City Considering Free Parking for Zero Emission Vehicles

10_16_09_hybrid.jpgOnly the more rare white stickers would get the free parking benefit.

Some ideas just refuse to die.  Less than a year after the City of Los Angeles moved to end it’s free-meter parking for hybrids program, a new proposal to allow only the highest tech and cleanest cars to park for free has resurfaced.  The Council resolution asking LADOT to study the program was introduced by Council President Eric Garcetti and sponsored by Downtown Council Woman Eric Garcetti and "Tom LaBonge for Bill Rosendahl."  Despite the presence of LaBonge and Rosendahl as sponsors of the legislation, they led Transportation Committee in expressing concerns with the newest free-parking for expensive, high-tech, cars scheme.

Garcetti’s resolution would apply to many less vehicles than the program that was scrapped earlier this year.  Instead of all hybrids that qualified for the state’s HOV exemption sticker, only the cleanest cars would qualify.  Only electric and zero-emission vehicles would qualify, cars which get a white sticker, pictured above, from the state.  While the state no longer hands out the more ubiquitous yellow stickers to fuel-efficient hybrids, it is still handing out the white stickers to those that can afford it.

One of the main objections that Council Transportation Committee Chair Bill Rosendahl had with the old free-parking plan when he single-handidly stood up to unanimous opposition on the Council and eventually succeeded in ending that program; was that the program was not encouraging people to buy hybrids but rewarding them for doing so.  Because there were no more yellow stickers being handed out, the program wasn’t providing an incentive for people to buy hybrid cars.  This argument resonated with the Council and the program was halted.

While that argument won’t have the same strength this time, there are still plenty of reasons to not give away parking to zero emission vehicles as an incentive for people to buy them.  While there are plenty of economic reasons and transportation reasons to not give away parking.

First, the economic ones.  While the city doesn’t yet know how much revenue they would lose if the program went forward, we do know that there would be some loss.  Conversely, we have no idea if the program would lead to one more zero-emission vehicle being purchased.  As the State Senate and Assembly begin debate on whether to renew the "Access Ok" program due to expire in 2011, Caltrans has admitted there is no way to track whether or not even one vehicle has been purchased as a result of their giveaway.  When asked, Amir Sedadi, representing LADOT, couldn’t give a firm answer as to how many cars had been purchased as a result of the city’s parking giveaway.

This argument had the most traction with the Councilmen present.  Councilman LaBonge, who is trying to reduce the parking meter hours for business areas in his district, expressed concern that this program would require higher rates for other drivers.  When reminded, Councilman Rosendahl remembered his quote to the Daily News last January that:

there’s plenty of other great benefits to having a clean-fuel car. 
With the city budget in the shape it’s in, we can’t afford to leave any
‘gold in the gutter.’

From a transportation angle, such a proposal would also add Vehicle Miles Traveled (V.M.T.) to metered areas.  As Donald Shoup has taught, and Santa Monica has learned, when you give away parking you reduce the chance that people will pay for it elsewhere.  In other words, cars will cruise for spaces adding an average of a mile to each trip taken to a metered area by a white-stickered car.

Joe Linton raised a different concern at the hearing, quoting an old riddle.  "When does a Prius and a hummer have the same carbon footprint?  When they’re parked."  Linton’s point was that a parking space has a carbon footpring and environmental cost by itself and giving them away in the name of clean air is a bit of an oxymoronic idea.

I should note that the LADOT was officially "in favor of such a program" but Sedadi didn’t seem very enthusiastic about the program.  Several times he dodged a question from Councilman LaBonge about "what he would do," instead insisting he was happy to do whatever the Council wanted.

In the end, the LADOT was tasked with reporting back to the council about the costs and benefits of the plan at an unspecified date in the future.  The Transportation Committee seemed happy to wait to see if the state re-programs their "Access Ok" program before moving forward.  But waiting for the state might not be the best way to go.  Even if they do re-up the program, the lobbyists pushing for its extension are lobbyists for the auto-industry not environmental groups according to a report from the Sacramento Bee.

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