(Craig Miller/KQED)

Beginning today, gas-electric hybrid vehicles are banned from driving solo in California’s carpool lanes. Now the only cars allowed solo in carpool lanes are the white-stickered all-electric or natural gas-powered cars. Will the new law translate to an increased demand for all-electric cars? How are hybrid drivers coping with the change?

Guests:
John Swanton, air pollution specialist with the California Air Resources Board
Michael Omotoso, senior manager of hybrid and electric vehicle forecasting with J.D. Power and Associates, an independent market research firm
Mark Duvall, director of electric transportation with the Electric Power Research Institute
Christina Fragomeni, Leaf sales specialist with San Leandro Nissan
Patrick Wang, owner of the first Chevy Volt sold in the Bay Area and author of the blog, MyChevroletVolt.com

  • Mike Weston

    Having solo access to the carpool lane was not a major factor in my decision to buy a Nissan Leaf (I got it in early May and haven’t even sent in the forms for the stickers yet), but I’m hopeful that this incentive will soon help make EVs as popular as hybrids are today.

    • KJB

      As a Prius owner who didn’t get a sticker (too late, and don’t commute much anyway), I hope that the new stickers provide a boost to EVs. However, a “ticket to ride” in the carpool lane comes with a requirement to be aware of your surroundings. Just two days ago, I was in the carpool lane trying to get my two kids to camp on time, happily going 65, when all of a sudden, a Honda with a yellow sticker pulled out of the traffic into the carpool lane in front of me (as if suddenly remembering that he didn’t need to be sitting in traffic), and then proceeded to drive the whole rest of the way at 55 mph. Driving like that is fodder for the “hybrid haters.”

    • Yeah Right!

      Did you even get any forms? You can’t apply until January 2012 anyway and that’s only once California gets the OK from the Feds. 

      • yeah right

        Oops. wrong car. You qualify for white stickers. 

      • Questions

        California does not need any ok from the Feds.  It needed that for the yellow hybrid carpool stickers.

        The plug-in Prius won’t be available until after January 2012, so the DMV’s delay does not cause a problem.

        The GM Volt doesn’t qualify for the green carpool stickers because it does not get high enough mileage and low enough emissions when operating without plugging it in.  It’s the same reason the Volt doesn’t qualify for California incentives.

  • CliffG

    My 2002 Insight give me 48-51 mpg and I am not a light foot. Now I will have to clog up the other lanes and make my fellow drivers even more frustrated. Meanwhile, CARB canceled our stickers and announced they will not have a replacement program in place until next January, so IF I wanted to replace my vehicle with a newer hybrid (with worse mileage) I don’t even know what will be allowed to get a sticker. BTW, the white stickers on electric and natural gas expire in 2015.

    • RTFL!

      CliffG You missed the listing of all the qualified White and Green stickers cars on the arb.ca.gov website. No hybrids are on the Green list, only the plug in Toyota Prius has qualified. The Chevy Volt does NOT qualify. The green stickers will also expire in 2015.

  • Joe

    I welcome this change.  While I understand the incentive to get people to drive hybrids.  I dislike getting stuck behind a solo hybrid driver in the diamond lane doing 55-60mph (in an attempt to reach maximum fuel efficiency?)  

  • Chrisco

    My (biased windshield) perspective is:  I have a 1997 Civic which I’ve had for almost 2 years and gets on average for all my driving 36 mpg. So why should I be treated like the 10mpg SUV vs. the 45 mpg hybrid? I’m not complaining since I rarely drive and almost never during high traffic times. The point is, these things always have arbitrary elements.

    And it is annoying to see how 1997 cars got much better mileage than those of the last few years, hybrids etc. excluded.

  • Janet

    I drive a Prius and have one of those yellow stickers, and I think this change is appropriate. I already carpool when I can, and I also try to avoid driving during commute hours (I realize that not everybody can do this, but I have a relatively flexible schedule). The bottom line is that we need to get more cars off the road. It would be best if we could get the most inefficient and polluting cars off the road first, of course. My family is also exploring the possibility of getting rid of our second car (a 10+ year old Honda Civic station wagon), which we can probably manage as soon as our daughter gets old enough to get around town by herself on her bike or by public transport.

  • Vanessa

    We purchased a Tesla and solar panels to charge it, we consider both an investment in our future.

    • yeah right

      That’s great, but we don’t all live in Palo Alto or Atherton or Hillsborough and we don’t have $150K to spare (Tesla + solar panels). Lucky you got LinkedIn (or whatever) stock options or got rich from your VC firm. Congratulations.  Unless you got your Tesla in Colorado during when they were 40% off with tax credit.

