Here's a clever way to secure a parking spot on Philadelphia's congested streets and help save the planet, too.
Buy an electric vehicle.
Under a little-publicized program, EV owners can apply to the Philadelphia Parking Authority to install a curbside charger in front of their homes. If approved, the PPA will mark the spot with EV-only parking signs.
It's more effective than the time-honored trick of using lawn chairs to save a parking spot. And it's backed by the authority of legions of eager PPA enforcement officers.
"A lot of people comment, 'That would be a reason to get the car, just for the parking,' " said Jaap Veneman, who bought a Volkswagen e-Golf last year. He's awaiting a city crew to install the "electric vehicle only" signs in front of his house on the 4200 block of Osage Avenue in University City.
PPA says there are only 15 current EV permits, most in Center City, Fairmount, and Bella Vista. Five others are pending, including Veneman's.
One reason for slow adoption: Going green can cost a lot of green.
In addition to the higher cost of the electric vehicle, a city dweller can expect to pay upward of $4,000 to have a 240-volt curbside charger installed, including the cost of the PPA permits, said Veneman, 34.
"It takes a while to earn that back on the fuel savings," said the Netherlands native, who commutes to work at a software company in Exton. Nevertheless, he and his wife, Sarah Shackley, who is from Britain, were committed to buying an electric vehicle and staying in the city.
"Without the parking spot," Veneman said, "it would be a logistical nightmare to keep the vehicle charged."
Philadelphia is one of the few cities to offer special parking for electric vehicles.
In December, Berkeley, Calif., approved a pilot program to award 25 permits for curbside electrical chargers. The permit includes no parking privileges.
"Anybody can park there because it's a public space," said Matthai Chakko, a spokesman for the Berkeley city government. "You don't get a priority."
Berkeley officials believed theirs was the first city in the country to approve curbside chargers, so Chakko was surprised to learn Philadelphia's program predated the progressive Bay Area bastion by years.
City Council approved the electric-vehicle parking program in a 2007 ordinance sponsored by then-Councilman James F. Kenney. PPA only began accepting applications for the program in 2012.
"It was a market issue," said Martin O'Rourke, PPA spokesman. "Nobody applied."
O'Rourke said most of the permits have been approved since 2013. In June, the online organization Technical.ly reported there were 10 permits.
Unlike a homeowner who has off-street parking and can hire an electrician to mount a charger on the garage wall, city dwellers must go through a series of permits and hoops to install and connect a curbside charger.
Veneman hired West Philadelphia electrician Robert Monk to install the Bosch charger he bought online for $600. Monk, who advertises an online primer on curbside EV chargers, bored through Veneman's basement wall and under the sidewalk to connect the charger. Veneman said it cost about $2,800.
The fee for a city permit for an electric-vehicle zone is comparable to what a business would pay to secure a loading zone, said the PPA's O'Rourke.
All applicants must pay a $50 nonrefundable application fee. If approved, a homeowner in Center City or University City will pay an installation fee of $250 or $500, depending on whether a currently metered parking spot is sacrificed. Outside the city's core, the installation fee is $150 - $300 if a metered spot is removed.
On top of the installation fee, homeowners pay an annual fee of $75 or $150.
The process is not quick. Permits must be obtained from the Department of Licenses and Inspections. Veneman's process stretched out, slowed by the severe winter. PPA has yet to install the signs more than five months after his application.
"The process can be lengthy," said Monk, the electrician, who said he has installed about a dozen curbside chargers.
As with disabled parking, anybody with the proper credentials can park in the spot.
"Anybody who has an electric vehicle can park there," said PPA's O'Rourke. "The space isn't specific to the homeowner, though the homeowner controls access to the electric charger."
Peter Scannapieco, who lives on the 500 block of Watkins Street in South Philadelphia, learned about the parking program only after he leased a Cadillac ELR last year. The dealer paid to install his curbside charger, and the installer told him about the city parking permit.
Scannapieco said some neighbors were envious. And unauthorized drivers sometimes squat in his spot. "Some people don't care," he said, "or they just aren't looking at the signs."
The authorities will ticket and eventually tow violators.
"I hate to do that," he said, "but how am I going to charge my car?"