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

When the carpool exception expired for hybrid vehicles, their drivers commemorated the moment with Mr. Roadshow

On Sunday, a couple hundred people gathered in the Mercury News parking lot for Roadshow’s Prius Party, and there was no crying. They came from all over the South Bay and as far away as Folsom to remove their yellow carpool stickers, signaling the end of one of the freeway’s most contentious features: carpooling.

We’re getting kicked out of California’s carpool lanes for good this Friday.

Actually, a few tears were shed. The first was mine.

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

“This is a sad, hard day, folks,” I said over the bullhorn as Cole pulled out a heat gun and peeled off all four of my yellow stickers.

We’d known this day would come. Six years ago, the state issued carpool stickers to Toyota Prius, Honda Civic, and Honda Insight hybrid drivers in an effort to boost hybrid car sales and wean us off our gas-guzzling ways. However, the privilege expires on July 1.

So long to driving alone in the carpool lane on San Tomas Expressway on my way home every night. So long, frequent use of the Highway 85 to 101 carpool lane to Redwood City. So long, blissfully zipping past the turtle lanes that thousands of Bay Area drivers use every day.

Such heartbreak. So we had to have a party.

Steve Wozniak arrived in his massive Hummer, followed by his wife, Janet, in their Prius — both with stickers (more on that later). Martha Denning arrived in her Honda Civic hybrid from Folsom. John Potosky of San Jose, who bought the third Prius sold in Silicon Valley ten years ago, stopped simply to chat — and sample Mrs. Roadshow’s delicious biscotti.

She distributed approximately 500 free biscotti until Tesla exhibitor Steve Uhlir had a brilliant idea. A cup was left out for donations, and nearly $200 was collected, with every dollar going to the Second Harvest Food Bank.

Officials from the Bay Area Air District set up a booth to assist drivers in lining up carpools. Several super-clean drivers displayed their Nissan Leafs, Prius plug-in hybrids, Teslas, and compressed natural gas vehicles. All of those vehicles are still allowed to drive alone in the diamond lane.

Rudy Solorio of B2 Perfection Auto Body in Sunnyvale cheerfully worked for two hours removing stickers for free and claims his shop will remove anyone’s stickers for free.

“I’d be delighted to assist,” Solorio said.

The initial approval was for 65,000 stickers, which were later increased to 85,000 due to high demand.

The incentive program to boost anemic hybrid sales was successful. In 2004, 85,000 hybrids were sold in the United States. Sales increased to nearly 207,000 when the carpool program began a year later. In California alone, there are currently 423,180 hybrids licensed.

With yellow carpool stickers quickly becoming obsolete, white carpool stickers are the most sought-after by California drivers. As of last week, the state had issued 15,459 of the white stickers that allow all-electric and alternative-fuel vehicles to use the carpool lane, up from 10,000 earlier this year. And that could be fueling sales, despite the fact that many electric vehicles are more expensive, and there are long lines to purchase a Prius plug-in and the Chevy Volt, which does not yet qualify for the sticker.

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

Potosky’s grief over losing his Prius carpool benefit was alleviated when he purchased a Nissan Leaf a month ago. His white carpool stickers arrived in the mail a few days ago.

“I’m good to go,” he declared.

So, too, 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 slowly in the other lanes,” said Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who has owned several Prii. “However, it encourages me to purchase an electric vehicle or to consider carpooling more frequently.” My wife and I do it more than we used to.”

Wozniak drew a large crowd and spent two hours chatting with Prius partygoers, many of whom noticed his Hummer’s yellow carpool stickers.

“Is that legal?” one person inquired. “How does he get away with something like that?”

He isn’t. When he replaced an earlier Prius, he mistakenly believed he needed to remove the carpool stickers and slapped one on the Hummer.

“Some people are a little upset,” he admitted. “However, I always drive alone in the HOV lane in the Hummer.” “What’s the big deal?”

No, not at all. The Woz insists it’s all a joke. He claims to only drive his Prius these days.

“Now, it’s over and sad,” he said of the carpool program, which will end at the end of this week. “However, the (new plan) is a promising start for the future.”

And possibly cause for another Roadshow party in the future.

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