      • Questions

        Don’t be so hard on Vanessa.  It’s early adopters like her that make it more affordable for people like you.  The Nissan Leaf is much more affordable and will be more widely available as supply catches up.  There are companies that will lease you your solar panels and you pay for them with what would have been your electric bill.

  • adam222green

    Stopping the Prius from using the carpool/HOV lane without offering a viable and available next step is poor planning and just plain wrong.

    • Joe

      Electric of natural gas.  Did this change come out of left field for you?

      • adam222green

        Unexpected; no.  We bought a Prius in ’05 and expected the “free” ride to end in 2010.  When we received notification of another six months, we still couldn’t find a viable alternative — the Leaf is limited and we live in a hilly environment — no a/c on a hot day with a baby on board is no option.  No heat would be just inconvenient and a bit silly.  The optimistic 100-125 mile range, once you take into account hills and regenerative braking, my research suggested it was possible to be stopped with the battery “empty” (at the bottom of its SOC limit, but still probably 80% charged, but unwilling to release any more electrons or its life might be diminished) with as little as 60 miles’ range.  Not viable.

        I wanted to go with CNG, but with very few refueling stations (literally only one in a 25 mile range of our home and only a dozen or so in the Bay Area) it’s unrealistic to be caught out in the middle of the night finding the local PG&E refueling station is closed or the key-card won’t activate the pump, etc.  Not viable.

        LPG isn’t “allowed” but it could work.

        As others noted, alcohol fuel could work really well, but again, it’s just not on the radar of the government.

        Hydrogen is a joke and shouldn’t be entertained — it’s just another “empire” fuel to replace the empire of the oil industry with something that can be priced and profitable.

        The “best” solution is to go with interim electric solutions, then update the batteries once the energy storage density problem is wholly or partially solved.

        • Joe

          So who poorly planned?  Should people in your circumstance be allowed to continue using the carpool lane and everyone else cannot?  

          I never saw this idea of “let hybrid drivers go in the carpool lane” as a way to get traffic moving or help segregate rich/poor drivers.  I saw it as an incentive to drive a more eco-friendly car and adopt a new technology.  

          Hybrids have reached appropriate numbers on the roads and the technology is starting to mature.  Ergo, the incentive is no longer necessary.  It seems to me that the “plan” to increase adoption worked perfectly.  

          • adam222green

            Poorly planned by the government.  I realize you’re suggesting I could have planned ahead and done something to get a commute lane car, but I haven’t found anything I could do except by a $25K Leaf that lacks the space and range of 90% of the population (including my family.)

            We routinely have five or more people in our biodiesel-fueled Excursion, but I’m sure we’re still scorned by those who see only it’s land-yacht proportions and I don’t want to drive it needlessly on short journeys.

            There was absolutely no such “plan” for the hybrids to be adopted because of the HOV lane “privilege” — that’s a blatant attempt a revising history.  At best, it’s an after-thought that crept in years after the fact.  The original message revolved around traffic congestion.  In any case, it is a form of user-pays — where Toyota is the beneficiary.

            I agree with the earlier post here that it’s entirely upside down — let the Hybrids sit in stop-n-go (where they excel in fuel efficiency) and preserve the HOV lane for, I dunno, high occupancy vehicles … and motorcycles …  but no, I’m not delivering my children to school on the back of a motorcycle …

            Anyway, if somebody has figured out how to run CNG or any other eco-friendly car for commuting and traveling based somewhere around the Peninsula of the SF Bay Area, please point me in the right direction!

          • Questions

            There certainly was a plan to promote the purchase of hybrids by letting a limited number of them in the carpool lane.  You can look at the legislative analyst’s reports of the legislation that enabled that perk for proof.

            Get a Tesla Model S with an upgrade for the 200 mile range when it becomes available.  That should satisfy your requirements.

          • adam222green

            I’ve heard rumors of forward-looking legislation, only the little evidence I’ve seen is dated years after the fact.

            I agree the Model S (if they hold to their “luxury” pricing, $50K-80K) will be a good solution.  So would the Fisker Karma, but too expensive for anyone but the lucky few.  And the real “cost” of these cars won’t be known until we see the resale values in a few years and the operating costs, maintenance, etc.  Still, I’ll be willing to try the Tesla product if they get their act together.

