Mayor John DeStefano Jr. is currently working with several members of the Board of Aldermen to craft a proposal that would offer free parking in downtown New Haven to owners of hybrid-powered vehicles. The initiative will be communicated to the Board of Aldermen Feb. 7.
If passed by the board, at the earliest in March or April, the proposal would allow hybrid vehicle owners to get special permits enabling them to park their cars for free in the city’s metered spaces. It would also be up to the Board of Aldermen to decide whether the free parking would be limited to New Haven residents or open to hybrid vehicles registered in other cities.
No other city on the East Coast has passed such legislation, though it is already in place in Albuquerque, N.M., and San Jose, Calif.
According to the mayor’s office, promoting hybrid vehicles is part of an effort to improve New Haven’s air quality.
“We want to use this as sort of a visible statement that we want to encourage these cleaner technologies,” said Rob Smuts ’01, DeStefano’s deputy chief of staff. “It provides information that this is a technology that we want to be supporting.”
The mayor’s office is waiting until February to present the proposal in order to incorporate the results of the annual update to the city’s automobile grand list, which includes data on the number of hybrid vehicles registered in the city. According to Smuts, there were 30 such cars in New Haven as of last February.
Some city residents have raised concerns that the proposal benefits the wealthy because hybrids are new, relatively expensive cars that cannot be purchased by the poor, who stand to benefit most from getting free parking.
But Smuts said the purpose of the initiative is to promote clean air technology, which benefits everyone in the city.
Still, Republican Town Committee Chairman Richter Elser ’81 said he doubted such a measure would have any real impact.
“I think it’s kind of a foolish idea,” Elser said. “I don’t really see people rushing out to buy hybrid cars just because of free parking. I think what the city would benefit from is having more parking in downtown to make it easier for businesses to attract customers.”
Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04, whose ward includes most of Yale’s campus, said though he is waiting to see the specifics of the mayor’s proposal, he agrees with it in principle.
“To me it sounds like a great initiative to sort of raise awareness,” Healey said. “It sounds like the fiscal impact is pretty small, and my sense is that it’s part of a larger policy within the city towards figuring out how we can be a leader on environmental issues.”
The proposal will include a provision to enable the Board of Aldermen to alter the policy after a set time period if there is a significant increase in the number of hybrid vehicles, Smuts said.
“If this technology really gets a foothold, that sort of negates the reason for this [legislation],” Smuts said. “We’re hoping hybrid technology is so successful that it doesn’t need incentives.”
DeStefano has emphasized the environment throughout his time in office, promoting previous clean air initiatives like the creation of new bicycle lanes.
In May, the mayor replaced his Lincoln Navigator sport-utility vehicle with a Toyota Prius hybrid to reduce pollutant emissions. But some of DeStefano’s critics, including Elser, have called the mayor’s new vehicle a publicity stunt designed to bolster his campaign for Connecticut governor. Both vehicles were paid for by the city.
DeStefano could not be reached for comment.