By on May 22, 2014

Prius Capitol Hill - Picture courtesy

Hybrid owners may soon need a co-pilot and a couple of backseat drivers to use HOV lanes, as the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved a six-year highway spending bill with an amendment that would redefine for states what vehicles can and cannot use such lanes for solo driving.

The Detroit News reports Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma sponsored the approved amendment, which would continue to allow EVs, PHEVs, CNG vehicles and hydrogen vehicles to use HOV lanes with a only the driver inside, but would prohibit states from allowing hybrids to use such lanes in new access programs. That said, most states have already ended single-occupant hybrid access.

In the meantime, California — which phased out hybrid access in 2011 — has run out of access permits for PHEVs, hitting its 40,000 cap earlier this year. The state’s legislators have introduced legislation that would boost the total cap to 85,000, with the permits set to expire on New Year’s Day 2019. EV owners will still have solo HOV access, as there is no cap set for those permits.

Speaking of EVs, another amendment in the spending bill would require the U.S. Department of Transportation to “develop a plan and map of a potential national network of electric vehicle corridors and recharging infrastructure” in collaboration with the automotive industry and outside parties according to its sponsor, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

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45 Comments on “Senate Committee Approves Move To Bar Hybrids From Further Solo HOV Access...”

  • avatar

    This should be decided at the state level. Feds are treading where they are not welcome.

  • avatar

    This will just force more cars into the already overcrowded regualar lanes. So why bother?

    • 0 avatar

      Well, if the HOV lanes are also sufficiently crowded that they don’t offer a benefit, then it destroys the incentive to carpool. Since govt wants to keep that delta in place, it makes sense for them to push hybrid drivers out among the unwashed masses.

  • avatar

    …yeah, i thought the federal-highway-funding speed limit and drinking age mandates had already been ruled unconstitutional, and i fail to see how an HOV access mandate is substantially different…of course, those examples took place a couple of decades ago, so my recollection could be in error…

  • avatar

    What they ought to build are restricted paths for super light weight vehicles such as electric bicycles. You can easily make one go 40 mph (faster than most rush hour freeways) and get like 300 mpg equivalent.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    How about autobahn lanes where qualified cars can drive at higher speeds? It’s insane that a driver in a new Porsche has to comply with the same speed limit as applies to a 30 YO landscape truck loaded to the gills with cargo.

    • 0 avatar

      The govt doesn’t want people driving as fast as they possibly can because of emissions, which is exactly why they incentivize hybrids, EVs, carpooling, etc., in the first place. Real estate is valuable, and they won’t throw it away so rich kids can play with their toys (without some sort of reasonable-sounding justification).

      • 0 avatar
        Master Baiter

        Rural real-estate connecting big cities is hardly valuable, unless you consider trumped-up value caused by over-active environmentalists.

        And it’s not about playing with toys. It’s about saving time and increasing productivity.

        • 0 avatar

          In realpolitics, it’s about wealthy homeowners (who live on the most valuable land) vs. developers. The ones who want a home [that will doubtless come with a lengthy commute] rarely have an effective voice.

          I’m sure there are regulators zealously guarding their turf, but it’s nothing like the power struggle between developers and bluebloods.

    • 0 avatar

      Well then you have the issue of actually learning how to drive – I’m sure that violates some amendment somewhere.

      My experience with Porsche and BMW owners has been that they they should have lower speeds mandated – or perhaps they could fund private “latte” lanes so they can weave, text and sip at their leisure.

  • avatar
    heavy handle

    This makes sense. Why should hybrid owners get special treatment when many non-hybrids also get 40+ mpg hwy?

    • 0 avatar

      The issue really isn’t mileage; it’s air pollution. There are several hybrids that put out more tailpipe emissions than some conventionally-powered cars that are rated as PZEV’s..

      • 0 avatar

        Which ones? And what does that have to do with HOV lanes, anyway?

        HOV lanes are a bad idea – that we don’t “need” them to reduce congestion is demonstrated by the very fact of allowing solo users in “if they have a politically useful car”.

        Remove them entirely, replace them with just normal lanes.

        Watch congestion go down.

        • 0 avatar

          Never seen the effect of opening a new highway, have you?

          Congestion doesn’t go down (HOV won’t help either). The minute congestion goes down, somebody will notice cheap land out yonder, and move. Congestion goes up.

  • avatar

    While I’ve got a nasty feeling that this is more federal overreach, their hearts are in the right place.

    The purpose of HOV lanes is to have less motor vehicles on the daily commute. Not low emissions vehicles. Not zero emissions vehicles. LESS vehicles, of whatever type. And make it counter productive (or at least a pain in the ass) to live by the old “one car, one person”.

