Should California Welcome Hybrids Back to the HOV Lane?

When California legislators opted last year to allow single-occupancy HOV access for hybrids to lapse, the reasoning was pretty straightforward, and many green vehicle advocates took it in stride. The program had run its course, lawmakers said. With the maximum of 85,000 yellow hybrid Clean Air Vehicle stickers already having been issued and hundreds of thousands of hybrids already on California roads, there was no reason to continue a program that prospective new hybrid owners weren’t even eligible for. More importantly, advocates for the decision to not extend the program said that HOV lanes had become too crowded, reducing the advantage for both carpoolers and clean vehicle owners.

The state also had an interest in incentivizing the newest frontier in low-emissions driving: plug-in cars. Last summer, Governor Schwarzenneger signed AB 1500, which extended the HOV rights already enjoyed by electric vehicle owners—who have been eligible for white Clean Air Vehicle stickers since the start of the program—through January, 2015. In theory, electric vehicles and certain qualified PHEVs would eventually come to replace hybrids in the carpool lane, and in the meantime, multiple-occupancy vehicles and early plug-in adopters would enjoy an even clearer commute than before.

But just months into the yellow sticker expulsion, a study by researchers at the Institute of Transportation studies at the University of California Berkeley is calling into question one of the basic premises of the decision to kick hybrids out of the HOV lane: that the program was slowing traffic for carpoolers. In fact, the study claims the program had a significantly positive effect in evening out the traffic flow during high-congestion periods, and may have even led to a quicker commute for all HOV-eligible vehicles.

Wrote (PDF) study authors Kitae Jang and Michael J. Cassidy:

“These [Low Emissions Vehicles] invariably constitute small percentages of traffic; e.g. they are only about 1% of the freeway traffic demand in the San Francisco Bay Area. Yet, we show that relegating some or all of these vehicles to regular-use lanes can significantly add to regular-lane congestion, and that this, in turn, can also be damaging to vehicles that continue to use the carpool lanes.”

How could decreasing number of cars in HOV lanes actually have the unintended effect of slowing down the speed of traffic in those lanes? Jang and Cassidy theorize that significantly increased congestion in non-carpool lanes has a psychological effect on HOV drivers, causing them to slow down due to the perceived danger of traveling quickly during times of high congestion. Though the researchers were unable to conclusively isolate a single root cause of the phenomenon, six months of data finding a 10-percent longer average commute time since the expiration of the yellow Clean Air Vehicle stickers seems to back it up.

So were lawmakers hasty in eliminating a hybrid perk that by one estimation added between $1,200 and $1,500 to the resale value of eligible hybrids? Despite good intentions, perhaps they should have waited until there were enough plug-ins on California roads to displace the added congestion.

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  • Capt. Concernicus

    Why does this have to be so difficult? I just don’t understand it.

    A) It’s called HOV. High Occupancy Vehicles. One person in a hybrid is not an HOV.

    B) If you’re allowing some hybrids/EV models and not all hybrids/EV cars, how is that fair? It should be an all or nothing proposition. Either all hybrid/EV owners get to use it or none of the hybrid/EV owners get to use it. None of this grey area cr@p.

    So in conclusion (A) Make the HOV lane for ONLY HOV’s or (B) Include all or exclude all hybrid/EV owners.

    –If you want to hear a crazy rule, here in Chicago they’re going to let buses drive down the sides of the road if traffic is moving less than 35 mph. Two things come to mind. How safe would I feel if I had a flat tire knowing that buses have the right to drive down the sides of the road at 35 mph? Secondly, how many other drivers will decided to follow suit if they’re p*ssed off in rush hour traffic and decide to follow the bus? It’s just bad planning, but then again it’s Chicago. The leader in disaterous planning and ultra high taxes.

  • van

    What? You do not want Government folks picking winners and losers, awarding privilege to some but not others? Next you will say no taxation without representation. Every time a person votes for a Democrat, they vote for more nanny government, more regulation, more of this kind of activity.

    An advocate for freedom would say, make you case, present your view, and then let the market decide. Everyone paid for those lanes, everyone should be allowed to use them.

  • Yegor

    Yes, there were wrong. I understand where they were coming from – they wanted to encourage people to buy plug-in cars but unfortunately plug-in cars are not available in good numbers yet – there are long waiting lists.

  • Samie

    Get rid of HOV lanes, really. Instead start planning more light rail along side interstate/expressways.

  • Samie

    Nanny state, winners and losers, really? Did it ever occur to you that our highway system and energy system supported by Uncle Nanny creates congestion, promotes personal vehicles as the primary mode of transportation, and low prices at the pump? Yes nanny this and nanny that, along side creating winners and losers is the way of life and political reality no matter what politics or political party you believe in. People need to stop believing the political trash they see on TV. Man reality TV may be a bit classier than 24-hour political cable TV. I digress.

  • Capt. Concernicus

    Carpool lanes reduce fuel expenses, maintainence requirements because there’s less stress on the vehicle. Less stress on the driver and passengers. Reduction in time spent going to and from work. Reducing greenhouse emissions.

    I pay taxes for the fire department and I’ve never used it, so should I have to continue paying taxes for them when I have insurance that will take care of everything in the event of a disaster.

    I pay taxes for the school district for kids I don’t have. Why should I care if someone elses kids get the money they need for art class?

    Just food for thought.

  • Van

    Lets see,

    1) Did it ever occur to me? Sounds like a know it all lib lecturing “the masses.”

    2) Does our transportation system, where individuals decide when and where to go, creates congestion? I suppose a system where know it alls tell me when to go, how to go, and where to stop, and how long to wait, would be an improvement. Me thinks thou protest too much. The Bible says freedom is better than slavery. The godless left says slavery for the masses is the way forward. Next stop, the final solution for congestion. Our cattle cars await LOL

    3) Car pool lanes were an experiment, but the experiment is over, and it failed. Cars that maintain a safe distance and allow lane changes will accomplish far more toward evening out traffic flow.

    4) And yes I am all for low prices of transportation, so EV’s powered from clean and cheap electricity are right around the corner. And all this “big oil” scapegoating by the slavery advocates will be consigned to the trash heap of history. Does Build a better mouse trap ring a bell.

  • Samie

    “I suppose a system where know it alls tell me when to go, how to go, and where to stop, and how long to wait, would be an improvement.”

    Van I think that’s called stop light 🙂 sorry bad joke…

    Did it ever occur to me? Sounds like a know it all lib lecturing “the masses.”

    I can’t tell if that is a joke, sarcasm, or something beyond me. If you read any of my comments you will clearly realize in my view a different reality is being presented from the narrow political points of view. I don’t see things in a tunnel vision way or pretend to think things are always cut and dry. The use of government with industry is complex and always has long-term costs and implications from short-term policies eg. EVS or say hybrids.

    Sorry but your response is just political rhetoric. Know-it-all by no means or a 100% liberal, just someone who thinks for themselves. All I ask is for people to take the time to develop their own ideas instead of having someone tell them what to say. My ideas may seem irrelevant or ridiculous to you or most who read this nonsense but they are actual ideas/opinions that are not verbatim from political hacks. Re-read my comments because the world isn’t flat.

  • MrEnergyCzar

    The more the regular traffic builds up because there are less cars in the HOV lanes, the more people which switch to the new standard. That’s not the best way to manage traffic but the best way to have people switch to plug-ins and EV’s.


  • Consultoria RH

    Este blog é uma representação exata de competências. Eu gosto da sua recomendação. Um grande conceito que reflete os pensamentos do escritor. Consultoria RH

  • jimmidexter

    It is my personal view that they must be welcomed back.