gor[b] Paul Gorbould: Words and Pictures

15Jan/091

Freaked!

Back in August, I posted some pictures from a trip to Nova Scotia, including this one:

DSC07686

It's from the parking lot of the Joggins Fossil Cliffs on the Bay of Fundy. I was intrigued by the concept of special spots for "alternative fuel vehicles" - particularly since there's no obvious definition. So I sent it on to the brilliant people at the New York Times' Freakonomics Blog, and they published it today. And of course they had some interesting thoughts on the idea:

Many cities, like Albuquerque, offer free parking to drivers of “hybrid, alternative-fuel, or fuel-efficient” cars. Businesses have also followed suit, reports USA Today.

But drivers of gas-only cars get annoyed, reports the USA Today article, when hybrid drivers take up the best parking spots all day, for free.

In some cases, hybrid-vehicle parking and driving incentives become counterproductive, reports The Washington Post: carpool-lane privileges for hybrid drivers, for example, have helped to clog those lanes.

I'm a big fan of the Freakonomics Blog - I enjoyed the book, and the blog is a daily roundup of the fuzzy interaction between society and numbers - just my kind of thing. But the best thing about the blog is the high quality of the discussion in the comments - a collection of smart people thinking about the way the world works, and backing it up.

Here are some quotes from the discussion of special parking for alternative fuel vehicles:

Maybe even more productive would be having a special section for SUVs to park in the most remote location of the parking lot.
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So a hybrid $70,000 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid that gets 20 mpg gets a free parking spot in LA than I do in my 36 mpg Honda Civic, and gets to use the carpool lane (a much larger chunk of it, physically speaking, than I would).
That’s not just ridiculous. It’s stupid. Very stupid.
So are the alternative fuel spots.
Does it count if I have a 1920s steam locomotive driven by burning coal?
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LEED, the most common system for certifying “green” construction in the United States, allows a project to earn one point toward certification if you reserve 5% of the project’s parking capacity for low-emitting and fuel-efficient vehicles. For the cost of a few signs, you can get a cheap point. Much cheaper than, say, improving your building’s energy efficiency.
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They have hybrid emblems at eBay for $13. Slap one on the back of your car and enjoy the benefits of the special parking spaces. Unless the authorities are going to pop open your hood and confirm your drive train, you should be able to get away with it. Just depends on your personal moral tolerance for trickery
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Hey, I have an idea! Make the polluting cars drive further and longer around the parking lot looking for a place to park, while the up-close parking spaces are largely empty.
Of course, you could simply pull your F-350 Ford Pick-Up into the space (if it would fit), rationalizing that you ARE using alternative fuel–after all, gasoline is an alternative to…nuclear, coal, solar, fuel cells, hydrogen, and so forth.

They even got an interesting response from the operations coordinator of Joggins.

Soon after, the picture prompted a very interesting analysis from my friend Chris Macdonald, he of The Business Ethics Blog (and one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Ethics.) He adds:

But there's another important issue here: even if it were clear what counted as "alternative" (which it's not) and even if "alternative" SUVs really deserved special parking (which they don't) there's still an issue about what sorts of values, in general, we promote through special parking privileges. Note, for example, that every parking space reserved for alt-fuel vehicles is thereby made unavailable for, say, handicapped parking. Or for parking for pregnant women and new mothers. Or for motorcycles and scooters and bicycles. A business can, of course, have special parking spots for all of the above, and still have room for the rest of us — if they've got a really big parking lot. But still, someone has to get the spots closest to the door. In making a move to promote a particular value (like environmentalism), organizations need to think not just about what values they're promoting, but about what other values they're de-emphasizing at the same time.

Seems they have these spots at IKEA now as well. What do you think - good idea, or just adding a green patina to the asphalt?

[Since I'm mentioning my past blog entries, I'll point out that green parking spots sure beat Christmas parking, and construction site parking!]

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