FREAK Shots: Not Everyone Likes Free Parking

Blog reader Paul Gorbould emailed us this photo from a parking lot at the Joggins Fossil Cliffs on the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia, Canada:


Gorbould understands the good intent of the spots:

The site was recently declared a Unesco World Heritage Site, and it appears to have taken the designation to heart.

I’ve never seen a parking designation like this before — and of course, the spots (there were several) were empty. In fact, I saw no “alternative fuel vehicles” for a hundred miles in any direction. … Still, no harm in being proactive I suppose, even if the spots closest to the entrance remain empty for a few years.

Many cities, like Albuquerque, offer free parking to drivers of “hybrid, alternative-fuel, or fuel-efficient” cars. Businesses have also followed suit, reports USA Today.

But drivers of gas-only cars get annoyed, reports the USA Today article, when hybrid drivers take up the best parking spots all day, for free.

In some cases, hybrid-vehicle parking and driving incentives become counterproductive, reports The Washington Post: carpool-lane privileges for hybrid drivers, for example, have helped to clog those lanes.

Los Angeles is thinking about taking back its free parking, as concerns about the city’s budget deficit mount.

At Fossil Cliffs, the most the alternative-fuel spaces are doing is taking up space, but if gas prices stay low, they may continue to do so for an annoyingly long time.

(Send your FREAK-worthy photos here.)


The Hybrid (or pretty much any car) pollutes a lot less than a motorcycle getting 50 mpg due to much better emission controls. If the goal is to reduce oil usage, the motorcycle works well. If the goal is a cleaner environment, the answer isn't anywhere near as clear.

Of course the real crime is all the non Compact cars parking in compact spots....


Seems like the focus on miles per vehicle mile would be misplaced if planet-saving is the aim. It rewards the 50 mpg compact with a single passenger over the 20 mpg sedan with four passengers. Blunt instrument at best.

san diegan

As far as counterproductive/misdirected incentives go, bike racks on buses are #1 on my list of annoyances... Mostly because today was the second time in three days that I couldn't get on the bus because the bike racks were full, and I couldn't bring my bicycle on the bus. Waiting for half an hour for the next bus to take me to a 50-minute-long lecture is not an option. If this happens consistently enough, I'll be switching back to my car.

(and I live on a pretty steep hill, so no bus ride means I have to push the bike back up the hill under the blazing sun... I know, hardly something to complain about compared to everywhere else in the country, but &^@#$&^#*$&^ when you make an effort to be responsible and it backfires on your face.)

Sounding Board

Dear Kinglink, Matt ...

So hybrids technically are a hybrid mix of polluting and non-polluting vehicles? Seems to me the problem is "stop messing around with our heads" and start producing environmentally safe cars we can afford by making them affordable.


Can we get an article on the alleged "killing of the electric car" by GM in the late 90's? I still hear valid arguments against electric cars and their assumed "clean" energy. Many scientists argue that the carbon footprint as a result of producing electricity through coal is more damaging to the ozone than burning oil.

It appears to me electric cars are merely a fad (consumers looking for social acceptance) that will fade away... thoughts?


I am happy to see alternative fuel vehicles on the road and being researched but the rules are not always fair. A 2006 Honda Civiv gets about the same mileage as a 2006 Ford Escape hybrid.

One gets to use the carpool lane with only one passenger.

And there are many gasoline only cars that get mileage in the mid to high 30s.

Jose Hernandez

Why are you complaining about not parking next door? this is why americans are getting fatter, walk a little.

Jason B

On Earth Day, my company put these signs on all of the guest spots right out front. Because most guests to the building (most people, really), don't drive an alt-fuel vehicle (whatever that means), the spots were basically empty all day.

Instead of promoting the environment, it caused inconvenience for our suppliers, customers, and employees from other locations.

It was actually kind of funny, in that it looked like the company was trying to "think green", but nobody (employees, customers, suppliers, etc) cared.


How is "alternative-fuel car" defined? As one that uses NO gasoline? There are few such mass-produced vehicles in North America -- even the vaunted E85 fuel has a little gasoline in it. The only vehicles that qualify would be CNG-powered, or formerly-gas-powered vehicles converted to run things like used frying oil.

I don't have statistics on those, but generally CNG vehicles are viable only for fleets, not homeowners, and few people have the inclination or expertise to tinker with their engines to use frying oil.

It sounds as if the folks in charge of the place are trying to appear "environment-friendly" by putting up these signs in place of a simple, old-fashioned "No Parking" sign. (Or in New York City, a "Don't even THINK about parking here!" sign.) In other words, the intention is for no one ever to park there, without actually forbidding parking altogether.

