California Removes Limit On Green HOV Stickers For PHEVs

SEP 22 2016 BY MARK KANE 60

Toyota Prius Prime

Toyota Prius Prime

Good news comes from California where Senate Bill No. 838 has removed the previous limit on the “Green Sticker Program” (85,000), which was hit 9 months ago.

A Green sticker primarily enables a plug-in hybrid owner to drive solo on High Occupancy Vehicle (HOVs) lanes in the state, which is a strong incentives for commuters in California to chose to purchase a plug-in car.

“White” stickers, which also grant HOV access, are given to all-electric (BEV), FCV and CNG vehicles, already had an unlimited cap, so there are no changes to that program.

As a result of the changes, now both the White and Green stickers will expire on January 1, 2019, unless new bill comes along to extend the incentives.

The return of the Green stickers will be another important factor, which should help leverage sales this fall, on top of the introduction of many new plug-in models.  However, there has been some talk that the Green sticker program (along with the White) has been allowed to go on too long, and thus is now diluting the effectiveness of the HOV lane program – so not all persons are happy to see this renewal for PHEVs.

The list of eligible vehicles for green and white stickers is available here.

white decalWhite Clean Air Vehicle decals are available to an unlimited number of qualifying Federal Inherently Low Emission Vehicles (ILEVs). Cars that meet these requirements are typically certified pure zero emission vehicles (100% battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell) and compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles. Per AB 266, the expiration date for the white stickers has been extended to January 1, 2019.

Green DecalGreen Clean Air Vehicle decals were originally available to the first 40,000 applicants that purchased or leased cars meeting California’s transitional zero emission vehicles (TZEV) requirement, also known as the enhanced advanced technology partial zero emission vehicle (AT PZEV)* requirement. Per SB 286, the expiration date for the green decals has been extended to January 1, 2019. Per budget trailer bill, SB 853 (Statutes 2014, chapter 27), the green decal limit was increased by 15,000 to 55,000 decals effective July 1, 2014. Per AB 2013, effective January 1, 2015, an additional 15,000 decals were made available for a maximum of 70,000.  Per AB 95 the green decal limit was raised another 15,000 to a new maximum of 85,000. Per SB-838, and effective as of September 13, 2016, the Green Clean Air Vehicle Decal limit imposed by AB 95 has been removed.

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60 Comments on "California Removes Limit On Green HOV Stickers For PHEVs"

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Doh! More clogged HOV lanes. Not happy is right. Often, HOV lanes are more clogged than regular lanes nowadays, especially I-5 in Orange County CA.

Then increase the number of lanes designated as HOV.

I completely agree with this. Most roads with 5 lanes should include at least 2 HOV lanes. Right now the HOV lanes are mostly ineffective.

Congested part of I-5 I describe has HOV 2 lanes. When you build it, they’ll fill it. Must find smarter way (ie, restrict to BEV only and/or 2 or more occupants)

Totally agree!

Which part of I5 are you talking about? I just drove I5 from Carlsbad to 605 a week ago and it was mostly one HOV lane up to the OC line (no HOV after that point). The only exceptions were the HOV on/offramps, but those are mostly auxiliary lanes for merging traffic.

Laguna Niguel through Irvine, Santa Ana, Disneyland. I get off HOV lane at Laguna or Irvine, because they’re closed off with barriers and no way to get off to regular lanes that are moving quicker.

Ah, ok, I recall the area you’re referring to. Isn’t that a relatively short stretch though? Of course, if you’re stuck in traffic (I wasn’t at the time) a couple miles can seem like a long time.

I was just there, going through traffic in normal lanes and watching a bus in HOV falling more and more behind. But even in normal lane, I was like “somebody please just shoot me”. OMFG! I can’t wait to get autopilot car so I can take a nap through this section.

In clogged part of I-5 in OC, HOV lanes are dedicated with barriers and sometimes completely separate road. Increasing will mean tearing down and new road construction, which may take up to 3 years. By then, HOV stickers will expire.

I wouldn’t count on that expiration date. My guess is that it will eventually get extended past the 2025 deadline for the “1 million ZEVs on California roads” to encourage more butts in seats. Personally, without a PEV SUV, they ain’t gonna get there!

They should set a duration, if someone buys a low emission car thinking they will have a sticker for years, but a year later they can not, the decision is tainted.

It’s not a bad idea, but I’d like a way to remove the sticker off my car when the duration ends. One of the annoying things about the stickers is that they are basically permanent and it’s a real PITA to remove them.

They are a PITA to remove because people would steal them.

Yes, I know, but that thought doesn’t help when they’ve expired and you have no way to remove them.

