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Hybrids Stay in HOV Lanes

The Virginia Department of Transportation reminds us this morning that the law allowing hybrids to travel in the carpool lanes has been extended for one year until July 2009. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) signed House Bill 1014 last week.

The exemption had been scheduled to expire on July 1, but as in past years, the Virginia General Assembly voted for a one-year extension. (There's no such program in Maryland.)

Letting hybrids with solo drivers into the carpool lanes may have been a good idea back in the days when hybrids were new and the government sought to encourage ownership of fuel-efficient vehicles. Today, it's just an entitlement that allows people to drive by themselves in lanes built for carpoolers.

Hybrids that don't meet the HOV lane rules for occupancy can be used in the lanes on I-95/395 and I-66, but the rules are significantly different on those two highways.

Here's how VDOT explains it:
Vehicles registered for clean fuel license plates on or after July 1, 2006, are not permitted to use the I-95/395 HOV lanes from 6 to 9 a.m. or from 3:30 to 6 p.m. However, they are allowed to use all other HOV lanes in Virginia during HOV hours, including I-66 and the Dulles Toll Road in Northern Virginia.

The Department of Motor Vehicles created a clean special fuel license plate for hybrid vehicles registered July 1, 2006, and after. The new plate has a distinctly different design to help Virginia State Police enforce the HOV restrictions.

Vehicle owners with clean special fuel license plates registered before July 1, 2006, may renew or transfer their plates to a newly purchased qualifying vehicle and continue to be exempt from HOV requirements until July 1, 2009.

By Robert Thomson  |  March 17, 2008; 9:31 AM ET
Categories:  Transportation Politics  
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I'm curious. If they end the hybrid exemption, what happens to the other clean-fuel vehicles with exemptions? I know two guys who own vehicles that run on compressed natural gas, for example, who are thereby eligible for the CF license plates and the HOV exemption. I thought I read somewhere that these "ILEV" vehicles ("Inherently Low Emissions Vehicles") are granted the HOV exemption via a federal regulation, which would mean that their exemption would survive, but I don't know for sure.

Betcha they get a lot of middle fingers if the foregoing is correct and the hybrid exemption ends, though.

Posted by: Rich | March 17, 2008 3:49 PM | Report abuse

The separate plates plan sure highlights that this program is more about entrenched beneficiaries than any environmental or congestion purpose. Time to end the program and let everyone share the burden of increased traffic.

Posted by: ah | March 17, 2008 5:40 PM | Report abuse

This is great. When my wife and I moved to Fredericksburg in 2004 from Reston, VA, we got us a Honda Civic hybrid to commute to Crystal City via HOV. It has helped a lot. There's two of us and we pick up slugs along the way.

Posted by: tony | March 19, 2008 8:32 AM | Report abuse

This continuing annual exemption just is not fair. My wife and I considered purchasing a hybrid but did not because the HOV privilege was about to expire. However, it has been extended three times. We should have known the politicians would not stick to their word.

Can the tags be transferrred to a second buyer of the vehicle??

Posted by: G Curtis | March 29, 2008 9:00 PM | Report abuse

Dr Gridlock
There is a far larger issue involved with hybrids driving in the HOV lanes than to issue of whether it is fair to the true car poolers. That is, what will happen when the exemption is removed and all the hybrid vehicles are dumped back onto the regular lanes. The regular lanes are just a percent or two away from total gridlock. (The Post ran an article on this a year or two ago.) Adding the hybrid traffic to these lanes will put them over the limit. Result, total and massive gridlock lasting for hours, with no cars moving - except of course, for the now empty HOV lanes. It may not be fair, but is this a better alternative?

Posted by: Chris | April 24, 2008 11:14 PM | Report abuse

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