State and local agencies are strapped for cash, and one source of income may be the high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes on congested freeways.

In Southern California, local officials plan to convert "carpool lanes" to toll lanes with variable pricing, allowing drivers to pay up to $10 for the privilege of zipping along a less-congested left lane while nonpaying drivers sit stuck in traffic just a few feet away.

But the plans have riled electric-car drivers, who presently can travel in the HOV lanes with just a single occupant as part of a longstanding California program to cut air pollution by encouraging purchase of advanced technology vehicles.

For many years, 85,000 drivers of three hybrid vehicles could drive solo in the HOV lanes with special stickers. That privilege has now expired, and instead, plug-in cars that qualify will be granted stickers.

Among the qualifying cars are all Tesla Roadsters, all Nissan Leafs, and the upcoming 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid and 2012 Mitsubishi 'i'.

Presently, however, the Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric car does not qualify, and GM will not say when it will add the emissions certification to the range-extending engine that would let it qualify.

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

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

Transportation authorities in Los Angeles plan to switch about 25 miles of HOV "carpool" lanes on I-10 and I-110 to so-called "Lexus Lanes" (the image conjures up wealthy drivers, though surveys seem to indicate that drivers of all income levels may be willing to pay for the privilege of quicker journeys).

And, their current plans do not appear to include free travel for plug-in car owners. Which naturally has electric-car advocates up in arms.

Advocate Chelsea Sexton, however, suggests that it's a little too early to call out the cavalry.

"Right now, it looks like they may have to pay," she said, "but some say the wording of the bill [will continue] allowing electric cars in HOV lanes."

So, Southern California electric-car owners, consider this your action alert. Pay attention to the plans of the transit agencies, monitor the news in electric-car groups, and as soon as the language of the enabling legislation is available, read it!

This won't be the first time laws and electric-car owners have come into conflict.

2011 Chevrolet Volt

2011 Chevrolet Volt

The controversial AB 475, aggressively backed by General Motors and now signed by Governor Brown, makes parking in an electric-car charging space without a charger attached--whether or not the car is actually charging--an offense punishable by towing or ticketing in certain parking lots.

So it may behoove electric-car drivers, and those intending to buy, to pay special attention to upcoming legislation. Even in California, not everyone is a friend to electric cars.


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