Here we go again.
California's carpool-lane program for plug-in hybrids is about to run out of stickers. If the story sounds familiar, it is. The state has a history of issuing fewer carpool stickers than demand would dictate.
But that's by design.
The idea of the program, which allows solo drivers in certain ultra-low-emission vehicles to apply for Green Clean Air Vehicle decals that allow them to use otherwise restricted carpool lanes, is to encourage folks to rush to dealerships to get their hands on the latest plug-in hybrid technology.
It's an incentive in California's decades-long drive to reduce smog and use less fossil fuel.
The good news is that the state legislature is considering a bill that would increase the number of available stickers by 15,000.
Since the early days of the program, once available to simple hybrids (old-school), the stickers were highly prized and always limited, except when the legislature extended their run at the behest of popular demand.
The hybrid-sticker program ended in 2011, but the decals have mutated to serve the evolving ultra-low- (and no-) emission fleets being produce by the automakers.
Now there are unlimited (for now) white stickers for zero-emission (plug-ins and hydrogen-cell) vehicles and green ones for partial zero-emission vehicles (plug-in hybrids).
The greens were initially rolled out with 40,000 applicants in mind. That limit was raised to 55,000 last year, and then to 70,000 this year.
Even so, as of May 11, the California Air Resources Board announced, 66,255 of the stickers have flown out the door, leaving fewer than 4,000.
"The primary drive is to get people to accelerate their purchases of advance vehicles," says John Swanson, an air-pollution specialist at the Air Resources Board. "It's an incentive that builds consumer interest."
There is a limit to how many stickers can be issued, however. The state doesn't want to crowd carpool lanes with single-driver cars. The lanes have a certain capacity before they're no longer the less congested VIP routes they were meant to be.
The demand appears to be continuing unabated despite recent indications that lower gas prices are inspiring car buyers to return to less efficient SUVs. Sales of vehicles like the Toyota Prius range are reportedly sliding.
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Swanson says that hasn't hurt the Green Clean Air Vehicle program. "The short-term trends of that don't have an impact," he said. "We're not losing progress."
The green-sticker extension proposal by Sen. Fran Pavley of Agoura Hills would bump the number of decals issued from 70,000 to 85,000. The program's end date of Jan. 1, 2019, would remain.
The legislation recently passed the Senate with bipartisan support. L.A. area Sen. Tony Mendoza of the Transportation Committee was among those who supported it all the way, his office says.