After Council changes parking rules, electric car owners hope for a Mayoral veto

Adam Novick cares a lot about the environment.

Novick named his son Theodore Elon, after President Theodore Roosevelt (famed conservationist who helped create the National Parks system) and Elon Musk (founder of Tesla and SolarCity).

The Bella Vista resident also owns two electric vehicles (EVs), a plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt and an electric motorcycle, which is why he launched a petition imploring Mayor Jim Kenney to veto legislation passed by City Council last week suspending Philadelphia’s EV parking permit program.

In a statement, the mayor said he was still “reviewing the legislation.” Kenney has until Thursday to decide whether he will sign or veto the bill.

It may sound obvious, but electric vehicles need electricity, and in a city like Philadelphia that can be a problem. Instead of parking in a garage or driveway, Philadelphians tend to park in the street – too far away from the nearest outlet.

To address this issue, the city passed an ordinance allowing EV owners build a curbside charger in front of their residence and make the on-street parking spot in front of it EV-only.

In the ten years since the law went into effect, electric cars took over just 68 parking spots out of the 43,000 regulated on-street parking spaces in the city.

But that was 68 too many for some jealous neighbors, who complained to Councilmembers Mark Squilla and David Oh that the EV program effectively privatized public parking.

The two Councilmembers introduced a moratorium bill that also allows anyone—not just electric cars—to park in the previously EV-only spots during the day, between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

At 68 spots, the program was both too small and too big, said Squilla. Not enough EV owners used the system to call it a successful inducement for EV ownership, but it still took up much parking.

“Two concerns: One is neighborhood parking and [two] it’s a failed system,” said Squilla. “Any time you have vehicles, parking is a concern, go to any community meeting throughout the city and development that we talk about, parking always comes up.”

“Everybody talks about parking,” Squilla added. “Parking is always going to be part of every conversation, so [it’s] part of this conversation.”

At just 68 of the city’s 43,000 regulated, on-street parking spots, electric vehicles arguably made up just 0.15 percent of the city’s cars (at least those parked on-street, and excluding some owners that did not apply for the permit). That certainly seems low, but it’s actually fairly consistent with EV ownership figures across the United States. EV charging network provider ChargePoint estimates there are 542,000 electric vehicles in the U.S., which would be just 0.21 percent of the 253 million cars on the nation’s roads. Only in recent years have the battery ranges for electric vehicles improved enough, and the costs dropped enough, to make them a pragmatic option for most consumers.

Squilla also argued that the moratorium on new EV parking spots will force Council to come up with a better plan for promoting plug-in hybrids and electrics.

Novick called the move a nonsensical bait-and-switch, arguing that the new parking hour rules will actually exacerbate parking shortages.

“If we’re unable to park there…we will need to park somewhere else — that means in a non-EV spot,” said Novick. “I’m going to have to watch out the window waiting for somebody to move their car. That means that if and when that person moves, I’ll need to jockey to my car to go and move it back into the spot so I can charge it.”

“At the same time, if i’m unable to do so for whatever reason after 6 o’clock, that individual that is currently parked in the EV spot would be moving. If I’m unable to move my car back that means I’m taking up a non-EV parking spot while the EV parking spot goes unused during the exact hours when parking demand is at its highest.”

Lisa McGinty, an emergency room physician at Roxoborough Memorial Hospital who lives in East Passyunk Crossing, says the limited hours simply won’t work for her schedule. “I work at odd hours so i’m charging in the day, sometimes at night,” she said. “If i can’t charge that car, it’s going to be difficult for me.”

Squilla and Oh’s bill passed by an 11 to 6 vote — unusually contentious for Philly’s chummy city council. In explaining his no vote, Councilman Derek Green questioned what kind of signal the moratorium would send to green businesses.

A bad one, says Saleem Chapman, policy director for the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia. Citing the city’s innovative stormwater management plan and sustainable business tax credit, Chapman said Philadelphia had been establishing itself “at the forefront of the sustainable economy.”

“For such a long time, Philly has gotten it and has really been a leader in this way,” said Chapman. “But this policy is certainly a step back in a lot of ways.”

Mayor Kenney, who coincidentally sponsored the EV parking legislation when he was still in council, has until the end of the week to either sign the bill or veto it.  As of Tuesday morning, the online petition had around 400 signatures.

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