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Gov. Backs Hybrids in State’s Carpool Lanes

Times Staff Writer

The administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday endorsed new legislation that would allow solo drivers in hybrid electric vehicles to use carpool lanes, saying the measure would help reduce air pollution and encourage energy independence.

Standing outside the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, with the San Diego Freeway as a backdrop, state Treasurer Phil Angelides and California Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Terry Tamminen also voiced support for the bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills).

“At a time of record gas prices, this reminds Californians that there are smart ways in which they can cut their gasoline bills,” Angelides said.

Current law limits carpool lane access to vehicles carrying two or more people, motorcycles, and zero-emission cars such as electric and compressed natural gas cars. Hybrid vehicles have a gasoline engine with an electric motor.

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Administration officials say the governor supports the bill, which they said represents the first step toward achieving his vision of a “hydrogen highway” in which cars would be powered by hydrogen rather than petroleum. Schwarzenegger has promised to convert his own fleet of Hummers to run on hydrogen.

“His support of this bill is saying that he believes in this technology and he knows how important it is,” said Michele St. Martin, a spokeswoman for Cal-EPA.

To show his support for fuel-efficient technologies, Schwarzenegger on March 30 climbed behind the wheel of a new hybrid diesel FedEx delivery truck -- one of hundreds that will eventually replace the company’s current diesel fleet.

The bill will be considered by the Legislature for the first time Monday when the Assembly Transportation Committee begins hearings. If passed, the legislation would allow hybrid cars that achieve at least 45 miles per gallon and meet strict emission standards to travel in carpool lanes. The legislation would require a federal waiver called for in a transportation bill now before Congress.

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Cars currently on the market that meet the standards called for in the state proposal include the Honda Insight, Honda Civic Hybrid and Toyota Prius. Other companies have announced plans to make hybrid sport utility vehicles.

Drivers with eligible cars would obtain a “Clean Air Vehicle” sticker from the Department of Motor Vehicles. The bill would limit the number of decals that could be given out to 75,000.

California has 1,112 miles of carpool lanes, roughly 40% of the nation’s total. The state hopes to add about 1,045 more miles of carpool lanes by 2030, state officials say.

Hybrid cars appear to be gaining in popularity, said Michael Love, national regulatory affairs manager for Toyota. Buyers in California have to wait at least three months for its 2004 Prius. As of October, there were an estimated 20,000 hybrid cars in California.

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Pavley and Angelides noted that they both own hybrid cars. Said Pavley: “If it means you only go to gas station half as often, that’s a good thing.”


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