It was only a few weeks ago that the Metro Council enacted a new law that will allow drivers of environmentally friendly vehicles to park free at downtown city meters beginning July 1.
Eventually, the financial incentive could be offered to drivers of all registered Davidson County vehicles.
At-large Councilman Charlie Tygard, who had criticized the new law as elitist, is pushing a plan that would extend free downtown meter parking to any Nashville driver willing to pay for credits to offset the carbon footprint that her or his particular vehicle emits.
The bill, which the council is set to consider on the second of three votes later this month, is likely to be deferred for a few meetings to continue research, Tygard indicated. The impetus behind the ordinance is to offer the incentive those who don’t drive hybrid, biofuel or electric vehicles, which Tygard and other council members have said are more expensive than traditional automobiles.
“I just wanted to get it on people’s minds that there was a different way to go about the free parking that allowed any citizen and every citizen to participate if they so choose, and it wasn’t tied to some fancy hybrid car,” Tygard said.
The city’s new free parking law, spearheaded by lead sponsor Councilman Jason Holleman, will work as a two-year pilot program, allowing drivers of clean-technology vehicles to park for no cost at any of downtown Nashville’s 700 parking meters. Six percent of all Davidson County automobiles –– about 35,000 cars –– are eligible.
To take advantage of the plan, Davidson County residents will have to pay an annual $10 processing fee to the Davidson County Clerk’s Office to receive a sticker indicating that their vehicle is authorized to park free.
Tygard, who first mentioned his proposal while addressing Holleman’s bill on the council floor last month, said his plan would rely on a special formula to determine the level of carbon emissions a vehicle produces. He said other cities nationwide have adopted policies similar to the one he’s proposing.
“If you’re willing to contribute into a carbon-offset fund that would more than offset the amount of vehicle emissions you produce, then the idea would be you, too, could qualify for this $10 parking sticker,” Tygard said.
Under the plan, either a nonprofit entity or Metro would oversee the carbon-offset fund, Tygard said. Dollars would be used to pay for things like trees or wetlands mitigation in order to counter vehicular carbon emission in Nashville.
“It may take 10 trees for you to mitigate the amount of carbon your vehicle produces,” Tygard said, using a hypothetical. “So, [a citizen] contributes $100 that buys 10 $10 trees that will get planted somewhere on public land that will eat up enough carbon that [his or her] vehicle produces.”
Roy Dale, a former Metro councilman who recently launched a carbon-offset fund called Earthcredits, said like-minded groups use their resources to essentially turn carbon into oxygen. Besides trees and vegetation, he said carbon-offset funds sometimes pay for projects involving clean-energy wind farms or capturing gas from landfills.
Dale said his first project with Earthcredits –– which hasn’t taken off just yet –– is the restoration of Ewing Creek’s floodplain in north Nashville through enhanced vegetation and wetlands.
Using a carbon-offset formula found at Carbonfund.org, a 2002 Honda Civic owner who drives 15,000 miles per year would pay a annual offset of $41.58 per year. Using the same formula and yearly mileage, a driver of a 2002 Ford F150 pick-up truck would pay a carbon offset of $73.92 per year.
The formula in Tygard’s bill still isn’t defined.
As was the case with Holleman’s initiative, part of the inspiration behind Tygard’s bill is Mayor Karl Dean’s Green Ribbon Committee, which recommended the creation of a carbon-offset program.
Holleman called Tygard’s bill an “interesting idea” but said there are a few logistical issues that need to be addressed.
For starters, Holleman said Tygard’s proposal should ideally be in sync with the newly enacted law so that “one consolidated sticker” is issued for both programs. Under its current language, the Metro Public Works Department would issue the sticker with Tygard’s plan while Holleman’s plan will turn to the Davidson County Clerk’s Office for the same task.
Holleman also said the government must be careful it selects a reliable non-profit if it opts to go that route instead of managing the carbon-offset fund itself.
“I would like to hear from Charlie about how he envisions how we would go about making sure that people really are getting what they pay for from these nonprofits,” he said.