City Council Hasn't Passed Electric Charging Station Moratorium, But Agencies Already Acting Like They Did

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(Photo: Philadelphia Inquirer)

As we wrote two weeks ago, City Councilmembers Mark Squilla (D-District 1) and David Oh (Republican At-Large) are pushing a code amendment that would place a moratorium on new curbside electric vehicle charging stations. The moratorium passed the Committee on Streets and Services already, but not the full Council. Yet we are hearing that city agencies and the Philadelphia Parking Authority are already enforcing the moratorium even though Council hasn't actually done anything yet, with 12 electric vehicle owners' applications waiting in limbo.

The backstory is that about 10 years ago, City Council amended the city Code to allow residents with electric cars to install charging stations at the curb in front of their houses on their own dime. The charging stations would be funded entirely with private dollars from homeowners, but would have to remain public parking spaces shared with other electric vehicle users. 

In practice, with so few electric car owners in the city, this meant creating temporarily private parking spaces in the public right-of-way. But as the number of electric vehicle users increases, in theory people will end up sharing them more often. The law was since amended to limit the number of private spaces (whether for electric vehicle charging, handicapped parking spaces, etc) on a block to six in total, and just two for electric vehicles. 

The purpose of the program was to increase the number of electric vehicle charging stations around the city without spending public money on it, in hopes that more people would start using environmentally-friendly (in some respects) electric vehicles. There's a chicken-and-egg problem with growing the number of electric vehicles since they need places to charge. It's hard to scale them without first standing up a network of charging stations. (Imagine if electric vehicles were the norm at first, and someone proposed creating a network of petroleum fueling stations for the gas-fueled vehicles of the future. It would be expensive and take a long time to roll out.)

For most of the last 10 years, nobody really used the program, but since 2012 more people have been doing it, and there are now 56 charging stations around town. So the program is succeeding in its intended aims, albeit in a small way, but even that small amount of success is freaking out the parking NIMBYs, who are urging Councilmembers to shut it down. Patient Zero is alleged to be the electric charging station at 2nd and Pine Streets, in Mark Squilla's district.

All that's happened so far is that Council's Streets and Services Committee had one public hearing on the moratorium and passed it out of committee, but we're hearing that city agencies and the Philadelphia Parking Authority are already acting like the bill has passed the full Council.

Twelve people who have paid to install charging stations and gotten their permits are in limbo and being denied signage from the city--again, even though Council hasn't done anything yet.

Debbie Lewis of Generation 3 Electric, a local business that has installed the charging stations for homeowners, reports hearing from clients that they're already getting the runaround from Streets and the PPA.

According to Lewis's clients, City agencies have essentially frozen out all of the pending applicants, are already refusing new applicants, and are even stalling out the renewal process for existing participants, so people who already have legal charging stations are getting caught up in this pre-moratorium chicanery too. Lewis has confirmed one participant already had her signs removed by the Streets Department after her renewal was processed a little late. 

Let that sink in: Council has taken no official action on a moratorium, but the agencies are already enforcing a moratorium in anticipation of the possible legal change. This begs the question of how much Councilmanic prerogative is corrupting the usual by-right city permitting process under normal circumstances.

Whether you ultimately agree or disagree with the electric vehicle charging station policy--and there are good points on both sides--the only position that's totally unacceptable is discretionary enforcement of the rules on the books. City Councilmembers are free to vote to change whichever laws they want, but until the full Council votes to change the law, everybody who gets an application in before the buzzer should get approved. 

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  • commented 2017-03-23 14:58:37 -0400
    One of my prospective EV charging installation customers just reported that Council held another hearing March 21st, and made the moratorium on new curbside reserved EV parking spaces (EVPS) permanent. They also amended law to retroactively impact existing EVPS stakeholders with limited hours for their reserved parking. Many vehicle owners on a Facebook interest group around this issue, are pretty upset that they will find themselves parked-out of charging mid-day, which they currently often need to do. https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=philly%20evps