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Clean Air Vehicle Parking Spaces: Do they work?

April 18, 2013

While having lunch at a new shopping center on East Brokaw Road in San Jose today, I noticed that four of the prime parking spots in the parking lot, crowded with lunchtime diners, were marked “Clean Air Vehicle.” I did not have my husband’s 2012 Nissan Leaf, and so I circled around the lot, looking for a space.

But even if I was driving the electric vehicle, I would have been out of luck. All four spaces were taken. I was took hungry to stop, and take a look, but after lunch at Whispers, which is right near Chipotle and Five Guys, I wandered over to take a look.

There was not an EV charging station to be found, and so I wondered, what qualified as a Clean Air Vehicle? Certainly, not the Nissan Altima that was there nor the Honda Accord next to it. What about the SUV? I thought not until, I saw that it was a hybrid. Then, I saw two men approaching the fourth car parked there. “What is a Clean Air Vehicle?” I asked. The driver said apologetically that he had not noticed that he was taken this special spot until he had already parked. Perhaps it is for automobiles that operate on biofuel or natural gas, he speculated. Then he added that his car was a hybrid. Perhaps it qualified, I told him just before he drove off. He did not know. Nor did I.

Besides the lettering on the pavement ( will give the drivers of the two gas guzzlers in the spaces the benefit of the doubt that they did not see the marking), there was not a sign explaining why these spaces are there and who qualifies. And, since finding a parking space around noon at San Jose dining spots is a competitive sport, these blatant violations are probably a regular occurrence. As it turns out, San Jose has developed a “Clean Air Vehicle Parking Program” which allows people to park downtown for free.

But to qualify for that, they must have a permit, which costs $30. They must meet certain eligibility requirements, including having purchased their clean-air vehicle in San Jose. If it is a zero-emission vehicle such as our Leaf, it can qualify even it it was purchased outside of the city. But still it must be registered to a San Jose Address. The vehicle also must qualify for a California single-occupancy HOV lane sticker. More information is available here. This is the permit application. This program applies only to city-owned parking meters and facilities and so I am still confused about who runs this program in the shopping center. How does one qualify?

Certainly, the more that can be done to encourage the use of clean air vehicles the better, but if no one knows why these parking spaces are here, and who can use them, they will become just another parking space. And, if my experience today was typical of lunchtime in San Jose, it appears that this is what they have become.


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  1. Carolynn permalink

    I don’t know what a clean air vehicle is either, so I decided that if my car passes smog, then it’s clean air!

  2. Brooke Rudas permalink

    The new Walmart grocery store on Monterey has like 6 of those clean air spots, always taken by gas cars. Would love to know who gets to park there and if it’s actually enforced… For now I’ll go with Carolynn’s idea “if my car passes smog then it has clean air” 🙂

  3. Lara Horgan permalink

    I drive a zero emission vehicle, but I rarely get to use the designated spaces at my gym. They are always full. Half of the vehicles in those spots are gas guzzling SUVs and pickup trucks. Why do they designate those spots if they aren’t going to enforce it? It only punishes people who follow rules and gives the best spots to those who don’t.

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