City Council considers bill to suspend pro-electric vehicle program over parking complaints

City Council amended a controversial bill to suspend Philadelphia’s on-street electric vehicle parking permit program amid impassioned public testimony both in support and opposition to the bill.

The bill would put a moratorium on the issuance of new permits to convert a regular on-street parking spot into a spot only for electric vehicles (EV). Under a ten-year-old ordinance, if the owner of a plug-in electric or hybrid car doesn’t have a driveway or garage, they can apply for a permit to construct a curbside outlet for their EV. That also reserves the spot in front of that outlet EV-parking only.

The bill would also amend the existing law, making an EV spot available to all cars during the day (for two-hour parking between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.) and EV-only at night. The bill’s sponsor, Councilman-at-large David Oh, amended the legislation to limit the daytime non-EV vehicle parking to two hours.

Around a half-dozen residents spoke out both for and against the bill. Each side claims they are being treated unfairly.

The bill’s proponents cast the program as giving away a public parking space for just the $150 permit fee. While any EV vehicle can park in the EV-only spots, only the permit-holder can recharge their vehicle there. That effectively privatizes these curbside parking spots, supporters argued. That’s unfair, they say.

The bill’s opponents noted that they spent around $3,600 to install the EV outlet, not to mention the cost of a new car. Society Hill resident Mary Pisculli said she needs to recharge her Volvo XC90 between dropping her kids off at school in the morning and picking them up in the afternoon— the plug-in hybrid’s electric battery only has a range of around 14 miles. Even with the two-hour time limit on non-EVs, EV owners fear they’ll have a hard time re-charging their more expensive, but environmentally friendlier, cars. That’s unfair, they say.

The bill’s opponents also questioned the desire to tweak the existing legislation or place a moratorium on EV parking permits without a clear idea of how to address the lack of EV charging locations in the city, where most homes lack driveways. Plug-in Prius owner Debra Lewis-Lutz of Passyunk Square said the lack of a sunset provision in the proposed moratorium made it a de-facto permanent ban on new EV parking permits.  

This legislative fight is over 61 EV parking spots across the city. Society Hill Civic Association President Rosanne Loesch testified that around 75 percent of the EV spots are in the First Councilmanic District, which covers the neighborhoods along the Delaware from the River Wards to South Philly and is represented by Councilman Mark Squilla, a co-sponsor of the bill.

According to the Planning Commission’s 2015 inventory of parking garages and lots in Center City, there are 3,063 parking spots in Society Hill, not including on-street parking. Those spots had a 66.9 percent occupancy rate, lower than the 73.9 percent rate for Center City overall.

While 61 spots may be miniscule in a city where about 502,000 employed residents have access to one or more cars, it is a relatively large jump up from the 15 on-street EV permits issued by the PPA as of September 2015. Ironically, that small sign that the law’s goal of encouraging EV purchases may be what kills it.

The bill is now scheduled for a final vote next Thursday. If adopted, any additional amendments would further delay the final vote.

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