Traverse City News and Events

Topic Of Downtown Parking For Electric Cars Is Charged

By Craig Manning | Aug. 29, 2019

As more electric vehicles hit the roads, is Traverse City prepared to handle the increase? Downtown’s parking policies, for instance, date back to the beginnings of electric cars, prompting some to call for updates.

Last year, the United States surpassed one million electric vehicles on the road, encompassing all both battery electric vehicles (BEVs), which run only on batteries only; and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), which incorporate both batteries and onboard gas engines.

The first road-legal electric car in the U.S. was the Tesla Roadster, a BEV sports car that debuted in 2008. Even before that, though, Traverse City was planning for the future of electric cars. In May 2007, an ordinance took effect enabling all fully electric cars “to park at City parking meters at no cost.” The ordinance, which is still on the books today, did not extend to hybrid vehicles and required that drivers still observe any time restrictions on parking spaces.

In 2009, the city went further, installing four charging stations at the Old Town Parking Deck.

Since then, seven more charging stations have been added at the Larry C. Hardy Parking Garage. Jean Derenzy, CEO for the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), says the DDA has also considered adding on-street metered charging stations, but that doing so may be cost prohibitive. “Our issue is that we do not have an electric meter in the lots,” she says. “We would need to run power, install the stations, and install a meter for billing.”

Despite Traverse City’s efforts to embrace electric vehicle technology, some drivers believe local policies are due for an update.

Todd Norris drives his Chevy Volt to his downtown job every day. The car is classified as a PHEV; it has a gas generator but also uses a battery with a 40-mile driving range. The gas generator only kicks in when the battery is drained, and only to charge the batteries. Norris says the car averages 160 miles per gallon, simply because he is diligent about charging whenever he gets a chance. In the warmer months, when battery capacity isn’t going toward heating the car, he says he can go six months without even visiting a gas station.

The 11 charging stations downtown have made Norris’s life easier, but he also says the way the spaces are regulated can be confusing and discourages the potential growth of electric cars locally. One issue is the prevalence of “squatters” – electric vehicle drivers who leave their cars plugged in all day and monopolize the few spots in town. According to a Traverse City Parking Services representative, “there is nothing currently in the parking policy that prohibits [drivers] from staying in those spaces.”

“In the Old Town Parking Deck, if you have a pass, you can park there 24/7,” Norris says. “There’s no time limit like there is on the metered spaces. Someone could theoretically plug in at one of those spots and leave their car there indefinitely. And I’ve noticed that there are two cars that are there every day, all day.”

Norris has approached Parking Services about changing the policy so the city can ticket squatters. ChargePoint, the charging platform the city uses, is linked to an app that notifies a user when their vehicle is fully charged. It is considered standard policy in the electric vehicle world to bill squatters extra. In 2016, Tesla instituted a policy that fines drivers 40 cents for every minute they monopolize a Supercharger after their batteries are fully charged.
Norris is also interested in seeing an update to the 2007 ordinance that would extend free charging to plug-in hybrids, in part because the technology came along later.

“In 2007, when these regulations were implemented, PHEVs didn't even exist,” Norris says. “The Chevy Volt wasn't on the road until 2010.”

Downtown’s Derenzy agrees the ordinance is outdated. Rather than update the policy to include PHEVs, though, the DDA might eliminate the exemption entirely.

“When the ordinance was added in 2007, electric and hybrid cars were fairly new,” she says. “The ordinance states the car must be ‘fully’ electric, and very few drivers were actually benefitting from the free [early on]. Now, there are more fully electric cars and it is becoming cumbersome. Staff are not familiar with each make and model, so they call in and we have to Google. We have voided multiple tickets, due to officers not knowing the vehicle was fully electric or forgetting the ordinance.”

Derenzy says that as awareness of the ordinance has grown, so too have the problems around it. When the policy was established, the goal was to encourage the local adoption of energy-efficient vehicles. Now, Derenzy says it tends to get abused. “Downtown employees that know this ordinance exists are parking all day at meters rather than purchasing a permit, which was not the intent,” she tells The Ticker. In addition, the DDA gets regular calls from individuals asking why it is “subsidizing free parking for some but not all.”

Derenzy says that the future of the ordinance will be a topic of discussion at the October or November meeting of the DDA Parking Subcommittee.

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