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.

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