BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    






           SENATE TRANSPORTATION & HOUSING COMMITTEE       BILL NO: AB 2405
          SENATOR MARK DESAULNIER, CHAIRMAN              AUTHOR:  blumenfield
                                                         VERSION: 6/4/12
          Analysis by:  Eric Thronson                    FISCAL:  no
          Hearing date:  June 12, 2012



          SUBJECT:

          Low-emission vehicles in high-occupancy toll lanes

          DESCRIPTION:

          This bill exempts low-emission vehicles with valid stickers from 
          toll charges imposed on single-occupant vehicles in 
          high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes.  

          ANALYSIS:

          In 1999, the Legislature passed and the governor signed AB 71 
          (Cunneen), Chapter 330, to grant certain low-emission vehicles 
          access to high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, regardless of 
          vehicle occupancy.  These vehicles include all-electric vehicles 
          such as the Tesla Roadster or the RAV 4 EV and natural gas 
          vehicles such as the Honda Civic CNG.  To differentiate these 
          vehicles, the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) issues white 
          stickers to be affixed on the vehicle.  There is no limit on the 
          number of these vehicles that may be issued white stickers.  As 
          of May of this year, DMV has issued nearly 19,000 sets of white 
          stickers.  

          In 2004, AB 2628 (Pavley), Chapter 725, allowed certain 
          high-mileage hybrid vehicles to access HOV lanes regardless of 
          occupancy.  The DMV issued yellow stickers to owners of these 
          vehicles.  The Legislature ultimately capped the number of 
          vehicles that may be issued yellow stickers at 85,000, a limit 
          reached in 2007.  

          SB 535 (Yee), Chapter 215, Statutes of 2010, grants access to 
          HOV lanes to a new class of vehicles, including "plug-in" 
          hybrids such as the Toyota Prius Plug-in and the Chevy Volt, 
          beginning January 1, 2012.  SB 535 capped the number of green 
          stickers the DMV may issue to vehicle owners at 40,000.

          While the authority to access HOV lanes expired for vehicles 




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          with yellow stickers on June 30, 2011, vehicles with white and 
          green stickers maintain access to HOV lanes until January 1, 
          2015.
          
          SB 535 also specified that low-emission vehicles with valid 
          stickers are not exempt from paying tolls on HOT lanes on State 
          Highways 10 and 110 in Los Angeles.  At the time, Los Angeles 
          County Metropolitan Transportation Authority expressed concern 
          that granting access to drivers of these vehicles could congest 
          the lanes enough to jeopardize federal funding for the projects.

           This bill  exempts vehicles with green and white stickers from 
          toll charges that single-occupant vehicles pay to access HOT 
          lanes.  This exemption does not apply to HOT lanes on State 
          Highway 110 in Los Angeles until after November 1, 2013, nor 
          does the exemption apply to HOT lanes on State Highway 10 in Los 
          Angeles until after March 1, 2014.
          COMMENTS:

           1.Purpose  .  According to the author, allowing certain 
            single-occupant vehicles to use HOV lanes has been an 
            important tool for promoting the purchase of low-emitting 
            cars, such as electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids.  To meet 
            current and future traffic demands, many HOV lanes across the 
            state are being converted to HOT lanes.  The author contends 
            that it is important for incentives provided to low-emission 
            cars today to carry over as HOV lanes are converted to HOT 
            lanes.  This bill gives current and future clean car owners 
            certainty about high-occupancy lane access and will continue 
            to provide a valuable incentive for purchasing clean air 
            vehicles.

           2.The role of HOV and HOT lanes  .  In allowing for the 
            development of HOV lanes, the Legislature hoped to accomplish 
            two objectives.  First, these lanes were to incentivize 
            drivers to participate in carpools or otherwise share rides 
            with drivers travelling to similar destinations.  Then, 
            because fewer single-occupancy vehicles would be on the 
            highway, HOV lanes were expected to reduce congestion for 
            those who did not carpool.  

            HOV lanes in California have been more or less successful in 
            accomplishing these two objectives.  When carpool lanes are 
            not used to full capacity by high-occupancy vehicles, there is 
            room for additional vehicles to travel and not overly diminish 
            the throughput of the lanes.  In these cases, many options are 




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            available to the managing transportation entities.  For 
            example, as previously mentioned, the state has opened these 
            lanes to low-emission vehicles attempting to provide 
            incentives for the purchase of these vehicles to consumers who 
            might otherwise not buy them.  Alternatively, some agencies 
            have chosen to sell HOV capacity to single-occupant vehicles 
            through the use of tolls, which provides a number of benefits. 
             Besides raising much-needed transportation revenues for 
            things such as road maintenance, increased capacity, or other 
            mobility solutions, HOT lanes can also contribute to reducing 
            congestion as they reduce the number of vehicles in non-toll 
            lanes.  

