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From the Roadshow archives: The Prius Party of 2011, featuring Steve Wozniak and plenty of yellow stickers

From the Roadshow archives: The Prius Party of 2011, featuring Steve Wozniak and plenty of yellow stickers

Editor’s note: Mr. Roadshow wanted to share some of his favorite columns and stories from more than 30 years of informing, entertaining and getting things changed for Bay Area (and beyond) drivers. He’ll be back on the road with new material soon. In the meantime, please keep sending Mr. Roadshow your comments or questions to mrroadshow@bayareanewsgroup.com.

This story originally was published on June 26, 2011

There was no crying at Roadshow’s Prius Party on Sunday, where a couple of hundred people gathered in the Mercury News parking lot. From throughout the South Bay to as far away as Folsom, they came to peel off their yellow carpool stickers to mark the end of one of the freeway’s most divisive perks:

This Friday, we’re getting booted for good out of California’s carpool lanes.

Actually, a tear or two was shed. Mine was the first.

“You ready?” said a gleeful Dennis Cole of Gilroy, who three years ago said he desperately wanted to remove the stickers from my Prius and would donate $50 to the charity of my choosing for the privilege of doing so.

“This is a sad, hard day, folks,” I countered through a bullhorn as Cole got a heat gun and peeled off all four of my yellow stickers.

We’ve known that this day was coming. Six years ago, in an effort to fuel sales of hybrid cars and wean us from our gas-guzzling ways, the state issued carpool stickers to drivers of the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic and Honda Insight hybrids. But the privilege expires July 1.

So, so long to driving solo in the carpool lane on San Tomas Expressway as I do every night on my way home. So long to using the Highway 85 to 101 carpool lane to Redwood City as I do frequently. So long to blissfully zipping past the turtle lanes where thousands creep along in Bay Area traffic each day.

Such sadness. So we had to party.

Steve Wozniak drove up in his huge Hummer, while his wife, Janet, followed in their Prius — both with stickers (more about that later). Martha Denning came down from Folsom in her Honda Civic hybrid. John Potosky of San Jose, who 10 years ago bought just the third Prius sold in Silicon Valley, stopped simply to chat — and sample Mrs. Roadshow’s marvelous biscotti.

She gave out about 500 free biscotti until Tesla exhibitor Steve Uhlir had a great idea. Leave a cup for donations, and almost $200 was collected, with each dollar headed to the Second Harvest Food Bank.

Bay Area air district officials set up a booth to help drivers line up carpools. Several super-clean drivers showed off their Nissan Leafs, Prius plug-ins, Tesla and cars that run on compressed natural gas. All those vehicles still qualify for solo driving in the diamond lane.

Rudy Solorio from B2 Perfection Auto Body in Sunnyvale labored cheerfully for two hours removing stickers free of charge and says his shop will remove anyone’s stickers at no cost.

“More than happy to help,” Solorio said.

A total of 65,000 stickers were first approved, then raised to 85,000 after demand soared.

The incentive program to juice up anemic hybrid sales worked. In 2004, there were 85,000 hybrids sold nationwide. When the carpool program began a year later, sales jumped to nearly 207,000. Today there are 423,180 hybrids licensed in California alone.

Now, with the yellow carpool stickers soon obsolete, the stickers most coveted by California drivers are white ones. As of last week, the state had issued 15,459 of the white stickers that give all-electric cars and those that run on alternative fuels a pass into the carpool lane — up from 10,000 earlier this year. And that could be fueling sales, even though many electric vehicles are more expensive, and there are lengthy waits to buy a Prius plug-in and the Chevy Volt, which doesn’t yet qualify for the sticker.

“We are definitely seeing more,” Jaime Garza of the Department of Motor Vehicles said of the rush for white stickers.

Potosky’s pain at losing his Prius carpool perk eased when he bought a Nissan Leaf a month ago. A few days ago, his white carpool stickers arrived in the mail.

“I’m good to go,” he said.

So is the Woz.

“I’ll miss the privilege that I’ve taken advantage of many times to make good decent speed on the freeway while other cars are going so slow in the other lanes,” said the Apple co-founder who has owned several Prii. “But it encourages me to get an electric vehicle or actually think more often about carpooling. My wife and I do this more than before.”

Wozniak drew a large crowd, and spent two hours chatting with Prius partyers — many of whom noticed the yellow carpool stickers on his Hummer.

“Is that legal?” asked one person. “How does he get away with that?”

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He doesn’t. When he replaced an earlier Prius, he inadvertently thought he had to remove the carpool stickers and slapped one on the Hummer.

“Some people are a little upset,” he said. “But I drive in the HOV lane in the Hummer alone all time. So what?”

Uh, not really. The Woz insists that’s a joke. He says he really only drives his Prius these days.

“Now, it’s over and sad,” he said of the carpool program ending at the end of this week. “But the (new plan) is a good start to the future.”

And maybe reason for another Roadshow party down the road.