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California Nears HOV Sticker Cap for Green Vehicle Owners

By: Bridget Clerkin November 30, 2015
The CA DMV is running out of HOV access stickers for owners of electric vehicles.

Save the planet while saving yourself some time—it’s the deal many electric car owners have gotten in California since the state has allowed those driving plug-in hybrids to utilize High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) stickers, allowing them to take the freeway lanes less traveled and zoom past other traffic.

But those who haven’t acted on the opportunity yet may want to take the fast lane to the Department of Motor Vehicles. The state agency has recently reported that it’s nearly out of available HOV passes—down to just over 4,000 out of 85,000 stickers the department has been issued by the state.

With the recent release of yet another plug-in hybrid, the 2016 Chevy Volt, state officials have estimated the remaining stickers may last just a few more months, as sales of the new car have already begun to take off in California.

The car manufacturer sold 2,035 units in the state in the first month the vehicle was made available there. California residents have also bought a reported 50% of all plug-in electrified cars sold across the United States.

The highly coveted stickers allow the designated cars to travel in the carpool lanes along the freeways even when having only one occupant. It’s a move that could cut commute times in the notoriously traffic-clogged state by a significant amount of time, depending on the route being traveled.

But with nearly 3 years left to go before the program terminates—its end date is slated for January 1, 2019—the state may step in to increase the number of available stickers.

In the past, the California legislature has voted to up the number of HOV passes for designated cars thrice before. The original cap was set at just 40,000 when the program was initiated in 2014. As quickly as that July, the number jumped to 55,000 after legislators responded to the demand for the rapidly diminishing stickers.

The number was raised once again in January of 2015 to 70,000, and finally, this past April, the cap was set to 85,000.

Part of the problem, it seems, is that the availability of the stickers are in part driving sales of the vehicles. In fact, around 40% of all sales of plug-in electric and hybrid cars sold in key California markets between 2010-2013 were prompted by the availability of the HOV stickers, according to research performed by the University of California Los Angeles Luskin Center for Innovation, and reported by the Los Angeles Times. Previously, those driving regular hybrid cars were offered HOV passes. That program ended in 2011, and the bill for electric plug-ins was signed into law in 2013.

Still, legislators may stand firm with the current figure, after showing reluctance to raise the cap to 85,000 in the first place. During the debate to raise the number this spring, some state officials argued that, as a result of more drivers in the carpool lanes, the roadways have been degrading more quickly. Others raised the question of whether increasing the amount of traffic in HOV lanes would discourage more people from carpooling.

Regardless, it seems that the plug-in trend is only growing in California, so interested car owners need to move fast to pick up their passes. Maybe they can carpool to the DMV together, to save time.

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