Have you tried WD-40?

yeah, get the lane fairy to wave her wand.

Considering a freeway lane costs more than $10 million per mile, the “fairy” needs a big bank account.

Last value I heard was $30 million per lane mile in rural areas. This was 6 or 7 years ago. It’s probably more now.

It is actually higher cost in urban areas. Search “freeway cost per lane mile” to see.

“Rural and even some suburban highway construction costs far less than complex urban highways in major cities, particularly since there is little infrastructure displacement and there are typically fewer traffic lanes”

Cough…public transit…cough cough.

Yes, they should have kept it for 100% BEVs. With the influx of PHEVs the HOVS lanes will most likely be moving slower than other ones indeed.

I was thinking, “anything with 20kWh of battery”. So whether it’s a BEV, PHEV, it doesn’t matter. 20kWh is enough for most daily commutes to be gas/pollution free.

Then you just need 1 sticker. No more green/white.

I was thinking 16 kWh, but I’m biased. I want my Volt to qualify! 😀

LOL, my Gen1 Volt wouldn’t qualify at 20kWh either, but I was going to say maybe it would force GM to increase the Gen 3 Volt battery enough to get 60+ miles/charge.

Maybe. But they’d be more likely to lobby California to lower the level. But getting them to make the Gen 3 a 20 kWh (and mid-size) would be fantastic! 🙂

The old program had a(t least one) major bug – letting dealers pre-order green stickers (when they were limited) for cars that didn’t have buyers. Smart dealers slapped stickers on all their inventory cars, leaving real buyers with real cars out in the cold.

Interesting comments from a few California residents. As a resident of Metro Atlanta, I have been wondering about the critical mass issue for EVs and HOV / HOT lane benefits. In Atlanta a BEV and some qualifying PHEV like the Volt ride free in the HOT lane, thus avoiding toll charges. My brother in law saved $150 per month in tolls when he bought his Volt. But at what point do those lanes become so clogged with free riders that the system doesn’t work anymore?
Right now EVs are less than 3% of the cars on the road in Metro Atlanta, so currently it’s a non-issue. But at what level does it become an issue? 5% or 10% maybe? I will be watching California to see how they handle it as clearly it will happen there first.

It will be interesting how it all plays out, but just want to say, having *too many* plugin drivers is a good problem to have.


Something like 75% of Plug-in Prius drivers in California never plug it in at all. All they wanted was the green sticker, and were willing to pay the premium on the purchase price to get it.

I don’t consider this to be a good thing

SparkEV-Fiat500-Leased - M3 Reserved - Bolt- TBD

An issue problem with PHEV, but that’s just stupid if those 75% (claimed) buyers don’t plug into a cheaper fuel source.

I’d like to see a source for this data, but more relevant would be how many PHEV owners “never plug in”. The PiP population is small, and won’t be increasing since Toyota has moved onto a plugin with a larger range .. finally (still too small in my book though).

Toyota does seem to have great timing. The PIP went out of production just as the Green Stickers ran out, and now the Prius Prime is going on sale just as the Green Sticker come back.

That’s because the Prius PHEV has such short range that there isn’t much reason to plug it in. It really is a hybrid with a plug rather than a real PHEV.

When you get cars that can do 75-80% of their driving on electrons I can see it.

The carpool lanes in the LA area, particularly the NON-FasTrak lanes, have become pretty much useless. The ones that do have FasTrak work pretty well since you still need a FasTrak even if you have a carpool. I used it on I10 a couple months ago because I didn’t have my plates yet. (Hey, I had my wife and kids with me so I was still a carpool!) 😀

The Bay Area carpool lanes still work pretty well, but I suspect enforcement is stronger there. They also don’t use solid lines or barriers like in LA so it makes the whole getting in and out easier.

Great news. I still see significant capacity left in the HOV lanes, depends on your area. There seem to be as many cheaters as decaled cars and not much enforcement.

Could they use a camera system to detect multiple occupants, or a plate that is registered to a plugin?

If you cheat, you get a ticket in the mail.

FasTrak does that. In the Bay Area, they use it mostly for toll bridges but on I10 in LA, they use it for the two lane carpool lane (I’m pretty sure that it’s new since it wasn’t there when I moved from LA 9 years ago). You need to have the FasTrak gizmo in your car even if you have a carpool.

Yes, lots of different camera systems throughout the world. It’s easy to implement if looking at plates for plugin cars, but the trick will be looking for multiple passengers in cars. I think with today’s technology (deep learning, etc), this could be done.

That is a challenge. I think FasTrak’s approach has been to snap pictures of the interior to confirm that there are multiple people in the car. However, I don’t know how effective that is if you’re like me and have tinted windows.

