Attention California Drivers!

All good things must come to an end, and it’s the same for California’s HOV-Lane access perk for owners of three hybrids:  the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic Hybrid, and Honda Insight. If reauthorization is not granted by the Federal Highway Administration, use of these stickers will expire. Currently, the use of Clean Air Stickers for hybrids (yellow stickers) is only good through July 1, 2011. The white stickers for SULEV, ILEV, and certain ULEV vehicles will still be good through January 1, 2015.
Originally passed in 2005, the law opened California’s high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, originally restricted to carpools, to a limited number of very low-emission vehicles even if there was just a single person in the car.

The law’s goal was to give buyers an incentive to trade in their old cars for a far more fuel-efficient (any year),Honda Civic Hybrid(any year), or original Honda Insight (1999-2006).

85,000 stickers only

And it worked. California set the number of stickers at 75,000, and they were all allocated in less than a year. A further allotment of 10,000 was similarly snapped up at the start of 2007. Though the process was cumbersome, the stickers cost just $8 each.

Last year, Audatex (which automates insurance-claim processing) calculated that a used hybrid with a permit was worth $1,200 to $1,500 more than one without. With the end in sight, we expect that value would be substantially lower today.

No longer for sale

Federal highway officials say congestion in carpool lanes is increasing throughout California. Ending access for single-occupancy vehicles would speed the ride for more people–trading off incremental gains in fuel efficiency and air quality for moving more vehicles.

Other Prius perks in peril?

Prius Perks offered to drivers of high-mileage. As we noted last summer, in what became the single best-read article of our entire year’s most popular posts, those perks are now also in peril from technology change.

In years to come, such privileges may be transferred from increasingly common hybrids to the newer class of plug-in vehicles, which run some of their miles using grid power rather than any gasoline at all. Examples are the 2011 Chevrolet Volt, 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, and the 2012 Nissan Leaf.

Remember that you can’t go to traffic school for HOV lane violations, and fines are pretty steep.