Legislators Debate Solo Hybrid Access to Carpool Lanes

California HOV Sticker

In the mixed bag of hybrid incentives designed to encourage car shoppers to buy greener cars, access to carpool lanes while driving solo has been one more push in the right direction. But California legislators are now debating if they are setting the standards high enough with hybrids that get 45 mpg—the previous mark to qualify before the program reached its limit of HOV stickers in 2007.

Approximately 85,000 hybrid owners in California—and thousands more in Virginia, New York, New Jersey, Florida, Tennessee, Arizona, and Utah—currently enjoy the privilege of driving in a carpool lane regardless of the number of people in the car. But several of those incentive laws are scheduled to expire. The California perk is scheduled to end on Jan. 1, 2011.

“What we’re saying is that the hybrid isn’t good enough anymore,” Adam Keigwin, chief of staff for Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), sponsor of a Senate bill to require city-highway fuel economy of 65 mpg or better to qualify for HOV stickers, told the Los Angeles Times. That’s currently beyond official ratings for any mainstream car on the market, including the 50-mpg Toyota Prius. Furthermore, Californians will have few, if any, affordable cars that achieve 65 mpg in the next couple of years—and demand for those cars, when they arrive, are likely to far exceed low production numbers.

Critics complain that states’ carpool lanes have become clogged by solo-driving hybrid owners. Others argue that the incentives were successful in promoting hybrids in recent years, but given the popularity of gas-electric vehicles, the incentives are no longer necessary. (Hybrids currently comprise less than 3 percent of the new car market.) Environmentalists have also questioned if hybrid owners, who are predispositioned to carpool, are discouraged to do so by the privilege.

The Virginia hybrid carpool lane perk, which includes nearly every hybrid on the market regardless of MPG, was supposed to expire in July 1, 2006. It has been extended for one year in every legislative session since then. Observers believe that Virginia lawmakers will continue to extend the hybrid sticker program because of its political popularity—especially among legislators and other professionals in the Washington, DC area.

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  • Dom

    I’ve always though allowing hybrids in the carpool lane was counter-intuitive to the whole premise of carpool lanes – to reduce the number of cars on the road.

  • DC

    I agree, i was completely un-aware that the US was even doing this. Allowing hybrids to use car-pool solo simply by virtue of them being some(what) more efficent and some(what) less polluting? Did they ever stop to consider that a hybrid in a carpool lane will never be running in battery-only mode anyhow? Like Dom says, carpool lanes were never intended as set asides for high(er) mpg vehicles, but to reduce congestion, with reduced pollution being a bonus, but never the primary reason for them. Once again the US has proven itself a world-leader….in misguided incentives. I cant think of a more muddled message, Drive your ICE hybrid solo in a carpool lane, and help reduce your carbon emissions?


  • Robert01

    I think hybrids should be rewarded with access to HOV lanes.

  • Meeker

    Motorcycles get access to carpool lanes also. I don’t see a problem with 45+ mpg Hybrids using it unless the carpool lanes are getting so overcrowded. That’s when you bump up the MPG limit. With plug-in and electric vehicles coming soon, 65+ is not so bad.

    One thing that is stupid is the yellow sticker that people try to peel off a Prius and stick it on their pickup trucks. Wal-mart people.

    Car-pool lanes alone were just stupid. Not that many people formed a carpool simply to use the roads. It would be better to just open it back up for everyone. Can’t wait for autonomous cars. Humans just shouldn’t be driving anyway.

  • Charles

    There are motorcycles that do not get 45 MPG. A lot of motorcycles do not get 65 MPG. I see no reason to allow motorcycles and not high MPG cars, hybrid or not. I can see both sides for allowing any solo driver using HOV lanes, but if you allow motorcycles then allow cars that have the same or higher MPG rating.

    BTW, the EPA should test motorcycles.

  • JJspawn

    Most motorcycles get in 45 mpg easily. I have GSX-R 750, a fast bike, and I easily get in the mid to upper 40s.

    Only mopeds get in the 60+ mpg range. I’m sorry but I can’t be seen on a moped.

  • earl glover

    HOV lanes were tried in NJ the result was the HOV lane had very light traffic yeh for the minority the overwhelming majority of commuters were stuck in many cases idling for an extra hour to three hours a day becouse of it. use your head do the math multiply tw lanes x 30 miles of cars idling an extra 2 to 3 hours each a day so that a small minority can get to work in half the time. the numbers would say it all you just bumbed up green house gas – gas consumption via idling vehicles that would normally have been moving at a conservative MPG – traffic accidents and fatalities due to unprecedented congestion. its a nice dream but in the suburbs it just dosnt work try to car pool with different start and stop times for work – the time it takes for pool to gather at departure location – enough said – build more roads ease congestion you will do much more for the enviroment by eliminating the time cars are on the road trying to get to where they need to go gee thats an idea and puts people to work!

  • Scott Z

    The logic that allows hybrids and motorcycles in the HOV lanes is pollution. Hybrid and MCs produce far less emissions then conventional vehicles.

    I live in North VA and the main HOV path here is 395 into DC. This road has two center lanes that change direction with the time of day. Before VA allowed the use of the HOV lane for hybrids that traffic was extremely light while the normal 3 lanes were a parking lot. Once hybrids were allowed to use the HOV lanes traffic became more balanced. HOV was no longer empty and the time the normal lanes are pack has decreased somewhat. Of course that could be the economy of late.

    I just wish VA would add a MPG limit as well. A Hybrid that gets 28 MPG should not have the same access as one that get 50MPG. How about forgetting if it is hybrid or not. Let just say if your car gets over 45 MPG you can solo. If you get over 35 MPG you can use the 3 HOV with 2 people.

  • Former Slug

    Having lived through the Rise of the Hybrids in the NOVA HOV lanes, I saw how they brought the volume levels to exceed the lane capacity.

    HOV lanes had three purposes, reduce commute times, reduce pollution, and reduce traffic on the roads and in urban parking.

    Hybrids reduced the pollution but aggrivated traffic and commute times because people figured out they could buy thier way onto the HOV lanes.

    Motorcycles take up less space on the road (length) and can park in places where cars cannot. A couple of blocks from the White House is a parking section for motorcycles. You could find 20 bikes in the parking space of two cars. Also irregular spaces in parking garages can accommodate bikes.

    The biggest problem in NOVA is the GOV lanes. That is the Government Owned Vehicle lanes. Essentially, anyone with a government vehicle is exempt 100% of the time (regardless of what the laws say). The equal or exceed the number of hybrids on HOV in NOVA.

  • Richard G.

    would you rather have 6 Hybrids in the Car Pool Lane with 1 person each…. or 1 large van or SUV with 6 people? Do the Math… 1 Sequoia puts out less emissions than 6 Prius’s…. Is it realy better?

  • Anonymous

    When I drive my hybrid, I am energy efficient ALL of the time. Not that the gas hogs in the in carpool lane that are only efficient a few hours a week.

  • Nitric Oxide

    It’s incorrect to say California’s original goal was to increase adoption of hybrid cars. You obviously read the legislative analysis, and I am mystified how you could have come to this conclusion on reading that document. The original purpose of the HOV lane is to decrease traffic congestion and decrease pollution. In 1999 was the first time it was extended, to cover electric vehicles, not hybrid vehicles. Partly because hybrid vehicles weren’t yet on the market, of course. It wasn’t until 2006 that the program was extended to cover hybrid vehicles. But it’s also clear that the other goal, reducing traffic congestion, got lost in the shuffle of rewarding hybrid car owners.

  • tapra1

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