"Electric vehicles are here. They’re coming, and they won’t stop." Last night, DOT Deputy Commissioner Bruce Schaller opened a panel discussion on electric car adoption in New York City with an implicit message: We should be prepared.
At a meeting that brought together representatives from the mayor’s office, two electric utilities, and General Motors, there were two big takeaways for livable streets: The city is working to keep electric vehicle adoption compatible with the goal of reducing personal vehicle use, and on-street space isn’t going to be given over to charging stations.
A variety of plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars are expected to hit the market in the next two years, presenting both challenges and opportunities for sustainability-minded cities. Schaller began the evening by noting that, nationally, widespread adoption of plug-in hybrids could take the greenhouse gas equivalent of 82.5 million cars off the road. With numbers like that, New York can’t help but take notice.
"In 2007, electric vehicles were just a glimmer in our eye," said Neal Parikh, who leads transportation initiatives at the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability. "Now we think it’s a real opportunity." He believes that if New York is to meet its PlaNYC goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation 44 percent by 2030, electric cars have to be part of the solution. Parikh was the lead author of the city’s recent report on electric vehicle adoption.
While moving toward EVs will require action from the city and other players, including car companies and utilities, Parikh forcefully rejected any measure that would take away from PlaNYC’s other transportation goals. While Britta Gross, a GM manager in charge of electric and hydrogen vehicle development, repeatedly claimed that allowing EVs into carpool lanes and offering them free or dedicated parking have proven effective at speeding EV adoption, Parikh said not to expect those offers in New York City. One of his slides put parking incentives directly under the heading "Won’t Work."
Parikh’s reasoning was simple. He neither wants to give superfluous perks to those who will buy EVs anyway, nor offer incentives that will put more cars on city streets. The city will help educate drivers about EV opportunities and expedite the permitting process for installing a high-voltage charging station, for example, but not offer financial incentives to buy EVs.
"We need to balance moving people into more efficient vehicles, and into walking, transit, or bikes," said Parikh. He also reaffirmed that PlaNYC was "very clear that we wanted to reduce the single-occupancy vehicles on the street." Parikh even cited Copenhagen’s outsized EV incentives as a model for what not to do, echoing a theme Charles Komanoff recently explored on Streetsblog.
The panel also answered a common question about electric cars. Where would New Yorkers charge them? The answer: at home or at work, not on city streets. "We’re not going to adopt an extensive public charging infrastructure," said Parikh. If someone really wants to drive an EV, he added, and "they’re parking on the streets, where they won’t have access to charging, they’ll change where they park."