Eligible for Eco-Pass

Morgan Ellis, sales consultant with Kelowna Nissan Infiniti, charges a Nissan Leaf electric car. Owners of all-electric cars like the Leaf will still qualify for a city Eco-Pass next year, but owners of hybrid autos won’t.

If one of Kelowna’s goals is to encourage citizens to drive more fuel-efficient vehicles — and thereby spew fewer greenhouse gasses — a step backward was taken Monday.

City council, in a 7-2 vote, decided to cut back on its Eco-Pass program, which offered free parking to people who drove fuel-efficient vehicles.

Previously, hybrid and extremely small vehicles, like Smart cars, were eligible for a city parking break. Now, only plug-in electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles will be eligible for the two hours of free parking.

Of 1,000 Eco-Passes issued by the city, only 25 will be eligible for renewal.

Apparently, to city staff who recommended the change and the mayor and councillors who voted for it, hybrid and small cars are no longer helpful enough to the environment. Those people might as well be driving Ford F-350 trucks instead of Priuses.

Plug-in is the only way to go now, the city says, but that’s impractical.

A report council looked at Monday said: “…the city has an opportunity to contribute to the adoption of electric vehicles as a preferred mode of transportation, thereby taking steps towards the Official Community Plan goal to reduce community greenhouse gas emissions by 33 per cent from 2007 levels by 2020.”

Here’s the problem with that: while hybrid cars are becoming a practical mode of transportation for most people, electric cars aren’t there yet. Because of their limited range, most electric cars are great for a work commute and short-haul driving, but not for real lives.

Hybrids make more sense to many people, but even they haven’t gained widespread acceptance, partly because of their higher prices compared to gas-powered cars.

Some people will tell you, with some accuracy, that hybrids aren’t the gas savers they’re cracked up to be. Councillors heard a hybrid horror story, which cited a GMC Sierra Hybrid that had a published city fuel economy of 11.5L/100 km — no better than many ordinary larger vehicles.

Council also saw statistics that showed plug-in hybrids get twice the gas mileage as the non-plug in kind.

Still, non-plug-in hybrids generally are an improvement over gas-powered vehicles.

That’s worth supporting.

As so many decisions really come down to money, perhaps councillors were swayed by the statement that: “If every active permit holder used their Eco-Pass once per week for two hours, lost parking revenue to the city could be more than $138,000 annually.”

But if it’s pushing the environment that the real intention, councillors are fantasizing about the wonders of plug-in cars.

“We need to push the future with this change,” said Coun. Gail Given.

“Hybrids are commonplace now,” said Mayor Colin Basran.

That’s not so true: Sales of hybrid electric vehicles in Canada peaked in 2012 at about 25,000 units a year and are now in decline, a Toronto Star story reported last summer.

There’s still work to do to bring hybrids into the mainstream.

If Kelowna’s goal is to promote the use of efficient cars and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it has acted prematurely to stop giving hybrid cars a break. The green thing to do is to continue encouraging people to buy hybrids.

Because they cost more than gas-powered cars, it’s breaks like free parking that some buyers need to be persuaded to go greener.

Plug-in cars are a green idea, but still not a sensible option for many, despite council’s encouragement.

If the city is looking toward the future, perhaps its policy also should have considered hydrogen-powered cars. They’re not widespread yet, but Toyota is selling them now — and that may the greenest option yet for car buyers.