Ordinance would exempt electric cars from Las Vegas parking fees

Electric car drivers wouldn't have to plug meters in Las Vegas if the City Council approves a proposed ordinance, a move that would leave the city to deal with a small loss of revenue.

The ordinance, approved Tuesday by the council Recommending Committee, would exempt electric cars such as the Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf from paying to park at metered spots on the street or in city garages.

It won't cost much to provide the perk in the short term because there are so few electric cars on the street, but city officials wondered whether it could turn into an expensive subsidy in the future as more people buy the vehicles.

"Maybe this isn't a good ordinance for the sake of fees in the long run," said Councilman Ricki Barlow after learning the city depends on parking meters for about $1.7 million in revenue annually. Barlow softened his stance after learning the ordinance would expire after six years and voted in favor of the measure.

However, even if Barlow opposed the plan, city officials don't have a choice.

The ordinance is the result of a state mandate contained in Assembly Bill 511, which passed the Legislature earlier this year.

It requires local governments to allow people to park qualified vehicles "in any public metered parking zone within the jurisdiction of the local authority without depositing a coin" to pay for parking.

It allows local governments to charge up to $10 to issue permits for qualified vehicles.

The bill was sponsored by the Assembly Transportation Committee, which is led by Assemblywoman Marilyn Dondero Loop, D-Las Vegas. Dondero Loop did not return a call for comment.

The new ordinance would apply only to four-wheeled vehicles that are manufactured for use on public streets, can drive at least 70 mph, are propelled "to a significant extent by an electric motor" powered by a battery with at least four kilowatt hours of storage and can be recharged from an external source, like a plug.

Such requirements exclude hybrid vehicles, such as the Toyota Prius.

Lloyd Reece, an electric car enthusiast who is on a waiting list to buy a Nissan Leaf, said the move would be good news for people planning to head downtown in an electric vehicle, but such a modest perk is unlikely to change behavior by prompting people to switch from a gasoline or hybrid vehicle to a pure electric model.

"It is a nice gesture. I'm not sure if it is a deal-breaker or not," Reece said.

Reece said the lack of public charging stations, not the cost of parking, is an impediment to carmakers' ability to juice demand for electric vehicles, though the majority of car trips are short.

"You don't anticipate you are going to be able to charge somewhere on the road," Reece said. "If you have 30 miles of range, your trip is 30 miles."

A potential loss of parking revenue should electric cars surge in popularity wasn't the only issue city officials worried about with the state mandate.

Councilman Bob Coffin, who recently bought a Chevy Volt, worried that electric car drivers could take advantage of the situation by parking all day at city meters .

Although the state law allows the city to enforce maximum time limits, Coffin worried that electric car drivers could occupy a parking spot for an entire work shift without paying.

"This becomes an unintended consequence they didn't foresee," Coffin said.

The proposed ordinance will be eligible for adoption at the Dec. 21 council meeting. 

Parking Services Manager Brandy Stanley said the city could have a system to issue decals and set up an enforcement mechanism in time for the new requirements to go into effect Jan. 1.

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-229-6435.