Solo drivers of certain low- and zero-emission cars would have free access to carpool lanes, even if they're converted to toll lanes, under a bill that passed the California Assembly on Thursday.
There are a number of projects in the state to make solo drivers pay to use the lanes, no matter what they're driving. Under the bill, those lanes will be free to solo drivers of cars with Clean Air Vehicle stickers.
But in Southern California, there will be two exceptions, at least for a year. Under an agreement worked out between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the author of the legislation, the carpool lanes on the 10 and 110 freeways that are being converted to toll lanes would be allowed to charge all vehicles for a year.
Solo drivers, including those in electric and hybrid vehicles, will have to pay as much as $1.40 a mile during rush-hour peaks to use those toll lanes during that period. The 110 Freeway stretch will open in October and the 10 Freeway lane will open in February.
The agreement allows the MTA to operate the project without endangering federal funds that are paying for the construction, said Michael Turner, the agency's director of government relations.
With the temporary exceptions of the two highways, the legislation, written by Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield (D-Woodland Hills), affects vehicles eligible for Clean Air Vehicle stickers, including electric cars, plug-in hybrids and natural gas and hydrogen-powered autos.
"The clean-car sticker program has been a tremendous success in keeping our air cleaner and reducing climate change," Blumenfield said. "But we will soon see many carpool lanes converted into toll lanes. My bill preserves a key incentive for consumers to continue to purchase cleaner, greener cars."
Blumenfied's legislation, AB 2405, passed the Assembly on a 49-25 vote and moves to the state Senate for consideration.
Previously, the MTA said it wanted to keep traffic moving by charging all solo drivers for using the roads. The agency said the earlier experiments allowing solo drivers in so-called clean vehicles to use the carpool lanes have clogged traffic more than many people realize.
When conventional hybrids and alternative-fuel vehicles were allowed onto the southbound 110 Freeway during afternoon rush hour two years ago, they accounted for almost 1 in 5 vehicles in the carpool lane, according to the MTA.