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Sep 042008

By John DeFore

Add this to the list of “pros” when weighing the purchase of a hybrid car: It might get you a better parking spot.

More and more around the country, retailers, employers and cities are toying with the idea of setting aside prime parking spots for hybrid drivers. Just last month, the Houston Chronicle ran a piece citing trials by big box retailers like Home Depot and Office Depot; the Austin American-Statesman found a gym that allotted a whopping 30 spots for green cars, and Suffolk County, NY legislator Wayne Horsley proposed a law to establish “hybrid-only” spaces at all county facilities.

The trend has stoked debate among drivers, raising some questions of pure self-interest — after the disabled-permit spots, the ones set aside for mothers with small kids, the green ones and the loading/unloading area, where am I going to park? — and others of a more conceptual bent. Some designations, for instance, may be short-sighted in their ahead-of-the-curve-ness: If a sign says a space is “reserved for hybrid vehicles only,” does that mean a do-it-yourselfer’s all-electric plug-in car would be shunned? There’s also the fact that the most efficient conventional cars get better mileage than some hybrids.

Los Angeles, whose years-long green parking policies have been threatened lately, answered that latter concern by doling out stickers that certified vehicles on a model-by-model basis to use H.O.V. freeway lanes (another can of worms); Seattle offers a different kind of conservationist incentive by giving certified carpool groups discounted parking downtown.

But debates over the fairness and desirability of these policies may be irrelevant when it comes to retail parking lots where they’re not enforced. As the American-Statesman reporter observed when visiting that green-minded gym, “at 5:30 p.m. on a recent weekday, 15 of the spots were taken by heavy pickups or SUVs, including one by the poster-boy for gas-guzzling, a Hummer.”

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