Bill would let one-driver hybrid autos
in car-pool lanes

PHOENIX, Ron Nettie’s car uses electricity for part of its power, gets double the gas mileage of a motorcycle and has some of the cleanest emissions on the road.

He still can’t drive in the HOV (high-occupancy-vehicle) lanes reserved for car pools, motorcycles and alternative fuel ve3hicles, including the controversial conversions that can run on gasoline or an alternative fuel such as c compressed natural gas.

“What a joke,” said Nettie, who lives in Avondale and commutes 50 miles to Mesa for work. “They’re still sitting in the HOV lane, and I can’t.

Nettie’s car is a blue two-seater built by Honda and called the Insight. Like the Toyota Prius, it uses an electric motor to add power to a small gasoline engine. Electric generators attached to the wheels are used to brake while recharging the batteries at the same time.

The hybrid cars get 50 to 70 miles per gallon and are rated as ultra-low-emission or super-low-emission vehicles by the federal government.

A bill before the state Senate (SB1429) would allow drivers of the hybrids to use HOV lanes without a second passenger.

It is sponsored by Sen. Jay Blanchard, D-Gilbert, who was swept into office by public furor over a runaway subsidy program for alternative-fuel vehicles orchestrated by his election opponent, former House Speaker Jeff Groscost.

The alternative-fuels subsidy program stood to cost Arizona $680 million before lawmakers went into a special session to rein in it. The state hopes those changes will cut the costs to about $200 million.

Unlike the alt-fuels mess, Blanchard said this proposal creates an incentive for people to buy vehicles tat are environmentally friendly without costing the state a dime.

“People salivate sitting in traffic watching these empty Hov lanes,” Blanchard said. “Maybe they’d think twice about taking a look at these cars.”

Four states, California, Virginia, Georgia and Hawaii, allow single-driver electric vehicles in HOV lanes, buy Arizona could be the first to allow hybrids.

“It shows people there is a personal value for being environmentally sensitive.” Said Kateri Callahan, executive direction of the Electric Vehicles Association of the Americans. “It’s a very important incentive. The only thing I can think of that is more important to people than money is time.”

The Arizona bill is schedules for a vote by the Senate Natural Resources Committee Thursday. Should it eventually become law, it is unlikely to flood the state’s HOV lanes anytime soon. Fewer than 10,000 hybrid vehicles have been sold in the United States, according to the Electric Vehicles Association of the Americans.

In 2000, Arizonans bought about 300 Toyota hybrids and 100 Hondas.

Reported from the Arizona Daily Star Newspaper
February 18, 2001