            But these are all “future” and “real soon now” vaporware that’s two years away from being prospectively a viable solution — early adopters might jump in as soon as next year, I guess, but we’re still looking at a leap of faith and a high price barrier to entry for a car company that’s not yet on a solid footing.

            A real solution is there in the form of CNG — it would require the government planning ahead just a matter of months to have vendors roll out the infrastructure at existing gas stations to provide CNG refueling tanks.  Cars (new and old) can be modified for a matter of hundreds of dollars to replace the gas fuel system with a CNG fuel system.  The CNG itself is environmentally sound and a retail price would be a quarter (literally 25%) the price of the cheapest gas at the pump.  The loss of fuel efficiency is perhaps 10%, but at a four fold (literally 300% improvement) the trivial loss of efficiency is irrelevant.

            And CNG is already a proven fuel solution, so why not?

    • Guest

      There were more hybrids in the carpool lanes than electric cars.  California needed to clear out the hybrids because hybrids were causing some carpool lanes (notably in southern California) to become saturated.

      Also, there was a need to clear the hybrids out of the carpool lanes as more electric cars were being added and to make room for the new green sticker plug-in hybrid vehicles.  A period of six months without hybrids was needed to get a new baseline for the usage of the carpool lanes, and to determine what capacity was available in the carpool lanes without hybrids.

      So I would say clearing out the hybrids from the carpool lanes was excellent planning on the government’s part, but it doesn’t fit your personal desires to stay in the carpool lanes.

  • guest

    I have owned a Prius since 2000. I did not apply for a car pool lane sticker because I believe that everyone should be encouraged to carpool irregardless of the car they drive. A year before the program started my husband tried to  buy a Prius and there was a waiting list even then. They were selling well because the gas prices spiked.

  • adam222green

    I’d be interested in CNG, but I see only one filling station on the peninsula (near Palo Alto) … when, if ever, will CNG become a viable solution?

    • nancy

      CNG is a viable solution today.  Taxicabs, school buses, government cars, and consumers in the Bay area have CNG cars.

      Here is a website that has filling stations listed near Palo Alto
      http://www.afdc.energy.gov/afdc/locator/stations/.  And here is a link to the prices around the area http://www.cngprices.com/ all significantly lower than gasoline.
      I have a CNG honda civic and i haven’t looked into it recently but if the lack of filling stations in your area is a problem (I live in San Jose and there are about 3 of them near my driving routes), you may want to consider purchasing an in home fueling system.  There is something called Phil pump that would allow you to draw natural gas from your home to fill your car while it is parker in your driveway or garage.  My understanding is the Phil pump was bought by a company recently so you may need to do some research but this may help: http://www.alibaba.com/product-free/252157577/PHIL_Home_CNG_Fueling_Station.html.

      regards,
      nancy

      • adam222green

        In San Jose, CNG looks okay.  From Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Redwood City, through to San Francisco, there’s only that one CNG station.  One.  Not viable.
        I talked with the two CNG conversion companies and they recognize they just haven’t got the infrastructure — unless you’re running a fleet or have a deal with PG&E or a passcard to a corporate refueling station, well, it’s a pity, but it’s an oil industry monopoly for the time being.

        • Mark Sottilaro

          There are 4 in San Francisco, check the map. http://www.afdc.energy.gov/afdc/locator/stations/

        • adam222green

          In a 25 mile radius of our house, there is one (in Palo Alto) and it requires signing up for a payment card with some restricted hours of operation.  One.  Seriously?  Nobody could call that a viable proposition — with reduced range per fill-up and the need to travel for perhaps half an hour or more to fill up?  That would be ironic at best in the name of eco-friendly driving, and idiotic in terms of wasting my time sitting in (and contributing to) congested traffic.

          I did some googling and found the company behind Honda behind Phill went into bankruptcy in 2009.  I’ve been thumbing through cng forum sites (cngchat, cngforum) which are quite active where there’s people making it work in their locale, but I haven’t found a home solution.  The two companies that provide CNG vehicles which qualify for white tag HOV stickers (BAF Technologies and baytech, there are others, not servicing CA) suggested that home fueling isn’t viable for CNG — either they don’t offer the technology or they believe the existing technology isn’t cost-effective or viable (for example, Phill, on a normal gas supply, could require more than 24hrs to “produce” a tank of CNG at 4500 psi.)  

          And I really don’t want a 4500 psi bomb of CNG being produced near my home, but if there is a viable solution (perhaps another company, with a product called G-ECO) then I’d be willing to try.

      • Questions

        How much electricity is used by the Phil system?  How far would that electricity drive an efficient electric vehicle like the Nissan Leaf?

    • Zerocrossing

      Their are CNG stations all over the Bay area.  Two in SF run by PG&E, one in Berkeley, two that I know of in Oakland, one by the SF airport, one near San Jose Airport, one in Marin near the Richmond Bridge… I’ve never found it to be a problem and I live in Emeryville. 

  • Ty_Beckmann

    What about the use of rare earth elements in the battery technology? I am a fan, however any insight on the impact of using those elements?

    • guest

      All cars, not just hybrids, have batteries which use nickel. The battery is what powers your lights and car radio. If you are concerned about it’s contents you should recycle your battery just as Toyota recycles it’s batteries.

  • Questions

    How much electricity is used to refine, transport, and dispense gasoline?

    How much electricity is used to compress natural gas or hydrogen fuel cells to dispensing pressure?

    The figures mentioned on the air are 2.4 to 4 cents per mile.  A 50-mpg Prius at $4/gallon comes to 8 cents per mile.

  • @ Ty

    There’s platinum in catalytic converters.

  • Dennis Murphy

    Bought a Leaf May 6: a great car, incredibly quick from a standing start.
    Gasoline: burned 1300 gallons driving 28,000 miles per year prior to 2005. Bought a Prius to replace a Honda accord: burned 900 gallongs per year with same mileage.
    The Leaf replaced a Volvo 1993 station wagon: on track to burn 150 gallons of gas per year.
    The Leaf covers all local trips and a 43 mile round trip daily  commute.
    Rarely drive the Prius outside of daily 32 mile round trip commute.
    Charging costs about a dollar a day.
    Leaf is not for everyone but fits for my family.

    Dennis Murphy

    Belmont

  • scram

    Far
    fewer can afford a $25,000 and up new electric car that costs many times what an older
    diesel costs that can burn cleanly with waste fry oil or blended
    bio-fuels . The bias towards new cars favors those who can afford the
    big bucks! Most cannot b/c we are in an unprecedented recession, after
    all.
    Please do not forget about re-purposing already-built diesel cars, like old mercedes. By broadening the economic diversity of green cars, you allow more folks to participate -who may otherwise be left out of the rich kid club – and build wider public support.

    Also,
    please ask your JD Power and car magazine writers who give out
    so-called “green car” awards to report when new diesels cannot burn
    bio-fuels as pre-2007 manufactured diesel cars can. Rudolf Diesel
    invented the diesel engine more than 100 years ago to burn waste crops
    from the from. Diesel is the original alternative energy transportation –
    don’t write it off as the tout for bright, shiny new things takes hold.Biodiesel access advocateSan FranciscoPS-

    Since the City of San Francisco is already picking up restaurant oil
    thru its FOG (FatsOilsGrease) program, why not make it available to
    folks with the same gratis spirit that the City plans for giving away
    electric power at soon to be installed free charging stations?

  • katherine

    just tuning in. have you all talked about the new WheeGo electric vehicles?

  • Question

    SF is planning to charge for electricity for their electric vehicle chargers after a few years.

  • herve’ bruckert

    A few companies are installing charging station at your home free of charge.
    South Korea is already piloting a program where electric rails are installed underground and electricity is transferred to the car battery via a magnetic field. This means that eventually batteries could be much smaller and driving ranges much larger for electric vehicules.

    I have been loving my Leaf, “la feuille”, to commute.
    After driving hybrids for over 10 years without any issues I was ready for the electric era.

    Hervé Bruckert
    De Novo Wines

  • I was so happy that a caller got through asking about why ethanol was not being covered in this discussion. Unfortunately, the panelist that replied either misunderstood the callers point, had little contemporary knowledge about ethanol, sees ethanol as a threat for the electric car industry they’re promoting, or all the above. From my own reading, it appears that ethanol has clear and distinct advantages over all other approaches discussed above. 

    Consider:- Essentially everyone with a car made since mid 90’s can pump up to 1/2 their tank with E-85 today with no mods on the car – this was the caller’s point which the panelist didn’t seem to get. I’ve been doing this for months in my ’02 Volvo, no issues. If everyone did this today, perhaps we’d be close or all the way to ending or dependence on foreign oil. 

    – The same cars above can be converted to run on gas or ethanol very easily for $200-$500. The process takes a reasonably knowledgable mechanic about 30m. 

    – Alcohol fuel production is proven low tech – nothing to solve or wait for.

    – Alcohol has many environmental pluses – low emissions, carbon neutral, etc.

