California has nearly 1,300 miles of carpool lanes that are typically reserved for drivers willing to tote a bunch of friends along for the ride. Recently, the state opened carpool lanes to drivers of super-ultra-low-emissions vehicles (SULEV), ultra-low-emissions vehicles (ULEV) and inherently low-emissions vehicles (such as EVs). The access to carpool lanes for these "clean" vehicles was set to expire in 2011, but with a swipe of his hand, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed off on legislation that would extend carpool lane usage for the vehicles types listed above until 2015.
Somehow, the legislation was written up to exclude the extension on hybrids such as the Toyota Prius, Honda Insight and Civic. Therefore, access to carpool lanes for hybrid vehicles will expire at the end of this year. As expected, this decision has caused quite the uproar... especially from the 85,000 ex-qualifying hybrid owners in California, no doubt.
Some may see it as unfair that drivers of "clean" vehicles get unrestricted use of carpool lanes regardless of the number of passengers on board, but the state of California views it as yet another way to entice car shoppers to choose highly-efficient vehicles. We can't really say that we agree with the plan, but with California's notoriously congested traffic, use of the carpool lane could turn out to be a strong selling point for EVs.
For what it's worth, there is a separate bill (SB 535) that has not yet been signed into law that would extend HOV lane use to plug-in hybrids as well. See the full text of California AB 1500 here.
[Source: The Car Connection | Image: Mlinksva - C.C. License 2.0]