Drop Hybrid Carpool Privilege, Say Honda and Ford

Last year, owners of conventional hybrids received a six-month extension of the privilege to drive solo in the carpool lanes. Prius-driving John Burton—the California Democratic Party chairman and former state Senate leader—is one of many hybrid drivers upset about losing the perk and asking for more time.

Enough is enough, according to Ford, Honda and advocates for the next wave of green automobiles that operate on grid-supplied electricity, natural gas and hydrogen.

On May 9, those carmakers sent a letter (PDF) to Mark DeSaulnier, chair of California’s senate transportation and housing committee. “It is… unfortunate that there is an effort underway yet again to extend the yellow sticker program, and that legislation to do so is being sought,” the letter states. “We do not support any further extensions of the yellow sticker program.”

The groups believe the incentive is effective in creating markets for vehicles with new advanced technologies—but believe regular hybrids benefited from the perk, and are no longer relevant to the incentive. The letter explains, “Continued extensions of the program do not serve to incentivize sales of hybrid vehicles as the cap on yellow stickers was reached approximately seven years ago, shortly after the program’s inception.” The letter complains that the extension to July 1 was granted “without any public airing of the issue during two years of debate over the future HOV program.”

Ford and Honda are neck-and-neck for the title of the second biggest seller of hybrid cars, behind Toyota. Both companies, as well as Toyota, Nissan, General Motors and others, plan to sell plug-in and alternative fuel cars, which are eligible for white stickers granting HOV access to solo EV driver, and green ones for those piloting a plug-in hybrid.

California Senator Leland Yee, the author of the bill that granted the extension to July 1, at the time said the goal of extending hybrid HOV access for an additional six months is to give California hybrid owners time to purchase the electric cars and plug-in hybrids coming to the market. Those cars have arrived. The all-electric Nissan LEAF, as well as the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid expected in 2012, qualifies for stickers. The 2011 Chevy Volt is not currently eligible, but is expected to receive the necessary certification for the 2012 model.

The letter opposing another extension of hybrid HOV access was signed by officials from Honda, Ford, the California Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition, Clean Energy Fuels, and Plug In America.


  • JJJJ

    HOV lanes were created to fight CONGESTION not pollution.

    Having one person in a vehicle instead of 4 is a problem. Doesnt matter if the car runs on moondust, they’re creating congestion for everyone around them.

    HOV exceptions are ridiculous political pandering to the wealthiest constituents. Just because you can afford a Volt doesnt mean you have the right to slow down people using the HOV lane as it was intended….to move the maximum amount of people.

  • JJJJ

    HOV lanes were created to fight CONGESTION not pollution.

    Having one person in a vehicle instead of 4 is a problem. Doesnt matter if the car runs on moondust, they’re creating congestion for everyone around them.

    HOV exceptions are ridiculous political pandering to the wealthiest constituents. Just because you can afford a Volt doesnt mean you have the right to slow down people using the HOV lane as it was intended….to move the maximum amount of people.

  • Michael R

    JJJJ –

    I believe you are incorrect in stating the motivation for HOV lanes. If the goal was to move the max number of people, HOV lanes would be counter-productive, the highest road capacity would be achieved by opening all lanes for load-balancing. The goal was always to cut pollution – originally by encouraging ride-sharing, and later by encouraging less-polluting driving means.

  • GPMP

    I agree with you on y our congestion vs. pollution point. But pandering to the wealthiest? C’mon, you can buy a new Prius in the low $20k’s and pay alot less for a used one. The average spent on a new car in the US is around $35k.

  • sfhawaiiboy

    The main intention seems to be moving people:
    http://www2.dot.ca.gov/hq/paffairs/faq/faq79.htm

  • JJJJ

    Michael R, you are confusing moving cars with moving people.

    Opening all lanes to all drivers doesnt balance anything, it just creates the least efficient highway possible. Why should a car with 6 people be forced to wait for 5 cars with 1 person each?

    Bus lanes are HOV lanes on turbo. Even if theres only a bus every 2 minutes, those 50 people (per bus) are more than the absolute max capacity of free moving single-passenger cars.

    Example:
    A highway lane can carry 1,000 vehicles per hour.
    The US average occupancy is 1.2 people per vehicle.
    So 1,200 people can be carried in an “open” travel lane.

    Now restrict it to HOV 3+ only.
    Lets say the average is 3.1 people per car (I dont know the exact amount)
    Even with less cars, say, 750, the lane is carrying 2,325 people.
    In fact, as long as the lane is carrying only 388 vehicles, it’s being more productive!

    So when you’re stuck in traffic, and see the “empty” HOV lane (ie, theyre moving at 55mph, you’re moving at 20mph) realize that the lane is moving many times more people.

    HOV lanes have always been about capacity. Less pollution is a nice side effect.

    Throwing in single driver electric vehicles screws things up, because as soon as you reach the lane capacity (1,000/h) each additional vehicle slows things down for EVERYONE.

    GPMP, hybrids have always cost more than non-hybrids. Electric cars currently demand a massive premium. The “low 20ks” is much higher than a used 92 civic for $3,000. A motorbike starts at $1,000 (new!)

    Please remember that the minimum wage in this country is $15,000 a year. How many years of cleaning dishes does it take to pay off a prius?

