San Francisco plug-in hybrid adoption in the slow lane 

An incentive program that allows owners of plug-in hybrids access to carpool lanes could be extended. - GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO
  • Getty Images File Photo
  • An incentive program that allows owners of plug-in hybrids access to carpool lanes could be extended.

Despite incentives meant to encourage purchases of plug-in hybrid vehicles, the clean technology is still being underused in California, even in environmentally friendly San Francisco.

Owners of plug-in hybrids are given special green stickers to display on their vehicles that allow them to drive solo in carpool lanes on highways. State Sen. Leland Yee, who introduced the legislation that created the carpool privilege, set aside 40,000 green stickers for plug-in hybrid owners. Since Jan. 1, 2012, only 10,335 of the decals have been distributed.

In San Francisco, only 152 of the stickers have been snatched up, meaning just 0.04 percent of the 370,919 vehicles registered in The City have the decal. That’s a lower rate than in Los Angeles County, where green stickers account for 0.05 percent of registered vehicles, and Alameda County, which has a 0.07 percent rate. San Francisco barely has a higher rate than Solano County — 0.035 percent — a place not known for its environmental progressiveness.

Jose Guevara, a property manager at the Post Montgomery Center, the first San Francisco building to have charging stations for plug-in hybrid vehicles, said there isn’t enough information available to owners about where they can charge their cars in The City.

“That’s a complaint I hear pretty regularly,” Guevara said. “The charging infrastructure in San Francisco isn’t readily available for hybrid-vehicle owners. I think more people in The City would purchase more of them if they knew exactly where to go when they needed a charge.”

Still, Guevara said that usage of the two stations at the Post Montgomery Center is increasing, and the building is considering adding two more charging machines at a cost of about $25,000. He said a few of the companies that install the charging stations are working on a smartphone app to map out the power grid for cars.   

The green-sticker program replaced a similar program for traditional hybrids that gave out yellow stickers through June 2011.

Although statewide ownership of hybrids is treading water now, it will increase if Yee’s new legislation to extend his incentive program through 2018 is approved, said Adam Keigwin, the state senator’s spokesman.

Currently, the green-sticker plan is scheduled to lapse in 2015. That short time frame prevented many potential vehicle owners from purchasing the plug-in hybrids, Keigwin said.

“When this legislation was introduced, the overall economy was struggling, and a lot of vehicle owners were unwilling to spend the extra money if they were only going to have the benefit for another year or so,” Keigwin said. Plug-in hybrids cost about $10,000 more than regular hybrids.

Along with extending the green-sticker program, Yee’s legislation would also increase the production of white stickers until 2018. Those stickers are affixed to electric vehicles and give their owners the same access to high-occupancy vehicle lanes.

While San Francisco lags other counties in the green-sticker plan, about 0.3 percent of its cars have the white sticker — a significantly higher rate than the 0.13 percent in Los Angeles.

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Will Reisman

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