It's Time For Tradable HOV Stickers

from the a-win-win-scenario dept

In recent months, the state of California has stopped issuing stickers to drivers of hybrid cars that allow them to drive in the HOV lanes on highways. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the stickers have now become a hot commodity on the black market. Not only are the stickers increasingly subject to theft, but used cars that carry the sticker are able to fetch far more on the used car market than ones without a sticker. There’s a valuable lesson here for other states looking to implement such a system: HOV stickers should be tradable. Consider a potential Prius owner that rarely needs to drive on the freeway; a free HOV sticker wouldn’t be much of an incentive for them to buy the car. This could be remedied if they were allowed to put the stickers up for sale on eBay, where it could be bought by anyone — even an SUV owner. This way, the Prius owner still gets a reward for driving a low-emission vehicle, while the sticker goes to good use in fighting freeway congestion. Furthermore, the creation of a legitimate market for these stickers should help reduce any crime associated with them.

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Comments on “It's Time For Tradable HOV Stickers”

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Anonymous Coward says:

I completely disagree with everything you said here.

First, I own a Prius, I live in San Jose, CA. and I didn’t get the sticker because I don’t need it; I work froma bout 5:30am to 2pm in Palo Alto, so I completely
avoid the traffic. In fact, I work those hours by choice so I don’t have to
deal with traffic.

However, since the stickers were of a limited quantity, my office mate, however, wanted me to get the stickers just to keep another slow Prius driver out of the HOV lane.

I don’t disagree with your statements about creating a market for the stickers, I disagree with the state’s logic of giving the stickers to the Prius owners in the first place. Why? There are Volkswagon’s which get 45-55mpg, and burn
the clean new diesel fuel. Why don’t they get stickers too?

Furthermore, if you read Mr. Roadshow in the Merc News in San Jose,
you’ll know that the carpool lanes are clogged in SoCal because of the number
of people who’ve bought Prius’ just to get the sticker. While in NoCal, the carpool lanes are still relatively clear most of the time.

Finally, your suggestion does nothing to reduce congestion or pollution; a Hummer surely occupies much more space than the Prius, and it outputs a lot more noxious fumes. So, all you’re doing is providing another incentive for affluent people to continue conspicuously consuming and polluting.

But, basically I question the reasoning behind the state giving out the stickers in the first place.

Chris Maresca (user link) says:

Re: Re:

Funny enough, I know a bunch of VC’s who have given up their $100k cars in favor of Priuses specifically so they could get an HOV sticker….

It helps them get around more quickly in the Valley, esp. during HOV-restricted times. Apparently that makes it worth driving a crappy car* and spending $35k adding another car to their fleets.

* I think it’s a crappy car, but that’s an opinion

Chris Maresca (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I should note that they are probably more polluting in the Prius since they usually drive very aggressively and way over the speed limit, basically keeping the car at high RPMs most of the time, negating any benefits of having a hybrid.

And since most of them have also swapped the stock tires for something stickier and better at the speeds they drive, the cars have lost even more efficiency.

(bad for to reply to your own post, I know)

aiken says:

Er, I think someone lost track of the point of the stickers. Yes, getting rid of a black market is a good thing. However, creating a secondary market for the stickers and allowing non-qualifying vehicles to buy them is essentially just selling them to the highest bidder. If that’s the idea, why not just sell them to start with and unlink them from emissions?

I’m ambivalent about the whole HOV thing to start with (a ridiculously small percentage of people using the HOV lane were actually incented to carpool; most are families or friends who would be driving together anyway). But as long as we’ve got it, I’m OK with using it to incent regular commuters to switch to more eco-friendly cars.

I am *not* OK with, say, someone buying a Prius and a Hummer and then putting the stickers on their Hummer (which would surely happen in the secondary market model). The idea is to encourage more commute miles to be reduced-emissions, not to convince people to buy eco-friendly cars and have them sit in a garage.

jon says:

The roads are paid for by the people, so if it only takes money to use those lanes then only the people who are buying access to those lanes should be the only ones charged for their maintenance & etc. But that is silly so it won’t happen. And it completely misses the point of the HOV lane.

The best way to fight congestion and pollution is to give people incentives to drive less, use public transportation, and carpool. Selling the stickers only means the HOV lane will be congested soon too. Capitalism can’t fix everything.

dalban says:

I agree completely. In fact, every lane of every freeway should be labeled 1-n and to drive in a particular lane you should be required to have a particular lane-specific sticker. The plebeian lanes should have have many stickers issued. The high-class lanes, or HOV if you prefer, should have fewer stickers issued. These stickers can be bought from the state on an auction basis. Moreover, the stickers should be zoned so that people who drive longer distances over more zones have to buy more tickets.

Not only would such a system be fair, but it would pay for the roads which are currently subsidized by everyone whether they drive a lot, a little or none at all. Furthermore this would deincentivize commuting and promote public transportation. In fact, we can re-direct the money spent on roads to public transportation.

Does anyone have the per capita transportation-related oil consumption figures for New York compared other major US cities that don’t enjoy the same level of public transportation availability (i.e., any other US city)?

Hans says:

We already have something like that; they’re called toll roads. Of course the all the rest of us schmucks that aren’t rich enough to actually use the toll roads are stuck in heavy traffic. Meanwhile, the state is unable to widen the regular freeways because to do so would be considered interfering with non-governmental businesses (the toll-road developers).

You’re way off base on this issue.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Hans' toll roads

I’ve wondered about this before, without any evidence. I would like to imagine that toll roads can be run privately, but as soon as you do that, you have created a lobbying beast which must be expected to do its best to prevent all competing public roads from improvement, which would reduce the competitiveness of the toll road.

I still yearn for the concept though. I would prefer to see every freeway a micropayment toll road though, and make rfid tags a ubiquitous requirement for the registration of a car.

pedro says:

Is this post serious? The point of these incentives is not just to get people to buy these cars; it’s to get people to drive them when they need to drive. Allowing Prius owners to sell their stickers to Hummer drivers completely defeats this purpose. As a previous poster argued, a Prius in the garage does nothing for the environment if another less-efficient vehicle is on the road in its place. However, while it’s likely that someone considering a Hummer wouldn’t be swayed to switch to a more efficient ride even knowing these types of benefits for doing so, enabling that individual to purchase the same benefit all but eliminates that possibility.

Clearly, the sticker program is not an effective approach. However, if that’s the road a state is on, one answer might be a near opposite approach suggested in this post: tie each sticker to the car’s registration. It could be a secondary offense, in which the police can’t pull a car over specifically because of a suspected illegal sticker. But, if a stickered vehicle was pulled over for another offense, and the car is determined not to be tied to the sticker, an additional violation would be assessed and an additional penalty delivered.

And, while it clearly doesn’t fit as neatly into a political soundbite, these types of incentives should be targeted exclusively at the end result, regardless of the approach of getting there. There is no point in rewarding the owner of a hybrid that is no more efficient than other cars/trucks on the road; and there is no reason not to reward the owner of a vehicle that uses some other means of achieving the same goal.

Publius (user link) says:

Actually, hybrids of little good on the freeway --

As others have pointed out, this is just a roundabout way to give a cash subsidy to hybrid drivers and then to charge a variable toll for access to high-speed lanes. The direct way to do it is to set up

Most hybrids don’t perform nearly as well (relative to conventional cars) on the freeway as they do in the city. Hybrids are especially good (relative to conventional cars) in stop-and-go traffic. Therefore, we should actually have the gas cars in the HOV lanes and the hybrids in the stop-and-go lanes if our only interest were short-term emissions improvements. Of course, that shows that the real point of the stickers is just a cheap way to encourage people to buy hybrids.

Publius (user link) says:

Sorry, got cut-off in first paragraph:

“The direct way to do it is to set up HOT lanes or variable-toll lanes, and then funnel the money collected from that program into subsidies for hybrids and alternative energy. The total savings should be greater, assuming administrative costs that are manageable. Those who value high-speed driving will pay a premium (and a large one at that) for it, which can be used to buy a LOT of hybrids for people doing stop-and-go driving.”

BTR1701 (profile) says:

Re: Redundancy

> this is by far the sh$%iest piece of
> journalism I’ve ever seen. Sarcasm
> doesn’t convey easily over the
> internet, but I hope to God that
> he is being completely sarcastic
> with the whole “selling the stickers”
> idea…

So you keep saying. This is what? You’re third post telling us how much you don’t like the thesis proposed by the article.

We get it. You don’t have to keep saying the same thing over and over.

Jim says:

HOV Stickers

Are these people buying stickers on the black market that ignorant? Stickers alone don’t buy you the right to drive in the HOV lane. Not only does your car have to qualify, ie Prius or Civic Hybrid, but the stickers come with a card that must be in the car, that is registered to THAT car. Its not transferable. Go ahead, put that yellow HOV sticker on your regular civic. I think the fine is minimum… what… $371.00? Also, I do have a Prius, and do have the stickers and although I don’t use the HOV lane much, when I do use it, it helps. Let us not forget, it was an experiment to see if more people would purchase hybrids. Not so much to reward those that had them.

General Eskimo says:


Wow. You are really stupid aren’t you?

Ok, I’ll review the philosophy they used when they passed this bill, as well as the philosophy you SHOULD HAVE READ before writing this stupid post. They are trying to make people prefer to DRIVE a prius more (instead of another car). If the stickers were transferable, then when an SUV owner gets said sticker from the prius guy who doesn’t need it, then people are still driving gas-eating cash just as much. The only change is that Prius SALES would increase, not their use. The whole point is to make people perfer to DRIVE a prius more (instead of an SUV). The way to fix all of this is KEEP GIVING OUT THE STUPID STICKERS TO PRIUS DRIVERS.

If you drive more, then you want the sticker more. If you drive more, you are making more of an impact. The people we WANT to be enticing with these stickers are the people who drive the most, because if an SUV driver who drives 100 miles every day switches to a prius, we are going to be saving a good 2 gallons of gas a day. It doesn’t matter if someone who drives 10 miles a day gets a prius instead of an SUV, because they are only going to save 1/4 gallon of gas.

So, Joe, in conclusion, I propose that you tape your mouth shut and stop telling people your thoughts until you have had a good few years to fully think about what you are saying before jumping out and yelling it to the world.

And I totally agree with ^Anonymous Coward^… well, in a more homicidal way. Joe, if you are still reading, turn off your computer and never use it again.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: No... (really late response)

No, it is not that they express an opinion I disagree with. It is that the opinion was as well thought-out as that of a retarded 2nd grader on acid, who has somehow been given the means to communicate on a massive scale. Either Joe needs to be imprisoned for his insolence, or (in the event that he is honestly brain-damaged) someone else needs to be imprisoned for their incompetence (in letting a retarded 2nd grader on acid have a prime spot in a massively popular Google gadget). Clearly, someone is not doing their job (Joe, editor, Google, Google management, techdirt management, institution for the criminally insane guard staff, etc).

Amy Alkon (user link) says:

Hybrid performance

Most hybrids don’t perform nearly as well (relative to conventional cars) on the freeway as they do in the city

Which “most” are you talking about? I mean, it’s not like there are dozens and dozens. My Honda Insight (automatic) gets about 45 in stop-and-go city traffic — 60-66 or so on the freeway.

I didn’t buy it for the stickers — I got it in 2004 because I think it’s unethical to pollute more than necessary. I’m not riding a skateboard around town, but I do try to take as few trips as possible, and I use at the grocery store…have been for a few years.

And no, I’m not some bleeding-heart lefty, but a fiscal conservative/libertarian who see that old “your right to punch somebody in the nose ends where their nose begins” as extending to our air, water, and the rest of the resources on the planet.

Dan says:

to heck with hybrids, ride a motorcycle

In California you get HOV lane priviledges w/o a passenger and without the need for a sticker, you can legally split lanes when traffic is stop and go, and you can pretty much out accelerate anything with four wheels. The 45+ mpg is also a nice bonus. People also tend not to tailgate you or cut you off nearly as much as when you are driving a car.

A portion of the driving public is ignorant of the first two things, so you’ll occationally get some ass honking at you a flipping you off for HOV use or lane splitting, even though it’s perfectly legal.

Matthew says:

Arizona HOV lane

merely has hours of restriction. No driving in the lane unless there are multiple passengers between the hours of 6-9am and 3-7pm M-F.
There are stickers for alternate fuel vehicles, and massive fines for those who break the rules and it seems to work out just fine.

On a recent trip through California, all that I witnessed was this carpool lane being used by motorcycles to race down the road (as I notice was noted in response #21). Traffic was moving at an average of 40mph, and the lane was practically empty. Seems like a waste of road.

Now, as to the stickers, I see the bonus to Prius drivers and an attempt to encourage sales of the vehile which will lower prices of Hybrid cars in general which makes them more popular. I don’t live in CA, but I can see a semblance of logic to this, and its a lot better than some convoluted tax scheme that will be exploited. But like Joe says, you bought the Prius, you got the sticker, but to hell with the HOV lane so why shouldn’t you be able to recoup some of the extra money you spent on getting a more expensive (up front) vehicle?

Amy Alkon (user link) says:

Hybrid performance

I should note that they are probably more polluting in the Prius since they usually drive very aggressively and way over the speed limit, basically keeping the car at high RPMs most of the time, negating any benefits of having a hybrid.

Maybe your friends are all assholes, but I drive a hybrid and know a good many other hybrid drivers who take great pleasure in keeping the mileage high.

What, you drive a Hummer, and you’re looking to feel better?

Additionally, as I posted before, I am very conscious of not making unnecessary trips and I’ve been bringing my own bags to the grocery store for eons.

Too many people treat the planet like their own personal trash can. Like breathing? I do. The air in California can be pretty terrible. I don’t like to contribute to that.

PS Had I taken a few more years to buy a new car, I would have done what my friend Darcy did — she got a brand new bug that runs on used vegetable oil.

Brian says:

Why so emotional?

Boy, some hybrid supporters sure can get nasty! How about supporting your position with facts? There are plenty on your side. (Not all, though.) It’s not like the world is divided into rich, arrogant Hummer drivers and thoughtful, tree-hugging Prius drivers. Most people are in neither category. If you’re really concerned about the environment and our oil-import dependency, you should be in favor of a plan that reduces emissions and gas consumption for the vast numbers of cars out there that regular people can’t replace any time soon. And, sorry folks, but it’s a fact that hybrids are at their most efficient when out of the carpool lane, and non-hybrids are most efficient when in it!

Peter says:

Why stop there?

The reaction from the commenters is quite instructive. Access to the HOV lane has now become some sort of social experiment. Only those who do what we want can use it. Access is provided to those who act in a way the legislators find ‘appropriate’. So, why stop with carpools and hybrids? Let’s give stickers to minorities and veterans.

The original goal was to reduce traffic congestion, not emissions. Funny how people in power like to dole out favors to get the behavior that they think is ‘right’.

Anonymous Coward says:

Managed Lanes?

In Texas they are proposing manged lanes which will require a toll tag. The price of the lane will be based on the congestion index and raised in heavy traffic until enough drivers can’t afford the lane any more to keep them moving when the rest of the system stops.

As bad as that sounds, it sounds much better than these stickers…

They should end the sticker program, not just stop issuing new ones. The existing stickers should be voided and if they so choose issue newer stickers with stricter requirements.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Who Allowed EVs in the HOV? Steven Kirsch

In California, a single person spearheaded the environmental lobby efforts to reward electric vehicle users with access to the HOV lane. It was Steve Kirsch, founder of a company I worked at, Infoseek.

Think what you may of Steve K (and I’ve heard good and bad), but the guy put HIS OWN money where his mouth was, and got a bunch of earth-friendly laws passed. He was a huge fan of the electric car, and as I recall, there was no executive parking at Infoseek, but there was an “electric car only” parking spot at the very front, with a charging stand. It was an incentive for people to buy electric cars. And who was the only one who parked there? Steve K.

At this point in time, the all-electric cal has been killed by GM ( and there are more and more hybrids appearing on the road. Though early on, this incentive to get people to buy EVs made sense, but now it simply threatens to choke off the original intent of HOV lanes, reducing congestion by rewarding carpooling. Carpooling is only tangentially about the environment, but is a simple equation: more people in one car = fewer cars = less traffic.

Also, environmentalists are now lamenting the “abuse” of hybrid technology, in that the technology is able to provide two benefits in a zero sum trade-off: better economy or better performance. An increasing number of vehicles are using hybrid for the latter, not the former. So these cars offer a “feel good” vibe, sans enviro benefits. Surely we don’t want these cars rewarded with HOV lane access.

In general, I agree with the comments. Mostly that the HOV access for Hybrids was intended to provide an incentive for hybrid DRIVING not hybrid OWNING. Trading stickers would reward the purchase.

But I also agree with many who suggest that the further you drive each day, the more you are part of the problem. People who choose to live 60 miles from their work put a much bigger cost on the rest of us than people who work where they live — no matter what they drive/ride to get there. Don’t feel to righteous if you drive a Prius 120 miles round trip every day.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:


I forgot to mention…

There are multiple writers at Techdirt with various opinions. Did you expect to agree with every post? Well, don’t.

If you don’t like Joe’s post, for goodness sakes, just say so and express why. Techdirt’s forum is wide open and doesn’t erase criticisms.

But you don’t need to make personal attacks. This type of violent reaction makes your arguments less credible, and brings your character in question. Is that the impact you were trying to have?

Quality matters. says:

Re: Manners

Derek, your comment was as supid as this article.

There should be some sort of quality control, to prevent garbage like this article from going live. When it does go live, it reflects poorly on the whole site.

#1 what does this article have to do with tech?
#2 read the above comments on why this article is wrong in so many ways.

The Champ says:

Two comments:

– Wow, a lot of vitriol about this post. Here is a link explaining what an ad hominem argument is, and why it is a logical fallacy:

Joe may have posted a silly article, but at least it was well reasoned.

– Onto the substance… Joe’s post brings up a familiar issue i.e. paying more to access a less encumbered route to your destination.

I find it ironic that this site advocates creating a market mechanism to give preferential access to one limited transit method (roads), but yet is so fundamentally opposed to doing the same for another transit method – the internet, ala Net Neutrality…

Really, these two ideas are not that different when you think about it… an inconsistency here Joe?

Oh, and before we stray back into the same territory that my first comment related to, I am not anti-net neutrality, nor do I really care about hybrid car lanes. Happily, the law makers in my part of the world have not been so idiotic.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Two comments:

Your comparison is not the same as network neutrality. Paying for for access to a restricted lane (or toll way) is actually like paying more for access to a less congested (dedicated/higher bandwidth) transit route. While anti-net neutrality is much more like what happens with trucks in some areas. Higher mass (content) is restricted to slower transit speeds. In realty I would assume for safety reasons as they’re less able to stop in short distances and more likely to round corners safely with higher centers of gravity and masses trying to maintain direction.

Pamela says:


I think this article is stupid. Just like someone mentioned, it’s as bad as handicapped people selling their placards. My aunt “can” use a handicapped placard but doesn’t. She doesn’t expect to be able to sell that right on ebay. Being able to sell the HOV stickers will do no good. It’s as ineffective as the gas guzzler tax. People will just pay it and not get a car with low emissions.

Someone mentioned that some “regular” cars have the same mpg as a hybrid. Well, what is their emissions? Because that is the point of the sticker, rewarding car owners with low emissions.

I think a big problem with the HOV lanes and overall freeway congestion is the fact that people CHOOSE to live a million miles away from their jobs in order to live in a “bigger” house. This is VERY COMMON here in Southern California (where I live now) and in Northern California (where we just moved from) Maybe if people cared about the environment more than having some big house 60 miles from their job than the roads wouldn’t be packed like sardines. Don’t you want your children and their children, etc to have clean air and a healthy environment? Every little bit counts.

New Prius Owner says:

Stickers for my new 2008 Prius..

There is now way that I can get HOV stickers for my 2008 Prius that I am about to order. I didn’t want to pay as high as $10,000 extra for stickers on a used Prius. One person on Craig’s list is asking that above what the car is worth. So I have decided to get some yellow shelf lining and make my own stickers. I have made boat names on boats and it stands up well to the elements. If I end up paying a fine, it still would be cheaper than paying the high prices for a used car with stickers.

Bicylist says:

It’s all about rewarding those drivers on the freeway that are making choices that alleviate congestion. Allowing the semi-wealthy (those who can afford the high-priced hybrids) the “right” to clog up the HOV lane instead of those who are actually saving more gas *and* doubling or tripling the lane’s capacity (by carpooling) is wrong. Remember that 2 people in a $15,000 Civic use less fuel per person than one person in a $23,000 Civic Hybrid. And let’s not even talk about the SUV hybrids which are commonly driven solo and use more fuel than most of the non-hybrid cars on the road. So, yeah, the distribution scheme of the Access OK stickers doesn’t make much sense at all…

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