Solo drivers sometimes look at that left lane with envy, but with the right car and the right sticker, they may be able to get access without carpooling.
There is now more incentive for Californians to buy cleaner cars. They can get a free pass as a solo driver in the carpool lane until 2019. The state Legislature approved a bill that would extend those green stickers for plug-in hybrids and white stickers for electric cars for three more years. These greener vehicles can help clean the air because they emit 34 percent fewer greenhouse gasses and 75 percent less smog.
"California has always been leading the way when it comes to lowering our carbon footprint. These standards entice Californians to utilize the most environmentally friendly vehicles," said Assm. Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica.
At a cost of up to $10,000 more than a regular hybrid, sales of the next generation of clean vehicles have been slow and tax credits have not helped. As of mid-July, DMV has issued less than 16,000 green stickers since January 2012. While the goal of cleaner air is worthwhile, opponents don't like opening up the carpool lane to people driving alone.
"I think most people out there would love to be able to get home from work in a timely fashion. That was the original intent was to ease congestion, encourage people to carpool and then they can spend more time with their families," said Assm. Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks.
In fact, during the last program that gave the same privileges to Prius drivers under the now expired yellow stickers, the Federal Government warned California that too many solo drivers were clogging the HOV lanes and threatened to cut transportation funds. This time, lawmakers have learned their lesson.
"We do, in fact, leave some wiggle room with the Department of Transportation, to let them look at how do we moderate the use of these particular stickers," said St. Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco.
There is one more procedural vote before the green and white sticker programs head to the governor's desk. Gov. Jerry Brown generally supports measures that help fight climate change.