John Hernon Jr. at his home with his Toyota Prius...

John Hernon Jr. at his home with his Toyota Prius vehicle on Thursday in Manorville. The "Clean Pass" program allows him to drive solo in the HOV lane and cut his commute by half-an-hour each way. Credit: Tom Lambui

In early morning rush hours on the Long Island Expressway, John Hernon Jr. zips through the high-occupancy vehicle lane solo while traffic around him is often crawling. For several years now, the Clean Pass stickers on his Prius have offered a welcome boon, slashing up to 30 minutes off his daily commute from Manorville to Glen Cove each way, he said.

But the state perk that allows single-occupant electric and hybrid cars in the HOV lanes is set to expire in the fall of 2025, making commutes less convenient for green drivers such as Hernon.

“It certainly will be a shame when single-occupant electric vehicles can’t use that lane … It’s about a 50-mile trip, and absent that it would take me a minimum of an hour-and-a-half,” said Hernon, who was stunned to learn about the program’s expected demise while figuring out which new cars qualify for the pass. 

Launched in 2006, the Clean Pass pilot program was intended to boost the use and sale of energy-efficient vehicles by allowing them on the LIE’s HOV lanes during peak hours. The HOV lanes run 40 miles, from Medford in Suffolk to the Queens border.

Transportation advocates said that with an electric vehicle boom expected to hold, an incentive past 2025 could become counterproductive to HOV ride-sharing and congestion-free travel. The Long Island Power Authority anticipates a sixfold increase in EVs over the next five years, to 180,000. 

“Continuing the exemption beyond 2025 would result in many more cars using the HOV lane, negating the entire benefit of moving more people more efficiently and encouraging carpooling and public transit use,” Liam Blank, a spokesperson at Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a nonprofit group that promotes sustainable transportation, said in an email.

Initially rolled out as a one-year program, federal regulations began to phase out some single-occupant electric cars in HOV lanes in 2019. As of February, only plug-in electric and plug-in hybrid electric cars can apply for a Clean Pass, as well as those powered by alternative fuels, like biofuels or compressed natural gas.

The program ends on Sept. 30, 2025, an expiration date established by a 2015 federal law and extended as part of last year’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. As a result, similar HOV exemptions across the country also will be dropped, unless Congress enacts legislation to extend this expiration date.

After that date, the energy-efficient vehicles likely will be treated like their gas-guzzling counterparts and two or more occupants will be required for HOV cruising privileges.

Stephen Canzoneri, a spokesman with the state Department of Transportation, which maintains the LIE, said the agency will update Clean Pass users about any changes in federal regulations that would impact the program.

Transportation experts said the HOV benefit is no longer needed to stimulate electric vehicle sales as the cars become more mainstream and states such as New York and California plan to require all cars and trucks sold to be zero-emission by 2035.

More lone EV drivers could overwhelm the HOV lanes, so the focus should return to cutting traffic by getting more people into one car, the program's initial goal, advocates said.

“The Long Island Expressway HOV lane exemption for single-occupant electric and hybrid vehicles has been useful for incentivizing people to switch from conventional vehicles, but this carrot isn't as necessary now as it was a few years ago,” Blank said. He added that going electric is less risky than it was years ago, with more charging infrastructure and state mandates in place.

The number of electric cars enrolled in the program has surged since 2006, when there were 2,116 clean-pass stickers. By October 2013, there were 19,895 stickers, according to the Federal Highway Administration. The state Department of Transportation did not provide updated Clean Pass numbers last week. But there are 33,621 electric vehicles registered on Long Island as of Nov. 2, according to a database maintained by the New York State Research, Energy and Development Authority.

Baruch Feigenbaum, a policy analyst and senior managing director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank, said a rapid growth of electric cars is expected due to large tax credits for domestically sourced EVs. State rebates can be worth up to $2,000 for electric car buyers, while there are federal tax credits worth up to $7,500. 

“The expectation is that most HOV lanes will be overloaded by 2025, particularly the inner suburbs of most large metro areas,” Feigenbaum said.

Per federal regulations, cars in the HOV lanes must maintain a 45 mph minimum average speed 90% of the time over 180 consecutive days during peak hours, or the program risks being nixed, according to the DOT website.

The DOT monitors these speeds via electronic sensors and on its website notes there are no plans to end the program before 2025. The website also states, "NYSDOT has been monitoring the volumes in the HOV lanes and has seen a significant increase in the number of Clean Pass vehicles, but there is still some capacity remaining in the HOV lanes."

Before pulling the plug on the pass, Hernon hopes authorities reexamine the initiative and determine whether enough multipassenger cars will use the lane or, as he believes, it will be empty. He said he sees mostly single Clean Pass drivers on it and worries those vehicles will flood the regular lanes when the program is up.

And now he's weighing whether he should invest in another EV when his Prius dies.

“I bought the Prius specifically with the intent that I would be commuting somewhere on the Island and would be able to use the HOV lane,” Hernon said. “If I bought it now, unless the law changes, it will be worthless in three years.”

Rosemary Mascali, chair of the education and outreach subcommittee at Drive Electric Long Island, an organization that promotes the use of electric cars, said she is supportive of the program's life span and has been letting people know about the end date. She believes it won’t deter people from investing in clean vehicles, especially with federal tax credits and state rebates available.

“The environmental benefits, the fuel and maintenance and performance benefits all make it a better choice of a car,” Mascali said.

In early morning rush hours on the Long Island Expressway, John Hernon Jr. zips through the high-occupancy vehicle lane solo while traffic around him is often crawling. For several years now, the Clean Pass stickers on his Prius have offered a welcome boon, slashing up to 30 minutes off his daily commute from Manorville to Glen Cove each way, he said.