            It is important that throughput remains significantly higher 
            in high-occupancy lanes than others along the same portion of 
            highway or the value of these lanes is diminished.  Therefore, 
            these lanes must be monitored and managed effectively.  If an 
            HOV lane begins exhibiting too much congestion, agencies can 
            increase the threshold to gain access by requiring more people 
            per car to qualify for their use.  Similarly, if HOT lanes 
            become oversubscribed, raising tolls can help reduce demand 
            and keep the lanes moving adequately.

           3.Does HOV access really incentivize clean car purchases  ?  The 
            primary argument for granting low- or zero-emission vehicles 
            access to HOV and HOT lanes is that this provides a 
            non-monetary incentive for purchasing these vehicles, 
            increasing the adoption of new technologies through 
            encouraging consumers to buy the vehicles when they might not 
            otherwise.  Studies do not overwhelmingly conclude that HOV 
            access does in fact incentivize this behavior, however.  Some 
            argue that the people who purchased hybrids in California 
            would have done so whether or not the vehicles gave them 
            access to HOV lanes, and others point out that even monetary 
            incentives make little impact in the adoption of clean 
            vehicles.  

           4.Social equity concerns  .  For a variety of reasons, 
            low-emission vehicles often have higher purchase prices than 
            comparable gasoline-powered vehicles.  These higher purchase 
            prices generally make low-emission vehicles that qualify for 
            HOV lane access unaffordable for lower-income drivers.  This 
            bill provides access to HOT lanes for drivers of these 
            higher-priced vehicles, essentially providing for free what 
            other drivers of single-occupant vehicles will be required to 
            pay for.  This policy also reduces the available capacity in 




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            these HOT lanes, meaning that administering agencies may need 
            to set higher toll prices than they would otherwise in order 
            to manage the number of cars accessing these lanes.  Some have 
            raised concerns that ultimately this bill will result in a 
            scenario where higher-income individuals are granted free 
            access to preferred lanes, while lower-income drivers pay 
            higher tolls than they would otherwise need to for access to 
            the same lanes.  

           5.Arguments in support  .  Many organizations have expressed 
            support for this bill because of its potential to incentivize 
            the purchase of lower-emission vehicles.  In other letters of 
            support, representatives of taxi cab companies contend that 
            many cab drivers use clean-burning natural gas vehicles 
            because they appreciate the HOV lane access available to them 
            after dropping off customers.  They suggest that if drivers 
            were to lose that access due to the transformation of HOV 
            lanes to HOT lanes, drivers may instead opt to purchase or 
            lease gasoline-powered vehicles, thus increasing their 
            contributions to poor air quality.

           6.Arguments in opposition  .  The American Council of Engineering 
            Companies of California (ACEC) wrote a letter in opposition to 
            this bill, principally objecting on the grounds that it could 
            undermine funding capacity for delivering transportation 
            infrastructure.  Alternative fuel vehicles using limited or no 
            gasoline contribute very little toward funding infrastructure 
            and road maintenance because the primary state funding 
            mechanism for these expenditures is the gasoline excise tax.  
            ACEC suggests that tolls are one way to capture some funds 
            from drivers of these vehicles who benefit from public 
            infrastructure but do not contribute to its upkeep or 
            expansion.  Further, ACEC points out that while the pool of 
            vehicles that would benefit from this bill is currently 
            relatively small, state mandates are expected to greatly 
            increase the number of low/zero emissions vehicles over the 
            next decade.  This expansion could exacerbate the funding 
            problem, with more cars using the road system and fewer 
            drivers contributing to funding the repair and maintenance of 
            the roads.

          Assembly Votes:
               Floor:    49 - 25 
               Trans:    9 - 3 

          POSITIONS:  (Communicated to the committee before noon on 




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                     Wednesday,                             
                     June 6, 2012)

               SUPPORT:  Silicon Valley Clean Cities Coalition
                         Antelope Valley Clean Cities Coalition
                         California Electric Transportation Coalition
                         California Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition
                         CALSTART
                         Coalition for Clean Air
                         Clean Energy
                         CODA Holdings
                         City Cab - Los Angeles Division
                         California Yellow Cab
                         Yellow Cab of Greater Orange County
                         Honda
          
               OPPOSED:  American Council of Engineering Companies of 
          California