Free Parking for Electric Cars Is a Bad Idea Any Day of the Week

In a city where street space is at a premium, parking incentives for EVs are the wrong way to go.

With or without tailpipe emissions, cars are an inefficient use of scarce city street space that should prioritize walking, biking, or transit instead. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
With or without tailpipe emissions, cars are an inefficient use of scarce city street space that should prioritize walking, biking, or transit instead. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

A proposal from two City Council members to incentivize electric car ownership with free parking may be well-intentioned, but it’s a terrible idea.

Intro 1602, sponsored by Mark Levine and Costa Constantinides, would let drivers of electric vehicles park for free in metered spaces on Saturdays. It’s a small gesture meant to encourage more New Yorkers to buy electric cars. There are currently just over 2,000 EVs registered in NYC, according to Levine.

But in a city where street space is at a premium and most people get around without driving, it’s a small gesture that takes us in the wrong direction. As Charles Komanoff wrote for Streetsblog when Denmark decided to waive parking fees for electric cars in downtown Copenhagen, it’s a policy that “will take mode share from cycling, walking and transit.”

The parking equation is straightforward. Giving away metered parking causes people to consume more parking, and to circle streets in search of free spaces for longer, generating more traffic and congestion. That means buses move slower and walking and biking become less appealing. The greenest modes — and the ones that enable the city to function without freezing up in gridlock — will get crowded out.

In 2010, the Bloomberg administration rejected parking incentives for electric vehicle owners as contrary to the city’s goal of reducing car traffic. Even as an inducement to buy electric, free parking makes no sense: Any perks would be “superfluous” for people already inclined to purchase electric vehicles, Neil Parikh of the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability said at the time.

New Yorkers have low carbon footprints in large part because because we already make most trips without getting in a car. Tilting the playing field toward driving is the wrong way to go, regardless of whether the vehicle emits carbon from the tailpipe. That was true in 2010 and it remains true today.

  • JudenChino

    It’s like they should already then have dedicated street parking for people who bike commute as that uses up even less fossil fuels! It’s not easy cramming bikes into one’s apartment.

  • Elizabeth F

    The original point of parking meters was never to take peoples’ money or put a “price on parking.” It was to ensure that people patronizing the local merchants will be able to by park, by making it hard for people to park in those spaces all day. Allowing anyone to park without paying the meter — and therefore by overstaying the meter — would work against that purpose.

    As long as e-cars have to get a parking receipt just like everyone else and can’t overstay, it’s probably not the worst idea ever.

  • Reader

    “There are currently just over 2,000 EVs registered in NYC, according to Levine.”

    Has anyone considered that a lot of EV owners may do what owners of gas-powered cars do and register their cars to cousins in Pennsylvania and North Carolina or to summer homes in upstate New York and Vermont?

  • bolwerk

    It’s not like these people who demand special privileges for these “green” cars aren’t creating traffic that causes the gas guzzlers to waste more energy, not to mention everyone else’s time.

  • reasonableexplanation

    If you want to encourage electric cars over gas cars something like this (but maybe not this) is needed. At the moment you can only really own an EV in NYC if you live in a house and can run electricity out to your driveway. If you’re an apartment dweller and use street parking you’re out of luck, so due to this EV’s aren’t really getting the traction in NYC that they could be getting, which is a shame, as the city is perfect place for these cars.

    I mean, I guess if your’re 100% against private cars in cities in general, opposing these sorts of incentives makes sense. But honestly, c’mon guys.

  • Free parking does nothing to solve the charging problem you just described. Try again.

  • Andrew

    If you want to encourage electric cars over gas cars something like this (but maybe not this) is needed.

    I don’t want to encourage cars at all. Electric cars may have less of an environmental impact than gas cars, but they have the same impacts on space and on safety.

    We already encourage cars in general (electric and gas alike) by paying for street maintenance and operations out of general city revenues, by giving away free space on city streets to all drivers while their cars are in motion and to most while their cars are parked, and by completely ignoring the environmental and safety impacts. Whether I drive a car, I ride the subway or bus, I cycle, I walk, or I simply stay home, I pay exactly the same into the street system, aside from the cost of parking at a significant minority of parking spaces.

