November 1, 2005
Access Denied, Denied
When federal rules changed in August to allow California owners
of high-mileage low-emitting hybrid cars -- the Toyota Prius, Honda
Civic Hybrid and some Honda Insights -- to drive solo in high occupancy
vehicle (HOV) lanes, there was joy in hybrid land. That joy, alas,
turned into outrage at how ugly the oversized puke-colored decals
the least of it. Here in the Bay Area, where hybrid car owners
have to wend their way through two bureaucracies -- the DMV and
FasTrak hell -- many hybrid owners are still waiting for the ugly
member Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, who introduced the hybrid/HOV
bill, has written to officialdom in hopes of a decal makeover.
Some believe they're ugly for a reason -- a plot by SUV owners
or oil companies is suspected. No, insiders tell me: The California
Highway Patrol demands big stickers because they're easy for officers
to see. Ditto drivers stuck in slow-moving traffic, who might
spy lone drivers in the HOV lane and, if they don't notice the
hybrid decals, get ideas about cheating.
blame the Metropolitan Transportation Commission for the decal
delay -- or thank the MTC, if you don't own a hybrid. At first,
the MTC opposed Pavley's plans to reward hybrid owners with access
to the HOV lanes -- because HOV lane drivers pay no tolls. Fearing
it would lose millions in bridge-toll revenues from low-occupancy
hybrids, the MTC proposed that hybrid owners could drive in Bay
Area HOV lanes, but still would have to pay tolls. A compromise
was born. The bill passed.
As a result,
hybrid owners have to get a special transponder that sends a signal
in HOV lanes to charge the toll. Even if you don't drive across
the bridges, you have to get the special FasTrak hybrid transponder.
who lives in Sunnyvale and drives once a week to San Francisco,
had to spend $40 for a transponder she doesn't use. "They
need to rethink that because it's ridiculous," she noted.
It took Hudiburgh at least six weeks to get her HOV decals. When
they arrived, they were so ugly that she still hasn't put them
on her Prius.
eight-week wait? Hudiburgh is lucky she had no transponder before
buying her Prius, because if she had, she might still be waiting.
I'm still waiting for my decals, and I signed up more than eight
according to MTC spokesman Randy Rentschler, was to go first to
the DMV. He tells friends to go to FasTrak first. Even still,
both bureaucracies use such incomprehensible language it's hard
to know what to do when you're dealing with them. The MTC has
updated its language due to complaints, but it still isn't as
what the DMV tells you: "If the Clean Air Vehicle is a hybrid
and you are a resident of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa,
San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano or Sonoma County,
you must include an original receipt from Bay Area FasTrak as
evidence of a 'FasTrak' toll account." Note, I want to shout:
It doesn't tell you that you need a new special transponder.
what hybrid/HOV websites should say: If you have a FasTrak transponder,
you have to get a new hybrid transponder. First, go FasTrak --
and don't bother trying to do it by phone. Go to the offices at
475 Embarcadero and trade in your old device for a new one.
no one in authority (read: the governor's office) cares to make
this easy for you, you have to mail your FasTrak forms to the
weeks, because the overworked folks in the DMV are too busy explaining
the new system to process the forms promptly.
assures me that when the paperwork comes through and I'm sailing
by all those parked cars preparing to brave the Bay Bridge, the
weeks -- now months -- of waiting will fade away like a bad dream.
(OK, that's my language, not his.)
when I do sit in traffic, I watch all the other sticker-less hybrids
idling near me. At least when my Honda Civic Hybrid isn't moving,
it's running on the battery, not gas. And, every once in a while,
I catch the rare sighting of a hybrid with its decals speeding
If I were
a personnel director, I'd hire those decaled hybrid drivers. They
must be geniuses. The smartest swells on the road. They've negotiated
through two bureaucracies while lesser mortals (like me) sit,
stew and wait.
2005 Creators Syndicate