August 26, 2005 By News Report
This month's signing of a new federal transportation law set in motion a state law (AB 2628) passed in 2004, which makes up to 75,000 low-emission hybrids with EPA mileage ratings of at least 45 miles per gallon eligible to use high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes on California freeways regardless of how many passengers they carry. To travel in HOV lanes, hybrids with fewer occupants than required by normal carpool lane rules must display a special DMV-issued decal. The DMV is now accepting applications for the decals, which are available for an $8 fee.
Drivers whose hybrids are registered in the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area must sign up for FasTrak electronic toll collection transponders before they will be issued an HOV lane access decal. Single-occupant hybrids are required to pay tolls when crossing any of the Bay Area's eight toll bridges. To qualify for toll-free passage, hybrids must meet the carpool occupancy requirements for each bridge.
"Several of the Bay Area toll bridges have dedicated HOV lanes passing through the toll plazas," explained Rod McMillan, director of bridge oversight and operations for MTC and the Bay Area Toll Authority (BATA). "The FasTrak requirement is written into the law so that single-occupant hybrids can stay in the HOV lanes and zip through the toll plazas without having to slow down to merge out of the carpool lane and into a regular toll lane to pay their toll."
Detailed instructions on how to determine eligibility for the DMV decals and how to obtain both a FasTrak transponder and a DMV decal -- as well as answers to frequently asked questions -- are also on the FasTrak Web site. There is no charge for FasTrak transponders and no monthly service fee to maintain an account. New account holders are required only to open their account with $40 in prepaid tolls.
On Bay Area freeways and toll bridges, there are now three basic scenarios for hybrid drivers: