Bay Area hybrid owners must go with flow 

For years, Emily Baker Lohr struggled with the decision to buy a new car. She said she could never justify making the $20,000-plus investment.

That was, until she heard about California’s yellow-sticker program, an initiative that would allow owners of hybrid vehicles to travel alone in the state’s carpool lanes.

“I live in Oakland and at the time I just began a new job in San Jose,” Lohr said. “I figured if I ever had a good excuse to buy a new car, this was it.”

In 2006, Lohr bought a new Honda Civic Hybrid for $22,400 — an investment she said was well worth it, considering her yellow sticker helped shave 30 minutes off her daily travel to work and back.

As uplifting as it has been for her, Lohr’s story will soon become a rare one. The yellow-sticker program will end Friday. Roughly 85,000 yellow-sticker cars will now be funneled back into the congested traffic lanes of everyday commuters.

State Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Los Angeles, who authored legislation, said the program has been extended twice, and it’s time for it to end.

“We believe it’s been a huge success in incentivizing people to purchase hybrids, which, at the time this program started, were not very well known,” she said.

With the yellow-sticker program ending, California will retain its white stickers — an initiative that allows owners of compressed natural gas and electric vehicles to drive in the carpool lane.

Howard Strassner, a member of San Francisco’s Sierra Club, said state officials should now focus on getting people to purchase CNG and electric vehicles. A Honda Civic with compressed natural gas components costs $7,000 more than a normal model.

Despite the loss of the yellow-sticker incentive program, auto dealers think they’ll still be able to sell hybrid vehicles.

“We’re in the Bay Area, which is hybrid central,” said Mike Doerner, the alternative fuels manager at San Francisco Honda. “The yellow-sticker program was a nice perk, but it wasn’t the end-all, be-all for people interested in buying a hybrid.”

With white stickers likely to be more in demand, Doerner said he expects sales of Honda’s CNG vehicles to go up.

California Highway Patrol officers will be ready to ticket illegal carpool lane occupants as soon as the program ends July 1, said department spokeswoman Jamie Coffee.

The end of the program is unlikely to have a major effect on traffic conditions, said John Goodwin, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the region’s lead transportation agency.

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Will Reisman

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