All good things must come to an end, and it's the same with the wildwood weed ... err, with California's HOV-Lane access perk for owners of three hybrids: the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic Hybrid, and Honda Insight. They are set to expire on December 31 of this year.
Originally passed in 2005, the law opened California's high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, restricted to carpools, to a limited number of very low-emission vehicles even if there was just a single person in the car.
THe law's goal was to give buyers an incentive to trade in their old cars for a far more fuel-efficient Toyota Prius (any year), Honda Civic Hybrid (any year), or original Honda Insight (1999-2006).
2010 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show
2011 Nissan LEAF prototype
2011 Chevrolet Volt pre-production prototype, January 2010
85,000 stickers only
And it worked. California set the number of stickers at 75,000, and they were all allocated in less than a year. A further allotment of 10,000 was similarly snapped up at the start of 2007. Though the process was cumbersome, the stickers cost just $8 apiece.
Last year, Audatex (which automates insurance-claim processing) calculated that a used hybrid with a permit was worth $1,200 to $1,500 more than one without. With the end in sight, we expect that value would be substantially lower today.
No longer for sale
But several hybrid owners told San Jose's popular Roadshow editor Gary Richards that they'd spend $500 to hang onto their stickers past the expiration. (He reports on Bay Area transportation news.) That's an unlikely scenario, though.
Federal highway officials says congestion in carpool lanes is increasing throughout California, Richards writes. Ending access for single-occupancy vehicles would speed the ride for more people--trading off incremental gains in fuel efficiency and air quality for moving more bodies.
Other Prius perks in peril?
HOV-Lane access is one of a number of so-called Prius Perks offered to drivers of high-mileage hybrids. As we noted last summer, in what became the single best-read article of our entire year's most popular posts, those perks are now also in peril from technology change.
In years to come, such privileges may be transferred from increasingly common hybrids to the newer class of plug-in vehicles, which run some of their miles using grid power rather than any gasoline at all. Examples are the 2011 Chevrolet Volt, 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, and the 2012 Nissan Leaf.