    If all of these costs were internalized, then I’d certainly agree to reduce the environmental impact charge for vehicles that have less of an environmental impact. But we’re nowhere close to that point. We already greatly incentivize driving over the use of other modes; I don’t see why we should even further incentivize driving in some types of car. Yes, I’d rather you use an electric car than a gas car – but I’d rather you use a different mode entirely than any kind of car.

  • Joe R.

    NYC should encourage electric cars—by mandating that any vehicle driven within city limits after some reasonable date (2025?) must be zero emissions. That includes heavy trucks, and it includes any vehicles operating on highways within NYC. By doing this NYC will essentially create a HUGE captive market for EVs, and this in turn will give auto makers exactly the incentive they need to finally start mass producing them. Once EVs are mass produced, it’s certain they will cost less than gas cars. This in turn will mean they’ll probably outsell gas cars in the entire country. If a few other big cities follow NYC’s lead, then we could spur a turnover to EVs nationally in a much shorter time frame than would otherwise happen. I would love it if the only place you can see an ICE vehicle by about 2030 is in a museum.

  • guest

    Four-wheeled EV’s: Deserve free parking
    Two-wheeled EV’s: Deserve to be confiscated by NYPD

  • Elizabeth F

    Yes, great idea… and you can go out there and spend an hour a day twice a week moving your bike for alternate-side street cleaning. But actually, they already do have dedicated street parking for bikes… they’re called bike racks, and there are some scattered around. And you can park your bike there for as long as you like, without paying a meter. Even overnight, if you dare…

  • HamTech87

    There are bike racks in NYC? I’ve seen very few of them.

  • AnoNYC

    Just 2,000 EVs. Pathetically low. What is there, like three million registered autos in this city. I saw many EVs on my last visit to CA.

    That said, I don’t think this is the right move.

  • reasonableexplanation

    I think you’re wrong. Right now the biggest barrier for switching to an EV for most drivers in the city (self included) is lack of places to charge nightly.

    Right now if I got an EV, I would have nowhere to charge it basically, so it would make my life more difficult compared to my current ICE car. I’d have to make special trips a few times a week to charge points and leave my car there for hours each time; which is a non-starter for me.

    However, if a dedicated on-street charging spot was available, i would consider switching. If it was also free parking, I would switch in a heartbeat. I hardly think I’m unique in this respect.

  • reasonableexplanation

    The numbers here are low because in CA many folks still live in private homes with driveways, where you can park and charge an EV overnight. If you’re an apartment dweller in NY, where are you going to charge your EV without going out of your way?

    In that sense I think NYC will massively lag behind the suburbs in EV adoption, which is a shame.

  • reasonableexplanation

    I hear ya (though I may not agree). However, there’s a realpolitic element at play, no?

    Take the federal subsidy for electric cars; $6,500. Does it encourage car over other modes? Sure. Did it also jump-start the EV movement here in the US? Yup. So was the end result of EV’s being a thing now worth it? I think so.

    For the record, states with higher EV adoption also have a state level tax rebate for EV’s, something NY (sadly) lacks.

  • dpecs

    All snark aside, it’d be pretty cool to see some European-style bike garages come to New York at some point

  • Elizabeth F

    > NYC should encourage electric cars—by mandating that any vehicle driven
    within city limits after some reasonable date (2025?) must be zero
    emissions.

    Not possible. You cannot prohibit cars from passing through. But CA can require that cars REGISTERED in the state are zero-emissions; and NY state can follow suit.

  • Elizabeth F

    Most of the parking in NYC — that in residential areas — is already free. Free parking meters means that people with (electric) cars would be allowed to clog up business districts all day, at least on Saturdays. This won’t help get chargers closer to your home, and it won’t help the local merchants. It’s just bad policy.

  • Elizabeth F

    > If you’re an apartment dweller in NY, where are you going to charge your EV without going out of your way?

    Some apartment buildings have off-street parking. You could start by setting up rules on how landlords and co-op boards are required to respond to requests for charge points. Just like the city recently set up rules guaranteeing bicycle parking access to places of work.

    > In that sense I think NYC will massively lag behind the suburbs in EV adoption, which is a shame.

