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Solo hybrid drivers lose yellow-sticker car-pool lane access

Hybrid

Sorry, Prius owners. Starting Friday, your yellow sticker no longer works in California's car pool lanes while driving solo. The car pool privileges, originally allowed as an incentive for people to buy low-emission vehicles, have expired.

The change affects 85,000 hybrid car owners -- about a third of them in Los Angeles.

Bruce Yonemoto, 60, a professor of studio art at UC Irvine who commutes from downtown Los Angeles several times a week, said he often saves more than an hour during choked traffic because the yellow sticker on the rear bumper of his Prius gave him the right to speed by in the diamond lane while other drivers idled.

"I get sad looking at the other lanes now," Yonemoto said. To avoid sitting in rush-hour traffic, he said he'll start waiting until 7 p.m. to leave campus.

Hybrid drivers will undoubtedly feel the difference when they are shunted into regular traffic lanes, but experts said the change in traffic will barely register for other commuters.

"To have a measurable impact on traffic, you really need to talk about significant changes in volume or demand, and this isn't big enough to really create any significant change one way or the other to either the HOV lanes or the general purpose lanes," said Marco Ruano, chief of freeway operations for Caltrans District 7, which includes Los Angeles.

On average, each HOV lane in Los Angeles County carries about 1,300 vehicles an hour at peak times, according to a 2008 Caltrans report, including about 80 qualifying hybrid vehicles per lane, meaning that the stickered cars make up about 6% of the car-pool lane traffic. The yellow-stickered vehicles comprise less than 1% of all vehicles registered in the county.

Experts agreed that non-car-pool lane drivers won't see an increase in congestion from the small number of additional cars spread across multiple lanes. But some predicted that the disappearance of hybrids from the car pool lanes may bring some relief to drivers who are, in fact, carpooling.

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-- Abby Sewell

Photo: Eli Jarra, 41, at his home in Thousand Oaks with his Toyota Prius with a yellow sticker denoting his clean-tech car that allowed him access to the car-pool lanes. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

 
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