Life in the HOV lane: Are some drivers using a little decal to game the system?

The frustrations of Metro Vancouver traffic gridlock may be enticing some scofflaw drivers to attach fake or stolen EOK decals to their non-electric cars in order to drive in HOV lanes.

"I know that the stickers are widely available and not just from government sources," said Cpl. Mike Halskov of the B.C. RCMP Traffic Services. "Basically you can print them off the internet."

The little decal can mean big time savings for those trying to game the system.

Since 2016, electric vehicles (EVs) have been allowed in most provincial and municipal high occupancy vehicle lanes regardless of the number of occupants, provided there's an EOK decal attached to the rear of the car.

The decals are supposed to be proof of an eligible EV and are distributed through the provincial government's Electric Vehicle in HOV incentive program.

The Associated Press

Adding to the problem of fakes, a few EV owners have reported their EOK decal stolen. 

Ron Burton, president of the Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association, says he's heard from members who've had the decal peeled off their EV.

Others have reported sightings of legitimate-looking decals stuck to gas-powered cars driving in the HOV lane.

"Our members, they know every electric vehicle, so when the see a car that isn't electric with an EOK sticker, it's like a red flag," he said.

The Ministry of Transportation says since the EOK program started three years ago, 11,409 EOK decals have been issued in B.C., with only nine reported stolen or ripped.

Rafferty Baker/CBC

Burton says the EOK program provides a huge benefit to drivers who want to cut their commute time. 

But he also says the program isn't widely understood outside the EV community, and that EV drivers often get hassled for driving in the HOV lane.

"People are coming up beside them and honking the horn and waving their fist and and pointing at the signs that say there are supposed to be two people [in the car]," he laughed. "Of course they don't know."

Karin Larsen/CBC

According to Halskov, fraudulent EOK decals aren't a major issue for traffic enforcement officers. However, anyone caught driving in the HOV lane when they shouldn't be will face a $109 fine.

"Sometimes, people go the alternate route to try to circumvent [a law] and could end up finding out the hard way that they shouldn't have done that," he said.

The Ministry of Transportation says the current wait time to receive an EOK decal is three to six weeks due to a high volume of applications.

The ministry is currently in the process of switching from a mail-in application form to an online system in an attempt to speed up the process. 

EOK vehicles are not permitted in bus or vanpool lanes.