    Not so bad because NYC cars get driven so much less, it doesn’t matter what they run on.

  • Elizabeth F

    I agree, cool. But there’s no point in them until existing parking spots are filled up. Which they are not, so far. I seem to always be able to securely park my bike within 1 block of wherever I’m going in Manhattan.

  • reasonableexplanation

    So let me give you one use case (mine):

    I live in a residential neighborhood in the boros. I work outside the city so I drive (a gas car). Like most residential neighborhoods, there’s free parking on the side streets and metered parking on the main commercial strips. On weekdays, no problem, I park either on the side street near my building, or if I get back too late and there is no space, a two blocks away on the main strip, since I leave before meters take effect anyway. The only issue is Friday night. If i get back too late and all of the non-metered spots are taken, that means I have to park on the metered street, wake up very early on Saturday morning and move my car to the free spots (By morning time there are always spots available).

    If there was a free parking, electric only spot that i could reasonably expect to get, I’d readily switch to electric.

    And that’s just my specific case. i’m sure you’ll find plenty of people with their own reasoning to why electric makes sense. So your end result would be less gas cars, and a spot of two per block reserved for EVs. Not a bad trade.

  • ohnonononono

    If the city want to incentivize EVs, this is not the way to do it. A better solution would be to use the off-street parking requirements in the zoning code to incentivize developers to offer EV charging parking by offering reductions in parking requirements.

  • Joe R.

    In order to be effective you would have to get at least NJ and CT on board as well. That said, on a federal level we can tighten emissions standards to the point that ICE vehicles will be unable to meet them. This would convert most of the fleet to EVs within a decade or so.

  • Elizabeth F
  • Elizabeth F

    I agree, that would be a good idea. Unfortunately, the proposal only allows “let drivers of electric vehicles park for free in metered spaces on Saturdays.” Pretty useless, IMHO.

  • reasonableexplanation

    Just like with speed cameras; where placing them exclusively near schools is only phase 1 in the desire to have them everywhere; you have to start somewhere.

  • reasonableexplanation

    >Some apartment buildings have off-street parking.
    And many do not. You can see how on a street with an apartment building or two, there is usually little to no street parking available at night.

    People that already have a garage spot can probably work something out with their building in regards to a charge point; but it would only be for them. A street charge point would serve more people.

    >NYC cars get driven so much less, it doesn’t matter what they run on.
    True from a climate change perspective, but not from an air quality and noise perspective. A city with majority EVs would be a more pleasant city.

  • reasonableexplanation

    NJ and CT also both over sizeable EV tax incentives; NY? zilch.

  • Vooch

    you can charge polluting vehicles a huge fee for passing through

  • Vooch

    how much would you pay for this ?

  • Vooch

    The DOT program for bike corrals is a great program.

  • Vooch

    the ones at GCT are the best –

    almost as good as the bike racks at every LIRR station

    or even the bike racks at Subway stations

    /s

  • Vooch

    Reasonable,

    I do enjoy your attempts at dialogue and measured responses to our positions. It’s good and healthy. Thank you.

    I don’t want to ban cars, just stop subsidizing their use. I believe we could cut VMT in half simply by eliminating subsidies for mass motoring. That would save around 20,000 lives every year.

    I also believe in Manhattan and much of the outer boros, streetspace needs to be reclaimed for humans. I want residential streets to be safe enough for children to play in the street.

  • EricNYC

    Hey, two things you got wrong :
    1) Fed EV tax credit=$7500
    2) NY DOES offer EV tax credit (just came out). It’s $2,000

  • EricNYC

    Wrong

  • reasonableexplanation

    Looked it up; NYS just started a $2k EV incentive as of April 1st! What a nice surprise 🙂 It’s about damn time!

  • reasonableexplanation

    The NY credit just took effect April 1st. It’s a nice surprise!

  • Misanthropik

    There are no ‘zero emissions’ vehicles unless an EV is charged from a zero emissions source. Currently 65% of U.S. electricity is generated from fossil fuels.

  • What would be a non-pathetic percentage? Bear in mind that at some percentage it is no longer possible to charge EVs from idle capacity and they will be charged at peak hours (and/or all hours will be peak hours), maximizing their impact.

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