HOV stickers for clean energy cars expire at the end of this year

For many California motorists who bought clean energy vehicles for the added benefit of using the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes, bad news is on the horizon. The state is changing the rules governing who can and cannot drive in those lanes, which have become increasingly choked with traffic.

Paul Papageorge is killing two birds with one stone – catching up on work, while recharging his Tesla Model S at a charging station in the College Park section of San Jose. But for him, the “S” could stand for “sticker shock.” The car he bought in 2016 to help the environment, and use in HOV lanes solo, will no longer be allowed in the diamond lane. And all because he doesn’t have the appropriate decal..

“Anytime you’re promised something, and then they go back on the promise, yeah, it’s disappointing,” said Papageorge.

The state Department of Motor Vehicles is issuing new red HOV lanes decals, to replace the current while and green ones owners have had the past few years. After January 1st , only drivers who have red decals can ride in the diamond lane, IF the vehicle was bought in 2017 or this year. Older model clean energy vehicles are prohibited.

“That’s not good news. That’s terrible news,” said Em Valencia, who, like Papageorge, also bought his Tesla Model S in 2016.

The DMV started notifying motorists about the change last year, with a news release that references assembly bill 544, which was also passed last year. That bill and now law is designed to get congestion out of HOV lanes. The diamond lanes have become coveted pavement in a state with 36 million cars on the road. Those lanes were reserved for vehicles with at least two or more passengers, and increasingly, those driving clean energy vehicles. But too much of a good thing began to slow HOV speeds down to the same as all the other lanes, prompting federal transportation officials to mandate the state make changes.

“If you were issued a green or while decal in 2017 or 2018 you don’t have to wait for it expire in January 2019. You can begin to apply now in order to receive the red decal,” said Artemio Armenta, a public communications officer for the Department of Motor Vehicles.

State officials say the new red HOV sticker won’t expire until January of 2022. Watchdog groups hail the move as a way to promote ridesharing, and reduce the 223,000 clean energy vehicles using the diamond lane.

“Those people enjoyed three, maybe four years of HOV lane access and if they want, and what we’ve heard is some people are gonna trade those in and get a new electric vehicle,” said Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm, an Oakland-based non-profit seeking to reduce the number of commuters and vehicles on Bay Area roadways.

That idea isn’t going over well with many older model clean energy vehicle owners, who, come January, will have to have someone ride shotgun, so they can use the HOV.