Beginning July 1, 2000, many drivers of alternatively fueled cars and vans, including natural gas vehicles (NGVs), will have access to California's high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes regardless of the number of occupants aboard. Enacted last year by the California Legislature as AB 71, the new law is a boon to companies and consumers who have already taken steps to decrease smog and pollution by purchasing NGVs.

"The new law opening up HOV lanes to natural gas vehicle drivers offers a well-deserved perk to our customers who have made a real commitment to the environment by using clean-burning fuel," said Rick Morrow, vice president of customer service and marketing of energy transportation services for Southern California Gas Company (The Gas Company).

There are currently 18,000 NGVs on the road in California, and this special program is open to the 6,000 that fall under the weight requirement of 14,000 pounds or less and run exclusively on natural gas. Those affected include fleets owned by SuperShuttle, the United States Post Office, the City of Los Angeles, American Taxi and United Parcel Service. Owners of qualifying vehicles must register with the DMV and display a special DMV-issued decal. The registration and decal will also help California Highway Patrol enforce existing HOV lane laws.

Not only do NGVs burn cleaner than their gasoline counterparts, emitting up to 95 percent less pollution, but cheaper fuel and lower maintenance costs also make them more economical. For the past 18 months, fuel for NGVs has averaged around $1.10 for a gasoline gallon equivalent, compared to upwards of $1.60 and rising per gallon of gasoline. This works out to a savings of $5 or more with each fill up. In addition, natural gas' octane rating of 130, compared with the 87 to 92 rating of gasoline, ensures that NGVs have as much power and efficiency as standard cars. Natural gas public fueling stations are conveniently located across Southern California near major freeways and highways; a comprehensive list of new and existing stations is available at www.ngv.org.

This summer, The Gas Company is offering drivers the opportunity to try out an NGV, fuel included, for five million meters (or about three thousand miles). Contestants can register to win use of a Honda Civic, Toyota Camry or Ford F-150 NGV at designated participating NGV dealers, by visiting www.socalgas.com or by calling (800) 427-4400. Three winners will be announced in mid-August.

For more information on registering an alternatively fueled vehicle for a DMV-issued decal, visit their web site at www.dmv.ca.gov, or call your local DMV and ask them to mail DMV Form 156 to you.

Southern California Gas Company (The Gas Company) is the nation's largest natural gas distribution utility, serving more than 18 million people through 5 million meters. The company's service territory encompasses more than 23,000 square miles throughout central and Southern California. The Gas Company is a subsidiary of Sempra Energy, a Fortune 500 energy services company based in San Diego, with 12,000 employees, revenues of nearly $5.5 billion and serving nine million customers in the United States, Europe, Canada, Mexico and South America.