  • Jim1961

    JJJJ makes a good point that HOV lanes are to reduce congestin not to reduced pollution. Let’s assume for a moment that is acceptable to use HOV lane access as an incentive for consumers to purchase less polluting cars. Now look at a line from the article,

    “…Enough is enough, according to Ford, Honda and advocates for the next wave of green automobiles that operate on grid-supplied electricity, natural gas and hydrogen…”

    Recent revelations about natural gas drilling are casting a lot of doubt on the “greenness” of natural gas. There is evidence that up to 8% of natural gas leaks into the atmosphere. Natural gas, is mainly methane which is 21 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2. Virturally all hydrogen comes from natural gas. Electricity production also generates greenhouse gases. If we do use HOV access as an incentive for reducing pollution then the standard for choosing which cars get access must be based on a VERY thorough well-to-wheels accounting of greenhouse gases.

  • Steve in MD

    The important point here is that the Yellow Sticker limit was reached SEVEN YEARS AGO! That means that the incentive is long since expired. The program serves no other purpose than to grant a small class of people (folks who bought hybrids seven or more years ago) a privilege that others do not have.

    Letting the privilege expire would not decrease green car sales nor increase pollution. It would, however, restore fairness to the system. Want to drive in the HOV? Carpool!

    Steve (hybrid driver)

  • Michael R

    JJJJ-

    You are right about the capacity, I stand corrected. (Although I disagree with you on a policy issue regarding using HOV lanes to stimulate low-pollution cars even at the expense of lowering the capacity).

  • JJJJ

    Michael R, the best way to reduce pollution AND decrease congestion is using the space for mass transit.

    Hybrid and electric car drivers already have a huge built in incentive: They will always use less gas. I dont think the government needs to sweeten that pie further, especially because demand outstrips supply.

    Look at the current volt/leaf situation. Dont they have really long wait lists? So the government is burning money with the 7,500 tax break. Say that tax break is eliminated, and half the people cancel their order….well, demand still outstrips supply, so the same amount of EVs hit the road!

  • Michael R

    JJJJ-

    I agree with your that mass transit is the the best way to reduce pollution; unfortunately it’s like to say that the best way to reduce fuel consumption is to make everyone keep the tires inflated properly… This county has struggled to get more people into public transportation and out of their cars. I think it will happen eventually, but will take decades. In the meantime, more immediate steps are needed.

    Regarding the tax incentives for volt/leaf – you would be right if the demand indeed outstripped the supply that much. Does anyone have good info in this regard?

  • Scott Z

    The area makes a large difference in this argument. I live in VA and use the 395 north to get to the pentagon. This road has two middle lanes for HOV that changes direction with the time of day. The HOV lanes are lightly used and is often moving at 75 MPH or more while the normal three lanes are at a stop/crawl. The DC area has a pollution problem like most cities so to help combat that VA added hybrids to the HOV mix. There was no reason not to do this since many people still refused to car pool. It has been at least seven years and still the HOV flows freely while the normal three lanes crawl.

    Until the HOVs start to backup it sounds like a good policy to reward those that use less fuel and produce less pollution with fast drive to work.

  • Californian

    As an owner of one of those expiring yellow stickers in Northern California, I absolutely agree that the time has come for the hybrid incentive program to end. Many hybrids are now priced comparably to other cars in their size/class—in fact, when we bought ours used nearly a decade ago, it wasn’t much more that other used mid-sized cars. The technology doesn’t need the boost of an incentive—gas prices alone are pushing people towards hybrids quite nicely.

    I *do* think the California HOV incentive for CNG, hydrogen, and electric cars should continue through 2015, as planned. That’s because I see our state’s HOV lanes as serving multiple functions: moving more people more efficiently from both a logistics and an emissions stand point. California state law currently requires regions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks quite dramatically by 2035, and the HOV lanes are one tool to do so. I would love to see HOV lanes used strategically to encourage carpooling, transit ridership, and clean air vehicles that have big enough downsides that people may otherwise be reluctant to invest in them. (Electric car radius, uncertainty around charging locations and costs, limited options for CNG fueling stations, etc.) Hybrids were those vehicles a decade ago, but I don’t know anyone today who questions whether a hybrid will really run, whether you can put regular gas in it, or if a mechanic will really be willing to work on it—all among the concerns raised a decade ago.

    While I hear the concerns that electric vehicles are largely an option for the wealthy, I’m not convinced that’s the case. In California, for instance, a Nissan Leaf runs you in the mid-20s, which is on par with many other cars its size, electric or otherwise. And the stickers for these cars are currently unlimited, as opposed to the hybrid stickers, which were limited to the early buyers. But more importantly, I’m not sure I care too much about this. If we need wealthy residents to be the guinea pigs for new technologies, so be it—they can pay the premiums for these cars now to ensure that ten years from now, these technologies will be available to the masses at much reduced costs. This is how the auto industry operated long before hybrids and electrics came along (see also: the Model T!) And I prefer this option to, say, the HOT lanes California is experimenting with—HOV lanes that you can pay a toll to drive in as a single-occupancy vehicle (a form of congestion pricing). If we’re going to talk about buying access to the HOV lanes, let’s start there—not with the ILEVs.

  • tapra1

    plan to sell plug-in and alternative fuel cars, which are eligible for white stickers granting HOV access to solo EV driver, and green ones for those piloting a plug-in hybrid.Tech News

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