Earlier this year California ran out of the 40,000 HOV stickers that allow plug-in hybrids to drive in carpool lanes. So CA Assembly member Al Muratsuchi has introduced AB2013, which would make another 45,000 stickers available immediately. This continues to be idiotic.
Efficiency is great. And rewarding people for buying hybrids is fine. California has been at the forefront of this, not only giving zero emissions vehicle buyers a $2,500 tax rebate, but cutting a check for $1,500 to plug-in hybrids owners. Those rebates, combined with HOV access, were a solid incentive a few years back, but we're passed that point today.
Hybrid and electric vehicles are at their least efficient when traveling on the highway. If it's a standard Prius, there's no electric assist when blasting down the road at 70 MPH. If you're driving a Chevy Volt, Ford Fusion Energi, or another plug-in hybrid, you have less than 20 miles of juice before the gas engine/generator kicks in. And then you're just like every other car on the road.
For these HOV incentives to make sense, we need to rethink what vehicles should be eligible, and that starts and ends with electric range.
The average one-way commute time in California is 27.5 minutes according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That's right around 20 miles. For a vehicle to be eligible for a HOV access, the energy stored on board should be able to cover the average commute distance using only electric power – and do it at freeway speeds. The bare minimum should be 20 miles, but really, it should be double that to cover the round trip. Sure, people can plug-in at work, but that's not always an option.
Right now, PHEVs just aren't capable of that. And while there's plenty of good reason to incentive hybrid ownership, this isn't one any more. Automakers and legislators need to step up to make these incentives really beneficial, rather than painting all hybrid-electrics with the same brush.