The Electric-Car Parking Debate Is About Power — but Not the Kind You Think

Why did the City Council of the nation's poorest big city spend three weeks trying to solve a First World problem?
via wellphoto/iStockphoto.com

via wellphoto/iStockphoto.com

Let me start this column on City Council’s decision to issue a moratorium on electric car charging station parking permits with a number: $40,000.

That number, in case you didn’t know, is the average price for an electric car.

Prices for electric cars, or EVs as they’re more commonly called, range from $22,995 (the Mitsubishi MiEV) to $140,000 (the Tesla Model X). While I’m guessing that these cars come with the level 2 chargers needed to make them go, the least expensive charger that I saw when I went on Google to look all of this up was $189.

While my membership in Enterprise Car Share allowed me to drive EVs like the Chevy Volt and hybrids like the Toyota Camry, I had never really thought about the price of buying and maintaining an electric car until the moratorium bill proposed by City Councilmen David Oh and Mark Squilla was passed on April 6th.

But in the middle of the third round of public comment on the bill that I had sat through since it was introduced to Council a few weeks earlier, I found myself getting more and more angry, and I couldn’t immediately pinpoint why.

Was it because this bill affects only 68 people directly? Maybe.

Was it because I was hungry and my 24-ounce Wawa French Vanilla coffee was starting to wear off? That’s a thought.

But in the end, I guess that the reason I was so annoyed by the end of the Council meeting was because I was watching a conga line of Philadelphia’s privileged complaining about losing the spaces for their electric cars in a city with a 26 percent poverty rate where some sit in darkness because they can’t pay their electric bills.

According to Councilman Oh, whom I spoke to after the Council meeting, he and Councilman Squilla asked for the moratorium to give the city the chance to put together a plan that would make electric car charging stations more accessible. They also want to give people the chance to learn how to install such stations.

But we didn’t get to hear about any of that over the din of those focused on the loss of their own personal parking spaces. One woman even asked Council to wait to decide on the bill until she could get someone from Tesla there to tell them why they should wait.

Now don’t get me wrong. I understand the importance of clean air. I started my career covering the School District of Philadelphia and know that the city’s crappy air quality is (a) caused by the car emissions that stream into the city on a daily basis, and (b) is directly connected to the number of kids who have to bring emergency inhalers to school every day to control their asthma.

But I go back to the number that I began this column with: $40,000.

Because Oh mentioned used EVs, I went on AutoTrader.com, a used car website, to see what a used electric car would cost. I found a Nissan Leaf for $7,995, which is actually pretty cheap … for me.

For someone fighting to feed their family, that’s a luxury.

Maybe once the city gets a plan in place that provides the job training that would allow folks to install charging stations and earn the money to get an EV of their own, I won’t feel so indifferent about this.

Denise Clay has been a journalist for more than 25 years, covering politics, education, and everything in between. Her work regularly appears in the Philadelphia Sunday Sun and the Philadelphia Public Record, and has also appeared on the BBC, XO Jane, and Time.com.