    Any vehicle that wants to use the HOV lane (and, presumably, lighter traffic flow) should be at least half full. With no exceptions.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m mixed on this. About 80% with you, as the primary good of an HOV lane should be less traffic for everyone with preferential speed available to vehicles doing 3 or more times the work. The other 20% leans towards the pollutant and fuel conservation benefits of an EV being on par with full vehicles. Nah. That’s BS. EV’s in the HOV slow the HOV, reducing the pooling incentive, causing more pollution as more cars ride at less than top efficiency in traffic. HOV lanes should be HOV lanes.

      • 0 avatar

        Think it through. If the goal were only less pollution and consumption, they would just not build roads. The HOV lanes are an attempt to transport the same commerce on less road expenditure. That was the original idea anyway. The hybrid, ev, hydrogen thing is about driving investment in techs that, while currently not competitive on their own, are viewed as either inherently desirable, or of being superior in the long run if they can get past the initial development costs.

    • 0 avatar

      I disagree. The reason they want less cars on the road is reduced fuel consumption and less pollution, not because there’s fewer cars on the road is inherently good.

      Remember, federal govt decisions are for a political purpose, not the general well being of the citizenry. Clean air, lower trade deficit–those are political motives. Actually making the everyman’s commute simpler is not their concern.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. HOV lanes are intended to reduce congestion and commute times, not air pollution.

  • avatar

    So much nonsense at all levels of government.
    Think, logically the whole idea is to promote fuel efficiency/reduce pollution(or so they tell us). A Suburban going steady at 60MPH is a better use of HOV lane than a Prius. Prius will waste much less gas in stop and go traffic than an SUV. Special fast lanes should be given to gas guzzlers!

    • 0 avatar

      A Suburban with ALL SEATS OCCUPIED has better person-miles-per-gallon than one person in a Prius.

      On the other hand, my minivan has the same number of seats as a Suburban, but goes about twice as far on a gallon of gas. So, the Suburban is still sub-optimal for commuting and passenger duty, even if all seats are occupied. But it’s better than it looks when a fully occupied Suburban is compared to a nearly empty Prius.

  • avatar

    Nothing like legislation out of spite. Sponsored by a Republican, of course. If that’s all they could get added to the highway funding deal it shows how petty they’ve become.

  • avatar

    Is Volt considered an EV or hybrid in this policy?

    If it’s considered EV, what is the line that distinguishes a hybrid from an EV?

    • 0 avatar

      Well it has a charging plug, which makes it at least a PHEV sometimes, and an EV other times. The logic behind exempting PHEVs escapees me because of their limited electric-only range. After the first 38 miles or so they’re running on the engine like any other hybrid. They should be restricted to running engine-off in the HOV lanes, although I don’t see how you could enforce this.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      To me, it’s a hybrid if it ever takes gasoline – which it does from the factory.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    This is really 2 articles in one…

    “develop a plan and map of a potential national network of electric vehicle corridors and recharging infrastructure”

    Good luck with that. The EV makers have hurt themselves by not agreeing on a standard among J1772, CHAdeMO, and Supercharger. Deep technical and philosophical issues divide mfrs on this subject, made worse by the fact that so many EVs are now already on the roads.

  • avatar
    an innocent man

    There should be a national 35mph speed limit on all roads. In places that have HOV lanes, those should be reserved for true High Occupancy vehicles: buses. This would greatly reduce emissions and nudge people into reduced fossil fuel usage. True energy independence and cleaner air. Win-win.

  • avatar

    I hope they get rid of additional benefits for ‘Flex Fuel’ vehicles. You know, the SUVs driving in the HOV that never drink a drop of E85 even though they have a badge with a leaf on it?
    Doug DeMuro had a rant about it over at Jalopnik

  • avatar

    Leave to that dimwit Inhofe to sponsor a bill like this. We haven’t got a single HOV lane in the entire state! Typical of our politicians.

  • avatar

    It’s always been my belief that Hybrids and other EV variants (PHEV, EREV, etcs) should not have HOV access. It made no sense for these cars to be able to use the lanes with one person in them as even a HD Suburban with more than one occupants has a greater benefit in terms of congestion, which I thought was the aim of the HOV lanes.

  • avatar

    To assemble the previous thoughts of the B&B (this might be stupid, maybe not).
    1. Establish the preferred MPG/person per vehicle type.
    2. Require HOV users to apply for/display a windshield sticker with a large-font number that equals the number of passengers that the vehicle should carry to use HOV lane.
    3. Enforce.

    Examples: Suburban should display a “5” sticker, minivan “4”, hybrid “2”, PEHV/EV “1”

    I don’t know where motorcycles would fit in this, as any over 500cc are not all that efficient, and (unless catalyst-equipped) spew a lot of pollution for one passenger.

    So, even somewhat inefficient vehicles can use HOV lanes, as long as they’re carrying enough people.

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