PHOENIX — Some commuters in the Phoenix metropolitan area are able to take advantage of less congested rush-hour travel in the more than 175 miles of HOV lanes within the Valley freeway system. While any vehicle with two or more occupants can be in the lanes, some vehicles are allowed to use HOV lanes with just one occupant.
According to the Arizona Department of Transportation, these are qualifying alternative fuel vehicles displaying the “Clean Air – Blue Skies” Arizona license plate denoting an alternative fuel registered vehicle, including a limited number of hybrid cars.
ADOT receives numerous inquiries throughout the year from motorists confused about what types of vehicles are allowed to use HOV lanes. Per state law, vehicles carrying two or more persons have the ability to use the lanes during posted restricted time periods in the morning and evening rush hour. In addition, there are other vehicles authorized to utilize HOV lanes, such as buses, motorcycles, emergency response vehicles and specific alternative fuel vehicles bearing Arizona’s special “Clean Air – Blue Skies” license plate.
The Federal Highway Administration funded construction of HOV lanes in the Phoenix metropolitan area. ADOT works in partnership with the federal agency to determine the criteria for usage. HOV lanes are in place to reduce rush-hour traffic congestion, minimize overall fuel consumption and protect air quality through lower vehicle emissions by encouraging commuters to carpool, utilize public transportation and drive fuel-efficient or alternative fuel vehicles.
“The implementation of the HOV lanes located in the Phoenix area is one of many examples where ADOT’s partnership with the Federal Highway Administration and local governments strives to improve the safety, efficiency and quality of Arizona’s transportation system,” said Jennifer Toth, ADOT deputy director for transportation. “In addition to this initiative, ADOT is placing a high regard on the preservation of the state’s environment and air quality.”
Violating the restrictions for HOV lane usage may result in a driver receiving a traffic citation with a fine starting at $350.
The alternative fuel vehicle license plate can be issued to a vehicle that has either been converted or manufactured to use an alternative fuel. The allowed alternative fuel sources are liquefied petroleum gas, propane, natural gas, hydrogen, a blend of 70 percent alternative fuel and 30 percent petroleum-based fuel (certain hybrid vehicles), solar and electric power. The alternative fuel has to be the exclusive source of the vehicle’s power and the vehicle incapable of operating on solely on petroleum-based fuel.
The criteria for the alternative fuel sources are determined by the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In 2007, Arizona implemented a pilot program for hybrid vehicles in support of the federal initiatives for low-emission, fuel-efficient vehicle standards. For this pilot program, qualifying low-emission, fuel-efficient vehicles were issued a special alternative fuel vehicle license plate with a “Hybrid” graphic that permits the operator to drive in any HOV lane, regardless of the number of occupants.
The distribution of alternative fuel vehicle hybrid license plates is limited to 10,000 vehicles in Arizona to test the impact of allowing additional vehicles in HOV lanes. This limited-number provision serves the purpose of preventing saturation of the HOV lane to achieve the primary goal of reducing the number of vehicles on the road and lowering fuel consumption while supporting improved air quality with decreased emissions in the Phoenix metropolitan area. All 10,000 alternative fuel vehicle hybrid license plates have been distributed and no additional hybrid license plates are being issued at this time.
Though there are several types of hybrid vehicles on the road today, the three original vehicles approved in the 2007 program — Toyota Prius, and Honda Civic Hybrid and Honda Insight — are still the only hybrid vehicles that qualify for Arizona’s alternative fuel vehicle hybrid program per federal government guidelines.
In addition to the benefits of access to HOV lanes, owners of vehicles registered as alternative fuel are charged a reduced vehicle license tax depending on the specific type of vehicle.
For more information, please visit the MVD website.