California Green HOV Stickers For PHEVs Almost Maxed Out – Again

At the present rate of California plug-in hybrid owners applying for green solo-access High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) stickers, the 4,000 remaining could all be gone in a couple of months or so.

This is true unless the state legislature raises the cap again from the present 85,000 sticker limit by 15,000 more – as it has done three times already.

We’ve not seen legislation proposed at this writing, but according to the California Air Resources Board (ARB), as of Nov. 17 the Department of Motor Vehicles had issued 80,876 of the 85,000 total.

A Nice Perk

Green stickers for cars such as the Chevy Volt, Ford Energi siblings, BMW i3 REx and others have been a significant benefit to consumers spending extra as the case may be to acquire these vehicles.


The stickers – battery electric vehicles (BEVs) like the Nissan Leaf or Tesla Model S get white stickers, and there is no maximum on these – let a single occupant vehicle travel in carpool lanes.

They have been known to let drivers cut commute times in rush hour significantly, depending on the route.

The same perk and yellow stickers once offered to conventional hybrids expired July 1, 2011.

Will They Raise The Cap Again?

With the release now of the second-generation Chevy Volt spiking PHEV sales, and with maybe 4,000 stickers to go, it’s unlikely the present 85,000 sticker allotment will last long.

In June this year we reported the cap had been raised from 70,000 green stickers to 85,000 with AB 95 which was subsequently signed by Governor Jerry Brown.

This followed a June 8 ARB announcement that 68,343 out of 70,000 had been spoken for.

SEE ALSO: California Legislature Approves 15,000 More Green HOV Stickers
Since then, the tally has risen by 12,533 stickers, or a monthly rate – even in a lull time for PHEV sales – of roughly 2,500 per month.

Last month, the 2016 Volt being rolled out to California and 10 other states following its greenhouse gas rules sold 2,035 units. A total of 4,081 PHEVs were sold nationwide, and California is the majority market. In 2014 California bought 50 percent of all plug-in electrified cars sold in the U.S.

What’s next for the dwindling supply of green stickers is not immediately clear. One might surmise as has happened before California legislators will rush into law a 15,000-unit extension.

The program in any case is due to end Jan. 1 2019, itself an extended deadline, and the history of green stickers started at a 40,000 cap.

That first cap raising from the original 40,000 to 55,000 effective July 1, 2014 came with trailer bill SB 853 (Statutes 2014, chapter 27).

Then when those were quickly snapped up, per AB 2013, effective January 1, 2015, an additional 15,000 green HOV stickers were made available for a new maximum of 70,000.

As stated above, those lasted till the summer of this same year, the cap was raised to its present 85,000 but will this go on ad infinitum?

As legislators were pondering the last extension, commentary in SB 39 on April 8 offered the following:

Caltrans submitted its most recent HOV lane degradation report to FHWA in December 2014. This report indicates that approximately 54% of HOV lanes in California were degraded during the first half of the year, and 59% during the second half of the year. According to Caltrans, this increase is associated with seasonal increase in traffic volume. Caltrans identifies key causes of HOV lane congestion as vehicles from HOV lanes merging into general-purpose lanes at the end of the HOV lane, highway congestion, lane change conflicts when drivers attempt to enter or exit the HOV lane, traffic incidents on the freeway, and severe weather resulting in lower speeds. In Caltrans’ action report to the FHWA, also submitted in December 2014, Caltrans states that it is not considering prohibiting clean vehicles from HOV lanes because they account for a relatively small percentage of peak-hour HOV volume.


Legislators decided clean vehicles were still not a problem, though increasing congestion was documented – and single occupant cars taking space in lanes meant for multi-passenger vehicles has always been a measured trade-off.

But California has a mandate to increase zero emission vehicles now through 2025 and beyond, and permitting solo plug-in car access to HOV lanes has been shown to be a boon to sales.

This month the LA Times reported that UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation showed a significant correlation to sales and stickers – for all plug-in cars.

The research showed sales of plug-in cars in areas of Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego and San Francisco led to more than 24,000 plug-in electrified vehicle sales in the four urban regions from 2010 to 2013, or about 40 percent of all sales.

This year through September, the California New Car Dealers Association reported 12,022 PHEV registrations and 16,930 BEV registrations in state.

Since 2010 through October, 173,811 plug-in electrified vehicles consisting of 88,355 BEVs and 85,476 PHEVs have been sold in California. Note more than 85,000 PHEVs were sold, but not every one of their owners applied for a green sticker.

Thus predicting when the green stickers will be all gone – or whether California will for a fourth time raise the cap – is not at this point possible with precision.

The takeaway however is if you buy an eligible PHEV in California, get your application in ASAP. Or, if you were thinking of delaying a purchase, you may be OK if they do raise the limit, otherwise there is a chance that choice could be not well advised.