    – The point the panelist made about gas mileage is partly correct, but the decrease is small. In my own experience, less than 5% difference – and with current E85 price being at least 50 cents cheaper, well, it still works in my favor.

    – The panelist cited infrastructure as a drawback for ethanol, which is kind of laughable when you consider what we have to do for any of the other technologies cited. Any gas station can serve up alcohol fuel, there just needs to be more demand. 

    – The often cited “food vs fuel” issue is a crock. Amazing that it became “common knowledge” almost overnight. There was actually a corn surplus in the years that it was being reported that ethanol was to blame for famine in some areas. The true reasons had to do with the increased cost of oil. 

    – The idea that it costs more energy to make alcohol fuel than it produces is another myth. What is true is that trying to replace a massive, centralized oil industry with a similarly massive, centralized corn fuel industry is a bad idea. Alcohol fuel should be produced locally using the best available feedstock (product used for creating the alcohol) sources. The options are wide and vast.

    – The majority of cars in Brazil run on alcohol fuel today and the country is energy independent today because they embraced this after the fuel crisis of the 70’s.

    and I could go on and on. 

    Please know that I am not representing anyone by myself. I became passionate about this topic about a year ago and am just frustrated at how little it is covered in discussions on alternative energy today. It’s deeply frustrating that a fantastic solution to our peak oil dilemma actually exists and the only thing blocking us is misinformation. 

    • adam222green

      I agree with your general position on the topic, but I still see the “food for fuel” argument as a misunderstanding — the point of corn as a very poor fuel is the area of land required to produce the required energy.  There’s two schools of thought arising from the analysis of regions using “crop” fuels — and let’s not suppose that Brazil is a success story, but it’s too far off topic.

      Electric cars were on show at Laguna Seca last weekend.  Some impressive.  Some laughable.  Some very bright guys and innovators.  All of them begging for more “dense” storage of electricity — “better batteries.”  The technology is in the labs, but (mysteriously …) not making it to the market … and entirely for lack of government action.  If the government spent as much money on electric technology as it does on Libya or Pakistan, let alone on war, we’d have the technology in the marketplace today (in cars, buses, etc. not to forget computers, homes, you name it.)

      • Questions

        NiMH batteries (used in the 1990’s through 2003) were forced off the market because Chevron controlled the patents for them in electric cars.

        Certainly we need to spend more money on battery technology.

        Brazil’s alcohol is made from sugar cane usually using labor in slave or near slave conditions, often on land that was previously rainforest.  None of those would work in the United States.

        Corn-based ethanol was supposed to be a transition from using the edible corn kernels to the inedible cellulose (such as the corn husk), but that transition never happened.

  • Mark Sottilaro

    I can’t believe how biased the one guest was against CNG cars.  He out and out lied on several points.  First of all, CNG isn’t comparably priced to gasoline.  Currently at the Berkeley Station (which is higher than a lot) is HALF the price of gasoline.  Second, Honda doesn’t sell a lot of non-fleet Civic GXs because they do NO advertising at all for it.  The GX doesn’t even have a nice metal logo on it like their hybrid Civic does.  The dealer I bought from said they sell out constantly but can’t get any more which is why they charge $25k for the car, but it’s still a lot cheaper than a Leaf or a Volt.

    While I’m at it, we tried to buy a Leaf or Volt as a second car and neither was available.  None.  I bet we could have gotten a second GX easily. 

    The guest also said that “CNG is not zero emissions.”  It’s true, it’s not, but it’s NEAR zero and because of that it gets the silver sticker which is still good.

    He also said that an electric car is more efficient than running a CNG engine.  Bull left behinds. He obviously forgot about electrical line loss and the inefficiencies of batteries.  GNG engines are a LOT more efficient than charging an electric car from a CNG power plant.

    Also, while not having as many filling options as gasoline or diesel, there are quite a bit of options in the bay area and it’s never been an issue. http://www.afdc.energy.gov/afdc/locator/stations/  We’ve been down to Monterey and Santa Cruz and all around Nappa with no issues.

    He also said that “The GX has been out for a few years.”  A few?  It’s been out commercially available since 1999.

    So, while electric cars are a good step in the right direction, we already have a tried and true technology but we’re against it for some reason.  I think it’s getting bad press due to influence from car, battery and gasoline companies.  We’ve been driving our GX for years and… it’s a Honda Civic!  A bit less excursion (250 miles), pep and a truncated trunk (sorry, I couldn’t resist) but other than that, it’s the same reliable car that’s all over the place.  Why are we ignoring it?

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