Correction: A previous version of this story erred in the date it gave for the District of Columbia's goal to achieve 25% zero-emissions vehicle registrations. We have corrected that date and removed a link to a D.C. website that contained the erroneous information. We also have corrected Eric Campbell's title.
- New and refurbished commercial and multi-unit buildings in Washington, D.C., that have at least three off-road parking spaces will be required to make at least 20% of those spaces available to accommodate electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure, under a new law that took effect this year.
- The new requirement came in response to public concern that families in apartment buildings or without garages did not have access to EV chargers, a barrier to purchasing a car, said Eric Campbell, program analyst for the District of Columbia's Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE). The make-ready rule, which was approved unanimously by the city council in November 2020, is part of the city’s goal to have at least 25% of new vehicles registered by 2030 be zero-emissions.
- Similar make-ready requirements have been adopted or introduced over the past year in cities including Orlando, Florida, Pittsburgh and Salt Lake City as part of a broad effort to increase EV access. The California Public Utilities Commission also approved rules requiring utilities to provide certain make-ready infrastructure to customers at no cost, reducing the price to install new chargers at homes and businesses.
The make-ready approach is a recognition of some of the district's unique characteristics, Campbell said, like the high volume of commuters to downtown areas and a concentration of multi-unit dwelling that are traditionally more difficult to outfit with chargers. Having at least 20% of parking spaces in downtown buildings and apartment buildings be outfitted for chargers, will make it easier for people to drive EVs in the district and ensure that chargers are distributed throughout the city, he said.
With transportation accounting for 24% of the district's greenhouse gas emissions, any tools to incentivize EVs are crucial to meeting its climate goals, Campbell said.
"It can be easy to focus narrowly on the chicken or egg problem, whether policies are needed to boost purchases of EVs or to create infrastructure," he said. "What we’re trying to do is make a chicken omelet and grow both sides at the same time."
The bill passed by the city council will require that DOEE incentivize developers to go beyond the 20% space requirement, while also allowing the mayor to promote regulations that would allow financial hardship waivers, accounting for concerns that EV chargers can add to housing and development costs.
The parking requirements also come as the Biden administration is working to use funds from the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill to ramp up EV infrastructure. Under a plan released in December, the administration is seeking to create a "convenient and equitable network" of 500,000 chargers using $7.5 billion from the bill.
Andrea McCarthy, program manager for the Electrification Coalition, said make-ready ordinances are "a quick way" to increase EV adoption by not just putting more charging at multi-unit dwellings, but also at other major buildings or parking structures in cities. More than 30 municipalities have passed such requirements, according to Electrification Coalition data, with policies tailored to the needs and dynamics of each region, McCarthy said.
"We feel this is an important aspect to increasing access to electric vehicles and a way to equitably add more charging for communities," she said. "As more adoption occurs, the next wave of EV owners are those that need charging outside of single-family homes, maybe in areas where they won’t have a dedicated parking spot."
Tony Jordan, president of the Parking Reform Network, said that while EV infrastructure is a necessary step to ensure that people purchase and drive cleaner vehicles, make-ready requirements ignore a bigger environmental question: whether new parking is necessary at all.
"What if instead of saying a certain number of spaces need to be EV ready, we said we don’t require parking at all, but if you do want it should be EV ready and powered by solar,” Jordan said. “We can’t keep adding cars to cities. Part of what we’re saying is that we should let people live in places where there’s less dependence on automobiles or even electric vehicles altogether."