Bad news for everyone driving a green energy car in Los Angeles County: you’re about to have to follow the same rules of the road as everyone else. (Update: Actually no, just some of the same rules now.)
(Correction and Update: California has two kinds of special fast lanes on some of its highways: carpool lanes, which car with two more people on board can use for free, and Express Lanes which have their own tolls to let people pay to skip some traffic.
Electric cars and certain vehicles considered “green” (including motorcycles) get to use the carpool lane with a single person and, until this new ruling, the Express Lanes for free. Now, EVs can still use carpool lanes but have to pay the Express Lane toll like everybody else.)
Free use of the Express Lane is one of the perks EV drivers had, the idea being that it would incentivize more people to drive green cars. But apparently California didn’t count on so many people buying Teslas.
It was a pretty tempting offer for anyone commuting literally anywhere around the Los Angeles region. So tempting, in fact, that there has been a 1000 percent increase in the number of clean air vehicle stickers issued by the California DMV. Since January of 2016, the peak morning traffic on the northbound 110 has doubled.
You can see where this incentive might start to go wrong. Even if these specific cars don’t release any emissions, the fact that every other non-green car in the express lane is traveling slowly just makes emissions even worse.
The express lanes have become so congested with these clean air cars that they’re no longer meeting the federally mandated 45 mph average speed. People don’t even see a point in express buses anymore because the express lane is so congested that it’s just like driving their own car on the rest of the highway.
There are still going to be some benefits to driving a clean car in LA, though, which are being considered as part of a big change to the traffic infrastructure. If you have a clean air sticker on your bumper, you’ll at least be able to get a 15 percent discount when you’re in a pay lane. So, yeah, going from paying nothing to paying $12.75 kind of sucks. But I’m sure it’s also a real downer enduring LA traffic.
And they’re also considering changing the definition of “carpool” altogether, so that only registered buses and van pools will be able to use a carpool lane.
It’ll be interesting to watch this decision play out, both in terms of traffic congestion and in seeing how it affects electric car sales.