Commuters may soon add free parking to the list of incentives for energy-savvy drivers.

Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson is pushing an ordinance to allow drivers of alternative-fuel, fuel-efficient and low-polluting vehicles to park free at all city metered parking.

"The goal is to encourage the use of these types of vehicles. We want to reduce the county's dependency on foreign oil and increase the air quality," said Dan Bergenthal, city transportation engineer.

The ordinance, which will be discussed by the City Council tonight, aims to encourage more drivers to opt for fuel-efficient cars, including hybrids like the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius. If passed, the ordinance would put Salt Lake among a handful of cities like Los Angeles and Albuquerque that also offer free or reduced parking fees to drivers of environmentally friendly vehicles.

The free parking would be the latest in a growing list of perks for energy-conscious commuters, including a free pass to the HOV lane and federal and state tax breaks.

"I think leaders at every level, whether it's local communities or states, are doing everything they can to respond to consumers' needs for greater fuel efficiency," said Bradley Berman, editor and owner of hybridcars.com. "It enables your local mayor to say, 'I'm doing a little bit to make a difference.' "

Calls to Anderson were not returned Wednesday.

The free parking would be available to alternative-fuel vehicles that do not use gasoline or use gasoline in combination with other fuels. It would also be open to fuel-efficient vehicles that get 50 miles per gallon or more in the city or low-polluting vehicles that have an air pollution score of at least eight.

Drivers eligible for the free parking would still be subject to time limits on metered spaces and would have to either have a Utah Clean Fuel license plate or a special permit issued by the city's Transportation Division.

About 3,500 vehicles statewide would be eligible for the free parking, according to estimates by the division.

The free parking would decrease the city's parking meter revenue about $8,500 a year, but Bergenthal said that "minuscule" cost is only one-half of 1 percent of revenues generated from parking meters.

"It is hardly anything. On a bad snow day you'd probably lose more revenue than that," he said.

If the demand for free parking grows as more commuters buy hybrids, Bergenthal added the city may have to rethink the incentive to avoid losing too much revenue.

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Berman, who runs hybridcars.com and keeps tabs on fuel-efficient trends throughout the country, said he's not convinced the perk of free parking will really incite a flurry of hybrid purchases.

The perk does send a good message, he added, and contribute to the additive effect of incentives including federal tax breaks.

"I don't know if, honestly, someone would change their decision about their car purchase decision based on parking, especially in someplace like Salt Lake City, where it may be less of an urgent matter than New York City," he said. "No one incentive alone is going to be the cause for the rapid adoption of hybrid cars in the marketplace."


E-mail: estewart@desnews.com