The California Senate yesterday voted 28-3 to pass a bill to would extend the use of carpool lanes for solo hybrid drivers through June 30, 2011. The legislation, SB 535, would also provide HOV access to solo drivers of plug-in hybrids under the state’s Enhanced Advanced Technology Zero Emissions Vehicle (EAT-PZEV) designation. SB 535 now goes to the governor, who will have 12 days to sign or veto it.

Clean Air HOV Access Sticker

Unless the governor signs SB 535, solo drivers of conventional hybrids will be denied access beginning Jan. 1, 2011. California issued yellow carpool lane access stickers to 85,000 hybrids between 2004 and 2007.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Assembly Bill 1500 in early July, providing the solo carpool lane perk to owners of pure electric vehicles and cars running on compressed natural gas until Jan. 1, 2015. AB1500 did not extend the privilege to hybrids.

The Zero Emission Vehicles are white and the current hybrid stickers are yellow. The California Department of Motor Vehicles is considering the use of green stickers for the Enhanced AT-PZEVs.

Limit of 40,000, No Access for Volt For Now

California Senator Leland Yee, the author of SB 535, 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. The all-electric Nissan LEAF and the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid go on sale later this year. However, the 2011 model year Chevy Volt will not be certified as an Enhanced AT-PZEV and will therefore not qualify for the HOV perk. The Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid, expected in 2012, has been certified as an Enhanced AT-PZEV, and will therefore qualify for solo HOV access.

Nonetheless, General Motors sponsored SB 353, and it was backed by Toyota, Chrysler and Palo Alto-based electric carmaker Tesla. The Chevy Volt is expected to earn the EAT-PZEV status for the 2013 model.

Some legislators opposed the bill, saying that HOV lane access should be strictly preserved to carpools, regardless of the desire to encourage adoption of green car technology. To alleviate concerns about highway congestion from solo green car drivers, SB 353 places a cap of 40,000 on the number of Enhanced AT-PZEV plug-in hybrids that will receive HOV stickers. There is currently no limit set for the number of all-electric, or Zero Emission Vehicles, that can receive white HOV access stickers.