By Steve Scauzillo, June 6, 2015
When my wife and I went shopping for a car, we weren’t looking just to buy four wheels and a drive shaft. We wanted the sticker.
green or white “clean air vehicle decal” issued by the DMV via the
California Air Resources Board to owners of plug-in electric,
all-electric, CNG and hydrogen cars gets you in the freeway carpool lane
as a single occupant. That sticker gives you time — something no
machine can do — to be with your family, fix dinner or kickback on the
sofa with the cat. It grants people like me who stress out in
bumper-to-bumper traffic peace of mind. In short, that sticker has more
value than the car itself!
The same thinking is behind Mike Gatto’s Assembly Bill 210. It
would give single-occupant drivers access to carpool lanes during
Right now, carpool lane rules on most Southern
California freeways are enforced 24/7. Southern California carpool lanes
(High-Occupancy Vehicle or HOV lanes) must have two people, sometimes
three, period, unlike in Northern California where HOV restrictions are
in place only during peak hours.
The Glendale-area assemblyman’s
bill would roll out a pilot project for the 134/210 freeways from North
Hollywood to Glendora/San Dimas (at the 57 Freeway). Along this stretch,
all drivers could ride the HOV lanes during non-peak hours. If peak is
from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and then 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., Gatto’s bill would
allow access to all drivers from 10:01 a.m. until 2:59 p.m., then again
from 7:01 p.m. until 5:59 a.m. The exact times would be set by Caltrans.
His bill would also restripe lines separating the carpool lane
from the general purpose lanes from double-yellow (uncrossable) to
broken white, so vehicles can go in and out at any time. Gatto said too
often, carpoolers jut into the left lane too quickly, causing accidents,
or move suddenly across several lanes to their exit.
experience, I can attest he is right. The 210 Freeway eastbound’s HOV
lane “exit” for the 605 Freeway comes too late. It is down-right
dangerous crossing six lanes in a half-mile span.
“Even Caltrans and the traffic people testified that restriping
the lanes would produce a pretty neat by-product for safety. This can
reduce fatalities,” Gatto said on Friday.
The primary change
allows non-ride sharers access to HOV lanes during off-peak times. The
bill would help workers on nontraditional schedules, he said. Along this
San Fernando Valley-San Gabriel Valley stretch of freeways many
commuters work 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and would benefit from riding carpool
lanes — hardly used during off-peak hours.
He’s heard from numerous employees from Disney, Dreamworks, Warner
Brothers and other media outlets who ride these freeways during non-peak
times and often sit in traffic when there’s an accident or road work,
gazing at an open HOV lane.
“For people who drive to say a
government job in Norwalk, working 9 to 5, they can pool a ride. But a
lot of people can’t do that, particularly if your job lasts from 10:15
a.m. to 1:42 a.m.,” he said.
His bill also might be beneficial during game days or concerts at the Rose Bowl.
Gatto is hitting on something car dealers don’t get: Time is the
more precious commodity, not the car. “If you are getting someone off
the freeway faster, that is the Holy Grail,” he said.
A car going
0-60 in four seconds doesn’t do you squat in LA’s traffic. Use of an
extra lane during off-peak hours, or a clean vehicle with sticker-access
is what sells in gridlocked SoCal.
I just checked. The CARB can
issue 70,000 clean vehicle stickers (for plug-ins such as the Chevy Volt
and all-electric cars such as BMW i3 or the Kia Soul EV). As of June 1,
they were at 67,831.
Either with stickers, or with Gatto’s latest bill (a previous version failed),
the extra lane space makes for a sought-after commodity. Will the
Legislature pass his bill and this time, will Gov. Jerry Brown sign it
into law? Only if they value our most precious resource: time.