models coming, it is unlikely all 40K green stickers will be issued by 2015. CA will likely extend green sticker use to 2017.

  14. @Erik: As we've written elsewhere on GCR, Toyota has said it expects to sell 9,000 to 12,000 Prius Plug-In Hybrids in its first 12 months on the market.

    The executive I spoke with admitted that the company wasn't sure how the car's sales would be affected once the green stickers are all gone, whenever that does happen.

    Curious to know on what you base the assertion that CA will likely extend the green sticker program from its current 2015 expiration through 2017?

  15. I think CA extended the program for the Hybrids last time...

  16. @Xiaolong: I believe the extension was only for a year or thereabouts, since by 2010 it was clear that plug-ins would be coming into showrooms within months.

  17. John V
    Yes and about a third of those pips will likely be sold in CA during the green carpool sticker issuance period...around 3K a year this year n my guess for the next few years.

    CA extended the yellow carpool sticker last decade by two years(I think) and increased the allowable number of yellow stickers to be issued as well. I think the final number was 85K yellow stickers.

  18. John V
    The CA plug-in hybrid incentive program is 40K green stickers to be issued AND used on CA carpool lanes before the 1/1/15 date they are scheduled to become invalid. Only 28 full months away! Only 1,400 green stickers issued thus far.

    There is no way there will be 38k more plug-in hybrids sold in CA in the next 24 months let alone all those owners applying for green stickers. There will not be enough CA eligible vehicles to take advantage of the program.

    BTW, the CA white(EVs) carpool stickers are scheduled to be invalid on 1/1/15 as well. That date will definitely be extended at least two more sticker date probably too. Our gov, Moonbeam Brown, will extend the dates soon.

    Xia has good points below as well


  20. Well, one thing to watch for is if all the upcoming C-MAX/Fusion Energi, Accord Plugin and various "pretender" plugins would qualify for the Green stickers as well. That will increase the volume significantly...

  21. @Xiaolong: Yes, in the next 12 months we will see--at a minimum--the Ford C-Max Energi, the Ford Fusion Energi, and the Honda Accord Plug-In Hybrid.

    Not sure why you call them "pretender" plug-ins, since they DO actually all plug in and run for some portion of the time on grid energy--just like your Volt!

  22. Also, the so called "sticker" shock is still a deterent. Regardless of what the $9k incentives apply to the Volt, the "4" in front of all other digits still turn people off...

    Many other hybrids that qualified for the yellow stickers were in the high $20k and low $30k range with additional tax rebates...

  23. According to the links provided by the writer, the article said: "Sales of the modified Volts started in March and totaled about 2,000 in the first six months, Balch said this week."

    So, only about 1,114 Volt owners applied for the sticker out of the 2,000 Cars qualifying for it.

    but since most of the Prius Plugin sales were mostly in the first two months and Volt's sales have been increasing, I am NOT surprised.

    Also one key point is that you have to WAIT until you get your tag first before you can apply for the sticker...

  24. As far as "Green" stickers go, Pip is the "cheapest" way to get the sticker in CA if you order a "base" Pip. That will save you about $2k in price difference and additional $500-$700 (assuming 8%) in sales tax and registration cost (even with tax credits included).

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