Some owners are considering trading up to the all-electric Nissan Leaf or other vehicles that can qualify for the coveted white stickers that don't expire until 2015.
They are also looking at waiting until automakers start selling a new generation of hybrid vehicles that meet stricter emission requirements and qualify for green stickers that California will begin issuing next year. Only 40,000 green stickers will be available.
Tom Persky of Laguna Beach bought two natural gas-powered Honda Civic GXs that have white stickers. The vehicles, which cost just $2 a gallon to fill up, are still relatively uncommon.
"The people who have the yellow stickers are people who made great decisions a long time ago, but their cars are really not exceptional anymore," Persky said. "These stickers should be a benefit for the early adopters of breakthrough technology, who have to put up with a little bit of a harder path."
Frank Deichsel, who has a yellow sticker on his Prius, was worried about his 45-minute commute from Pasadena doubling. So the software programmer changed shifts at his Simi Valley job to beat the crowds.
"These extra hybrids are just going to clog up everyone else's lanes now," he said.
But most drivers, such as San Jose resident Kim Helliwell, have resigned themselves to long commutes "traveling in the peon lanes."
Helliwell bought his 2006 Prius when filling up his Jeep Grand Cherokee cost more than $50. The yellow sticker let him avoid rude and pushy drivers in the snarled regular lanes, he said.
"There's a bit of satisfaction getting around them," he said of driving to Sunnyvale for his software engineering job. "It's not very mature of me, but it does feel good."
Helliwell said he doesn't want to carpool because he doesn't want to waste time picking up passengers. And buying an electric car would be too expensive. So instead, he'll experiment with new routes to avoid a longer commute.
"I'm pretty bummed, but I'm going to live with it," he said.