Mayor Karl Dean has announced his vision to make Nashville the “Greenest City in the Southeast,” and his Green Ribbon Committee on Environmental Sustainability spent much time and energy putting together a report last year that outlined several strategies to achieve this goal. Among them was the recommendation to “issue window stickers that provide free meter parking for clean-technology vehicles.”
Cities like Albuquerque, N.M., and San Antonio already have such a policy in place. Last month, Councilmen Mike Jameson, Erik Cole and I sponsored a bill to join their ranks, and discussion has begun.
Free Parking for Green Vehicles: Drain on city coffers? Nope. Benefit only for the rich? No way. Hard to enforce? Not really.
County Clerk John Arriola determined that 6 percent of Davidson County vehicles meet the U.S. EPA standards to receive the “Drive Green, Park Free” sticker. Projections for the current fiscal year anticipate that Metro will receive approximately $2 million in revenues from parking meters. Assuming that drivers of fuel-efficient vehicles park at meters at a rate proportional to their share of the registered vehicles in the county (i.e. 6 percent) — which is likely high since many who park at meters come from outside of the county, and since it’s unlikely that 100 percent of eligible vehicle drivers will participate in the program — we would lose approximately $120,000 in meter revenues. However, if we charge $5 per vehicle annually for the stickers, we will pick up as much as $175,000 in new revenue. Anticipating some funds will be dedicated to administrative costs, the city still comes out slightly in the black while moving closer to the green.
So, if green-vehicle drivers will put more money into stickers than they currently put into meters, why would they participate? Wouldn’t you rather pay $5 upfront, one time, instead of shuffling through your console for quarters every time you park? Once armed with a “Drive Green, Park Free” sticker, fuel-efficient vehicle drivers will likely utilize meters more frequently than they do now. We have untapped capacity in many places during most hours of meter operation, so this extra utilization isn’t likely to cause other parkers to be significantly less likely to have a place to park.
Beyond looking at meter-versus-sticker revenues, the cost to the city if we don’t take on programs like green parking has to be considered. Next month, the federal government will begin handing down revised air-quality mandates to municipalities. Due to these new requirements, cities will look further than tighter regulation of large stationary emission sources (e.g. industrial plants) and more toward mobile emission sources (e.g. the family car) to achieve the new clean-air standards.
Some opponents of the bill have charged that it would unfairly benefit affluent drivers who can afford to drive “expensive hybrids.” The proposed legislation doesn’t reward drivers simply for using hybrid technology. Instead, it rewards drivers with vehicles that score a minimum of seven on both greenhouse gas and air pollution controls, and a total combined score of 16 or better on the EPA’s Green Vehicle Guide (www.epa.gov/greenvehicles ). Eligible vehicles include several affordable gasoline compacts, including the Ford Focus, the VW Beetle and the Honda Accord. Not eligible, meanwhile, are the larger hybrids, like the Hybrid GMC Yukon and the Hybrid Chevrolet Tahoe.
Questions have also been raised about enforcement. Metro Code already prohibits drivers from refilling the meter and leaving a vehicle past the meter maximum. The proposed legislation allows green vehicles to park for the meter maximum, so presumably drivers parking in excess of the meter maximum — sticker or not — would be monitored and penalized within the exact same system.
Details aside, this bill sends a strong message about who we are as a city and how much we value environmental stewardship.