Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed legislation that will allow owners of hybrids and other alternative fuel vehicles to drive in carpool lanes, even while driving solo, until 2011. The legislation, authored by Assemblyman Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, also increases the number of hybrid-carpool permits in the state from 75,000 to 85,000.
The governor, whose staff had directed Lieu to include hybrids in the bill, signed the legislation despite a September Caltrans report that said carpool lanes have become clogged during peak hours. The report recommended that no additional carpool-lane stickers be issued, once the 75,000 cap is reached, which could happen within weeks according to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
“This is a common sense way of working to decrease air pollution from traffic congestion, particularly in heavily urbanized areas where air pollution tends to be the worst and traffic congestion is the greatest,” Lieu in a statement following the signing.
The bill was signed by the governor on September 29, along with two other pieces of environmental legislation, including SB 1368, authored by Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, which would force energy producers to meet clean-air standards.
“The governor is a strong supporter of reducing California’a dependence on oil and felt that this was one way to ensure that demand for hybrid vehicles continued,” said Schwarzenegger spokesman Darrel Ng.
The extension of California carpool incentives comes just as federal-tax incentives for the Toyota Prius–the most popular hybrid model–have expired. Starting this month, Prius buyers missed out on federal tax credits of $1,575.
“People purchase hybrids for different reasons, but if they knew the carpool program is going to expire next year, they might not buy,” said Lieu. “We need to do everything we can to encourage the use of alternative-fuel vehicles.”