But the state perk that allows single-occupant electric and hybrid cars in the HOV lanes is set to expire in the fall of 2025, making commutes less convenient for green drivers such as Hernon.

“It certainly will be a shame when single-occupant electric vehicles can’t use that lane … It’s about a 50-mile trip, and absent that it would take me a minimum of an hour-and-a-half,” said Hernon, who was stunned to learn about the program’s expected demise while figuring out which new cars qualify for the pass. 

Launched in 2006, the Clean Pass pilot program was intended to boost the use and sale of energy-efficient vehicles by allowing them on the LIE’s HOV lanes during peak hours. The HOV lanes run 40 miles, from Medford in Suffolk to the Queens border.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • A Clean Pass motorist was surprised to learn the state's program that permits single-occupant plug-in electric and plug-in hybrid cars on the LIE's HOV system during peak hours is set to expire in the fall of 2025, per federal regulations.
  • The program was intended to boost the use of energy-efficient vehicles, but experts said as electric vehicles become more mainstream, the state incentive is no longer needed and the focus should return to carpooling.
  • Under federal regulations, cars in the HOV lanes must maintain a 45 mph minimum average speed 90% of the time over 180 consecutive days during peak hours or the program risks being nixed, but there are no plans to end it before 2025.

Transportation advocates said that with an electric vehicle boom expected to hold, an incentive past 2025 could become counterproductive to HOV ride-sharing and congestion-free travel. The Long Island Power Authority anticipates a sixfold increase in EVs over the next five years, to 180,000. 

“Continuing the exemption beyond 2025 would result in many more cars using the HOV lane, negating the entire benefit of moving more people more efficiently and encouraging carpooling and public transit use,” Liam Blank, a spokesperson at Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a nonprofit group that promotes sustainable transportation, said in an email.

Initially rolled out as a one-year program, federal regulations began to phase out some single-occupant electric cars in HOV lanes in 2019. As of February, only plug-in electric and plug-in hybrid electric cars can apply for a Clean Pass, as well as those powered by alternative fuels, like biofuels or compressed natural gas.

The program ends on Sept. 30, 2025, an expiration date established by a 2015 federal law and extended as part of last year’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. As a result, similar HOV exemptions across the country also will be dropped, unless Congress enacts legislation to extend this expiration date.

After that date, the energy-efficient vehicles likely will be treated like their gas-guzzling counterparts and two or more occupants will be required for HOV cruising privileges.

Experts say benefit not needed

Stephen Canzoneri, a spokesman with the state Department of Transportation, which maintains the LIE, said the agency will update Clean Pass users about any changes in federal regulations that would impact the program.

Transportation experts said the HOV benefit is no longer needed to stimulate electric vehicle sales as the cars become more mainstream and states such as New York and California plan to require all cars and trucks sold to be zero-emission by 2035.

More lone EV drivers could overwhelm the HOV lanes, so the focus should return to cutting traffic by getting more people into one car, the program's initial goal, advocates said.

“The Long Island Expressway HOV lane exemption for single-occupant electric and hybrid vehicles has been useful for incentivizing people to switch from conventional vehicles, but this carrot isn't as necessary now as it was a few years ago,” Blank said. He added that going electric is less risky than it was years ago, with more charging infrastructure and state mandates in place.

The number of electric cars enrolled in the program has surged since 2006, when there were 2,116 clean-pass stickers. By October 2013, there were 19,895 stickers, according to the Federal Highway Administration. The state Department of Transportation did not provide updated Clean Pass numbers last week. But there are 33,621 electric vehicles registered on Long Island as of Nov. 2, according to a database maintained by the New York State Research, Energy and Development Authority.

Electric car growth expected

Baruch Feigenbaum, a policy analyst and senior managing director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank, said a rapid growth of electric cars is expected due to large tax credits for domestically sourced EVs. State rebates can be worth up to $2,000 for electric car buyers, while there are federal tax credits worth up to $7,500. 

“The expectation is that most HOV lanes will be overloaded by 2025, particularly the inner suburbs of most large metro areas,” Feigenbaum said.

Per federal regulations, cars in the HOV lanes must maintain a 45 mph minimum average speed 90% of the time over 180 consecutive days during peak hours, or the program risks being nixed, according to the DOT website.

The DOT monitors these speeds via electronic sensors and on its website notes there are no plans to end the program before 2025. The website also states, "NYSDOT has been monitoring the volumes in the HOV lanes and has seen a significant increase in the number of Clean Pass vehicles, but there is still some capacity remaining in the HOV lanes."

Before pulling the plug on the pass, Hernon hopes authorities reexamine the initiative and determine whether enough multipassenger cars will use the lane or, as he believes, it will be empty. He said he sees mostly single Clean Pass drivers on it and worries those vehicles will flood the regular lanes when the program is up.

And now he's weighing whether he should invest in another EV when his Prius dies.

“I bought the Prius specifically with the intent that I would be commuting somewhere on the Island and would be able to use the HOV lane,” Hernon said. “If I bought it now, unless the law changes, it will be worthless in three years.”

Rosemary Mascali, chair of the education and outreach subcommittee at Drive Electric Long Island, an organization that promotes the use of electric cars, said she is supportive of the program's life span and has been letting people know about the end date. She believes it won’t deter people from investing in clean vehicles, especially with federal tax credits and state rebates available.

“The environmental benefits, the fuel and maintenance and performance benefits all make it a better choice of a car,” Mascali said.

Latest videos