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The 2005 Honda Insight is one of three cars
that qualify under the new bill.


Rebuffing lobbying by the chairman of the Ford Motor Co., Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger signed a bill today that will let thousands of single-occupant
hybrid vehicles to carpool lanes, which supporters hope will prompt more
consumers to buy the fuel-efficient, low-emission cars, the Associated Press

“This bill is great for California,” said the measure’s author,
Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills. “It eases our commutes. It saves
us money at the pump, reduces our dependency on foreign oil and cleans our air
at the same time.”

The bill allows up to 75,000 hybrids to obtain decals from the state to use
carpool lanes without having to have the minimum number of two or three
occupants. Certain other advanced-technology vehicles could also qualify for the

To obtain the decals, the vehicles will have to get at least 45 miles per gallon
and meet tough emission standards.

The new law is scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2005, but it also needs
federal approval to be implemented because federal funds help pay for carpool
lanes. A bill pending in Congress would grant that approval. In the alternative,
the U.S. Department of Transportation can grant a waiver to the state.
California has requested a waiver, but the DOT has, to date, declined to act on
the request. The DOT has granted a limited waiver to the state of Virginia.

Pavley’s legislation will expire in 2008 unless extended by lawmakers.

Opponents complained that the legislation would lead to congested carpool lanes
and undercut the purpose of the lanes, which is to reduce overall traffic.

The bill requires the state Transportation Department to suspend hybrid access
to any of the 1,112 miles of carpool lanes in California that become

The bill was supported by state Treasurer Phil Angelides, who could be
Schwarzenegger’s Democratic opponent in 2006 if the governor runs for
re-election, and Schwarzenegger’s Environmental Protection secretary, Terry

It was opposed by Bill Ford, chairman of Ford Motor Co., who wrote
Schwarzenegger a letter urging him to veto the bill. Ford called the legislation
a “buy Japanese bill” that would primarily benefit owners of the
Toyota Prius.

The Prius and the Honda Insight and Civic hybrids qualify for the decals, but
Ford has no vehicle that qualifies. Its new Escape hybrid is expected to get
about 35 mpg.

Pavley said Toyota lobbyists had no influence in how the bill was written and
had pushed unsuccessfully for a lower gasoline mileage threshold to qualify for
the decals.

California already allows battery- and natural-gas-powered vehicles and
motorcycles to use carpool lanes without meeting the occupancy

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