Bad call, MTC

California DMV finally announced today that owners of select hybrid vehicles (Prius, Civic and Insight) could apply for a sticker that would allow them to drive in the carpool lane even with only one occupant in the car. Hurray!

However, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), snuck in a condition that hyrbid owners in their turf, the nine counties of the Bay area had to get a Fastrak transponder before they could get the sticker. (They operate the Fastrak program in this area.) Fastrak is used for paying toll on the handful of bridges criss-crossing the area, by having the toll ‘transmitted’ and deducted from your account as you pass through the toll gates without stopping. (You do have to slow down to about 5 MPH, though.)
Bad idea. There’s a 40$ deposit on the transponder (fully refunded if you ever decide to return your transponder), on top of the deposit in your account to pay for the tolls.

I actually got a Fastrak transponder, just because I think this transportation-related electronic gadget is wonderful and should be supported, even though I cross toll bridges a few times each year. I love hearing that little beep, after passing all the cars stuck in the adjoining cash toll lanes.

But to force all hybrid owners who want to get the carpool lane sticker to get a transponder is wrong. For some people, who live and travel along corridors without toll bridges, it’s not right that they should be stuck with a gadget and a $40 deposit/fee that they don’t use, i.e. if they live in northern Sonoma County, or southern Santa Clara County, where there US101 gets very congested, even with carpool lanes that they deserve to be able to use.

Besides, this will cause a delay for Bay Area hybrid owners to apply for the sticker. If they run out of stickers because most of them got allocated to Southern California, where there’s no Fastrak requirement, I’ll be pissed.


5 thoughts on “Bad call, MTC

  1. What is the purpose in allowing hybrids to use carpool lanes?

    Should this be discontunued if there are too many hybrids? [the Virinia experiment has not gone too well – the carpool lanes are now overcrowded with hybrids]

    Should some hybrid owners be able to drive in carpool lanes while others are not? [about 75,000 stickers are available statewide]

  2. There is also a privacy issue here regarding the transponder. Read about it here (cut and paste the following link in your browser.)

  3. Here’s more information on hybrids:

    Not all are equal.

    The Honda Accord doesn’t even get 40 mpg.

    The Honda Accord and Civic are not considered full hybrids while the Prius is (the Prius is able to run only on electric power under certain conditions while the Hondas do not).

    I may buy one, but probably would opt not to get the sticker to use carpool lanes.

    Perhaps a user fee should be implemented for anyone other than carpools and transit to gain access to unused capacity in carpool lanes.

  4. I’d agree that the jury’s still out as to whether or not hybrids should be allowed to use the carpool lane even if they are only occupied by one. I wrote to MTC about the transponder issue, and they sent me a response, with the caveat at, “thing’s are still in flux, and may change…” So I wouldn’t be surprised that later on, if some of the carpool lanes are too congested, they may go back to ‘banning’ hybrids from using those particular lanes unless they also had the minimum number of passengers like other vehicles.

    I’ve mailed in my request to get a sticker. Joe and I were debating if/when/how often we would ever really make use of the privilege, since his commute car is the non-hybrid. I rarely drive much on freeways during commute hours. I think it’s going to be one of those things that is nice to have, but which we’d only use in urgent situations.

  5. This is a bad call anyway you slice it – it does nothing to relieve congestion or incentivize changes in travel behavior. It seems it would be more effective to reduce or eliminate registration fees – or even offer a registration rebate – for hybrids exceeding certain mph standards.

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