End of an Era

at 12:35 AM

It's not ancient history. Let's remember -- it was just 2005 when California lawmakers, looking to improve air quality, found a way to encourage people to buy the new-fangled hybrid vehicles. They'd reward pioneering consumers with stickers granting access to carpool lanes even if there was only one person in the car.

Just six years later, you can't swing a sustainable, renewable or up-cycled stick here in the Bay Area without hitting a bazillion Priuses or their offspring.

Back in the distant past, I was hesitant to stand in line for a Pruis -- and, please remember, there was a line --  and for good reason. There was confusion about these odd vehicles. Where did you plug them in? And the rumors about what would happen if the battery ran down? You'd kill the whole car. And because these curious cars were so quiet, you might walk away from them while they were running. Who knew what would happen then?

Own one of these things and you might be buying into a better future -- or an idiot buying the automotive equivalent of Pong. I plunked down 25 grand and waited to find out.

Those magical carpool stickers made the waiting easier. For a measly $8, I was cruising solo in the carpool lane. I've sped through congested tollbooths and whizzed past freeway traffic, and for a long spell, my commute over the Bay Bridge was not only quick but free.

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OK, the Prius turned out to be a good thing, which seems obvious now that we all know it. It saved gas, air and time. And though I'm not good enough at math to do the math, I'll bet my savings in bridge tolls alone could have bought me a decent used car.

So, all you Prius haters out there, lighten up! At the start Priuses were a gamble, and giving us a little incentive to buy into the game wasn't a bad thing. And besides, today as the calendar flips to July, all 85,000 of us early Prius owners will be losing our special sticker rights as we shift lanes and into the mainstream.

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With a Perspective, I'm Louise Rafkin.

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