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 HybridEnlarge Photo
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 VoltEnlarge Photo
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.