It should be fairly simple to process a top down thermal camera image. Simply count the number of blobs at 37.5 deg C. One blob too few take an image with a regular camera of the plate and send the bill if it is not hov lane permitted. I believe the cameras in the London congestion zone can recognise the make / colour of the car to filter out the stolen plates. They can also track the car and notify the police of a vehicles location. I can’t believe that the folks in Si valley can make a system that can detect and fine hov lane abusers.

This isn’t good news. It’s a dumb idea.
HOV lanes should be used exclusively for incentivizing higher occupancy rates in vehicles, and thus reducing traffic congestion.

Once a baseline of two or three lanes is established for the use of low occupancy vehicles (=<2), additional lanes should only ever be HOV, with a minimum of 3 passengers or more.

Probably good news for Volt sales!

May see a new monthly high for Gen 2 sales in Sep.

You’re presuming that the only purpose of HOV lanes is to reduce congestion, but that can’t be true; changing one lane to HOV makes the rest of the lanes MORE congested than they would be if it were open.

HOV lanes are also intended to reduce pollution by getting cars off of the road, which makes low/no-emission cars within the scope of their purpose.

Maybe they should ban gas-guzzlers from the HOV lanes. So even if you have 2 people in the vehicle, if you’re driving a Hummer, or Toyota Tundra, too bad.

Yes, the should require those vehicles to have a smog-colored brown sticker — that specifically prohibits driving the HOV lane at any time.

SparkEV-Fiat500-Leased - M3 Reserved - Bolt- TBD

Depends on what one measures as the goal of HOV is. It’s more for air pollution control than traffic congestion. The dedicated lane bypassing congestion is the benefit but the intent of the HOV is air pollution quality controls.

PHEV and ZEV meet that goal through a different mechanism, hence the logic of allowing their access to HOV benefits.

The decision to allow the HOV lanes for non-HOV vehicles depends on whether you are prioritizing air quality over congestion.
In this case, it seems that CA wants to incentivize people to buy cars that won’t pollute when stopped in traffic.

I’d be OK with removing the limit *IF* they required at least 45 miles of range and the ability to drive 65 mph on electricity alone.

One small correction to the article:

“As a result of the changes, now both the White and Green stickers will expire on January 1, 2019, unless new bill comes along to extend the incentives.”

Both stickers already expired on 1/1/2019 (as of AB 266, passed in September 2013). The result of SB 838 is that now, both green and white stickers have no cap on the number that may be issued through 1/1/2019; previously, only white stickers were uncapped.

I’ve always said that BEV’s should be the only allowed HOV access.
Those PHEV’s can switch to ICE at any time or be in ICE the whole time.

So now more of these “wolves in sheeps clothing” can burn OPEC juice and drive in the HOV?

Seems like a really stupid idea.

Huge bummer. Now even the silly Prius plugin with its 11 mile EV range can commute 50+ miles enjoying the same benefits as the EV cars. They really ought to set a minimum EV range or somehow indicate if the plugin cars are running on gas or electric and force them out on gas.


The stupid Plug-in Prius does not deserve a green sticker. Some strings were obviously pulled there.

As others have noted, an itty bitty range like 11 miles just shouldn’t qualify for a green sticker. Green sticker only for cars with 50 miles+ of battery range.

At the minimum, Green stickers for only the PHEV’s that uses the most SOC of the onboard battery.

No need to lug around big battery size if you can’t use most of it all in one drive session……EVER!

No more limits … for next 2 years!

As of 12:00:01 am on January 1, 2019 the stickers will all have expired. So essentially anyone starting a 36 month lease today; they will not be able to drive in HOV lanes the last 9 months of their lease contract.
(36 – 27 months; not including a month+ lost waiting for application to be approved & stickers mailed)


Make carpool lanes all at least 3+ people during commute hours. Make FastTrak be double what it is now for the tolls.

Ensure carpool lane cheats get ticketed.

Interestingly enough, on the 10 freeway with FastTrak, there is usually police who stalk that route. They watch the people count that you marked on your FastTrak and pull people over.

Mostly though, they pull over people without FastTrak or do not have any more credit left.

So you do get tickets there if you try and cheat. Either way, double the costs for FastTrak, and make carpool lanes 3+ for 5-9 AM and 3-7.

? 2013 Leaf. How or where can I find if I have a 16 amp or 30 amp maximum charging system?

So does this mean that the green stickers are available? I am honestly unsure reading the verbiage and can’t seem to find other text to distinguish one way or another. I don’t really care about the HOV lanes as the ones near me don’t get me to my destination faster and I don’t normally travel a route that has HOV lanes. I mostly care about the free metered parking some municipalities offer.