California Lawmakers Allow Clean Cars to Stay in Carpool Lanes

State legislators voted to allow new clean cars to use "diamond" or carpool lanes. (Deborah Svoboda)

Drivers in the market for electric cars may be able to count on a popular incentive. California lawmakers voted this week to extend a program that allows zero-emission cars to drive in carpool lanes.

The green and white stickers currently on electric, plug-in hybrid and hydrogen-powered cars are set to expire on January 1, 2019.

The program is just one of the ways California is trying to boost adoption of cleaner cars. The state has ambitious goal: put 1.5 million zero emission vehicles on the road by 2025. As of the end of 2016, around 245,000 have been sold in California.

More than 240,000 green and white carpool stickers have been issued statewide. (Lauren Sommer/KQED)

“This year, California has demonstrated its environmental leadership on a global stage, stepping up as the federal government has stepped down,” said bill author Assemblymember Richard Bloom, in a statement. “We must continue to do so by extending this effective program.”

If Governor Jerry Brown signs the bill, AB 544 (UPDATE: Governor Brown signed the bill on October 10, 2017), here’s how the new program would work:

  • Stickers issued to new cars after January 1, 2019 are valid for three full years and then until January 1 of their fourth year.
  • Drivers issued stickers in 2017 and 2018 will be able to apply for a new sticker in 2019 that is valid until January 1, 2022.
  • Stickers issued before January 1, 2017 will expire on January 1, 2019.

In addition, drivers that receive the Clean Vehicle Rebate, a state-funded rebate that can be several thousand dollars, won’t be eligible for HOV lane stickers unless their gross annual income falls below $150,000 for a single tax filer, $204,000 for a head of household filer, and $300,000 for joint filers.

Demand for the carpool lane stickers has often exceeded supply. For years, the number of green stickers was capped, leaving hundreds of drivers on waiting lists for the program until the state legislature opened it again. The cap was eliminated completely last year.

The new system would create “rolling” expiration dates, eventually limiting the number of clean cars in carpool lanes.

Some, including the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), have raised concerns about overcrowding in carpool lanes and are pushing for better enforcement. An MTC-commissioned study found 24 percent of drivers in carpool lanes during the morning commute were there in violation of the rules.

Legislators passed another bill this week, SB 498, that would require the state to ensure that half of the vehicles it purchases for its state fleet are also zero-emission by 2025.

California Lawmakers Allow Clean Cars to Stay in Carpool Lanes 13 December,2017Lauren Sommer

  • Maisha Grinn

    But anyone who has at least one passenger is cool, right?

    • Haggy

      It depends on the carpool lane. If it says “2 or more…” then yes. If it says “3 or more” then no.

  • Jasona Ev

    If the state want $$$ why don’t they bust all the illegal single lane drivers in the HOV lanes on all the hwys? Everyday I’m driving and people illegally cut over the double lines,etc but there’s never a ChiPer or cop around. Minimum violation $325 or whatever LOL. Drivers don’t care when the state and cops don’t care.

  • Nicholas L

    Call 311 on non electric violators!

  • Kiki Kass

    Electric cars are not zero emission. The electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels.

    • nathan m

      That’s true. Due to efficiency and grid timing and solar, they are only about sixty percent less emission spewing than combustion engine vehicles — not fully zero.


Lauren Sommer

Lauren is a radio reporter covering environment, water, and energy for KQED Science. As part of her day job, she has scaled Sierra Nevada peaks, run from charging elephant seals, and desperately tried to get her sea legs – all in pursuit of good radio. Her work has appeared on Marketplace, Living on Earth, Science Friday and NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered. You can find her on Twitter at @lesommer.

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