Prius concert featuring Steve Wozniak, yellow stickers

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This story was originally published on June 26, 2011

There was no crying at Prius’ party at Roadshow on Sunday, as a few hundred people gathered in the Mercury News parking lot. From all over the South Bay to as far away as Folsom, they came to remove their yellow carpool stickers to celebrate the end of one of the highway’s most contentious franchises:

This Friday, we will be permanently kicked off California’s carpool lanes.

In fact, I shed a tear or two. It was my first.

“are you ready?” said a delighted Dennis Cole of Gilroy, who three years ago said he desperately wanted the stickers removed from my Prius and would donate $50 to the charity of my choice for the honor of doing so.

“This is a sad and difficult day, guys,” I called out through the speaker as Cole got a heat gun and peeled off all four of my yellow stickers.

We knew this day would come. Six years ago, in an effort to boost hybrid car sales and get us off our gas-guzzling ways, the state issued carpool stickers to drivers of the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic, and Honda Insight hybrids. But the privilege ends on July 1.

So, I spend as much time driving alone in the carpool lane on St. Thomas Highway as I do every night on my way home. It took me to use the Interstate 85 to 101 carpool lanes to Redwood City as I often do. It took me a long time to happily stroll through the tortoise lanes as thousands crawl into Bay Area traffic every day.

Such sadness. So we had to celebrate.

Steve Wozniak drove his massive Hummer, while his wife, Janet, followed in their Prius — both with stickers (more on that later). Martha Denning of Folsom drove down in her Honda Civic hybrid. John Potoski of San Jose, who just 10 years ago bought the third Prius ever sold in Silicon Valley, stopped by to chat — and taste Ms. Rudshaw’s wonderful biscotti.

I handed out about 500 free biscottis until Tesla model Steve Oller had a brilliant idea. Leave a cup for donations, and nearly $200 was raised, with every dollar going to Second Harvest Food Bank.

Bay Area Air District officials set up a kiosk to help drivers line up their cars. Many super-clean drivers showed off their Nissan Leafs, Prius Plug-ins, Teslas, and CNG-powered cars. All of these vehicles are still eligible to drive solo in the Diamond Track.

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

“I’m very happy to help,” Solorio said.

A total of 65,000 stickers were approved for the first time, which was then increased to 85,000 after demand rose.

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

Now, with the yellow carpool stickers soon to be gone, the stickers most requested by California drivers are the white stickers. As of last week, the state had issued 15,459 white stickers giving all-electric and alternative-fuel cars a pass to enter the carpool lane — up from 10,000 earlier this year. This could lead to increased sales, although many electric cars are more expensive, and there are long waiting periods for a Prius and a Chevy Volt, which are not yet eligible for the label.

“We’re definitely seeing more,” Jaime Garza of the Department of Motor Vehicles said of the rush toward white labels.

Butowski’s pain over the loss of the Prius’ carpool feature eased when he bought a Nissan Leaf a month ago. A few days ago, his white carpool stickers arrived in the mail.

“I’m fine,” he said.

That’s what Woz is.

“I will miss the privilege that I have taken advantage of many times to achieve good speed on the freeway while other cars go very slowly in other lanes,” said the Apple co-founder who owns several Prii cars. “But this encourages me to buy an electric car or think about carpooling more often. My wife and I do this more than before.

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

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

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