Despite San Jose’s lofty goal to reduce its carbon footprint, City Hall is eliminating a program that incentivizes people to drive electric vehicles.
The city’s clean air parking permit program that provides free parking for electric vehicles at city-owned parking lots and on-street parking meters, is sunsetting at the end of June. The program began in 2001.
But city officials and environmentalists defend the decision to end the program — and say they hope it pushes people to get out of their cars, despite the South Bay’s disconnected public transit system.
“Twenty years ago, this program made sense,” Shiloh Ballard, executive director of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition, told San José Spotlight. “But any solution that is keeping us tethered to having to get in the car and drive everywhere is not a long term solution.”
As part of the program, electric vehicles purchased in San Jose with valid carpool lane stickers could get another sticker from the city that allows free parking at any city-owned garage, facility or on the streets.
The program was created to encourage the early adoption and purchase of clean air vehicles. Initially the program was for hybrid vehicles. As the technology changed, the program switched to zero emission cars only.
“(Electric vehicles) are no longer this burgeoning technology,” said Arian Collen, parking manager in the city’s department of transportation. “It’s well founded, it’s available in almost every make and model and now there’s hundreds of different options out there so it makes sense to sunset.”
California leads the nation with the most e-vehicles — surpassing the next top 10 states in the country combined — and accounts for more than 42% of all electric cars in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Santa Clara County, the former home of Tesla’s Palo-Alto headquarters, has more than 75,000 registered e-vehicles, according to city documents.
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Collen said the existing program no longer aligns with the city’s vision.
The program is costing the city $100,000 in annual revenue from the free parking, according to Collen, and incentivizes residents to drive instead of using public transit. It also goes against equity goals because e-vehicles are usually owned by wealthier residents, city officials said.
“We’re both trying to improve the environment through greener, more sustainable transportation options. We’re also trying to keep traffic in check as the city grows,” Collen told San José Spotlight. “We pretty explicitly said we’re not going to be adding automobile capacity. We’re going to be adding better places to walk, better places to bike. We’re going to be supporting the expansion of transit.”
The city is also ending various parking incentives that provided free or significantly reduced rates for employee parking and for new or relocating businesses and tenants.
Environmentalists like Ballard say all cars, regardless of emission status, pollute the environment.
She said San Jose’s long-term goals are to build more walkable communities known as urban villages, increase transit and make streets safer for bikers, pedestrians and drivers – and those are mores sustainable solutions for the environment.
“The No. 1 barrier to people getting out of the car and onto a bike is fear, so we have to make the roads more safe,” Ballard said. “The No. 1 barrier to not using public transit is time, so we need to make to expand its reach.”
The 2001 permit program was also meant to incentivize residents to come downtown and spur economic activity. Collen said he doesn’t anticipate the program’s end will have much economic impact, despite downtown struggling with closed storefronts and a loss of foot traffic from workers. If residents are concerned about parking costs, he said buses and VTA light rail are effective alternatives in the city’s downtown core.
“No matter how environmentally friendly electric or hydrogen-powered cars are, cars still take up too much crucial space on our roads, offices, neighborhood streets & homes,” said Alex Shoor, executive director of Catalyze SV. “The parking conversation in San Jose is changing in 2022 for the better.”
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