Very clever if you ask me ... even if it is transparent.



Many airports offer the same preferential spots for drivers of "hybrids." I agree with previous posts - what's so good about a 20 mpg hybrid? I drive a small car (30mpg+) and generally get annoyed by the "hybrid" only signs.

But thanks to this post I found a solution: the "hybrid" emblem from EBAY. I'm buying one right now. Free parking, here I come! Thanks #10.


Carrot and stick, folks -- if you want to encourage a particular type of behavior, the best way to do that is reward it.

We certainly want to encourage people to buy low-emission vehicles (and pay a premium to do it), so why not offer them a little better parking.

Another reason to do it: it costs nothing.


I sure wish some places would offer free enclosed bike parking (lockers).

David Rasmussen

I am surprised at all of the anger in the postings. Let the handicapped park close. Let the environmentally correct park close. I do not mind walking further. It is good for me.

Melanie Cookson-Carter

Wow! We at the Joggins Fossil Cliffs think it is great that we have sparked a very constructive debate about the use of contemporary "alternative fuel" vehicles. Some of these comments are very pertinent and most interesting and useful for us here at the centre.

In the most part, we have had major marketing success by installing these signs (well, you are talking about us right now aren't you?) and they were put in place for three reasons; firstly to allow people who are considering the environment in their transportation choices to be prioritised for parking (only 2 are by the centre, the others are in other places on the car park). Secondly as part of our LEED certification to provide this type of parking and thirdly (most important to us) is to generate knowledge and debate about the alternatives to gas guzzling vehicles.
We have generated a tremendous amount of positive discussion on this issue.

Amongst those who can and do use the spaces are those who produce their own fuels; either scientifically through the re-use and processing of cooking oil (perhaps Virgin would like to park their plane here - you know, the one which recently flew with a portion of its tank filed with bio fuel), those with dual-fuel vehicles and even those using pedal power. Yes, bicycles are an alternative fuel vehicle.

So, yes there are alternative fuel vehicles, they aren't perfect but they are here to stay and constantly evolving and we give ourselves a metaphoric pat on the back for our decision to erect these signs.

Welcome to the Joggins Fossil Cliffs, where we have been made a World Heritage Site because we are the best place on earth to see Carboniferous fossils and it also just happens to be one of the best places in Atlantic Canada to get rewarded for your carbon-reducing life-choices!



I recently reada a letter to the editor here that complained of a parking spot at a park here like this. I tend to think #9 has it right - this building is the first LEED Silver here and I bet that is why it is like that. I think it is pretty lame, but then I was all over the spots for new and expecting Moms at the grocery store - considered stuffing my kids in their car seats for an extra few months to keep that spot, actually :)


There are similarly pointless policies in London: hybrid cars are exempted from the Congestion Charge, despite the fact that there are less-polluting petrol and diesel cars. And electric cars are exempt as well, but they just cause pollution somewhere else - where the power station is.


jblog @ 31 - the problem is that these policies (a) do not necessarily reward the drivers of the least polluting vehicles, as has been pointed out there are petrol and diesel cars that are less polluting than some hybrids, and (b) so few people have the "less polluting" cars that valuable resource (ie parking spaces) are left unused. A better approach might be to have undifferentiated spaces in the parking lot, but simply allow cars that use them and that qualify for the low emissions standard, to use them for free rather than pay a charge.

Warren Bare

Don't know about alternative but it looks like a good place to lock my bicycle.


What is most irritating about these sorts of things is that they are based on an erroneous assumption. That assumption is that there is necessarily somethign 'virtuous' about driving a hybrid or alternative fuel vehicle. is would only be rue if we all had the same driving habits and (long) commute lengths. A person who has a less fuel efficient vehicle but drives it less far and/or often puts much less CO2 into the atmosphere than someone who drives their Hybrid long distances every day. SImilarly, the notion that electric cars are environmentally beneficial breaks down in most electricity markets because of the high environmental cost of generating and transmitting electricity. Rewarding people for one visible symbolic action that they take with respect to the environmental impact of their transportation is pointless and counterproductive to getting people to take aim at the real root of the problem.



Owning a hybrid is an obvious sign that a person uses less gas per mile than other drivers; people are rewarded for this because others see that the hybrid uses less fuel.

Those of us who don't obviously use less fuel don't get the same perks. I used to tell my friends a story about how another driver almost ran me into the barrier of an HOV lane here in Houston while I was on my motorcycle. The reaction I got was not, "that guy was a jerk" but "what the hell were you doing on the HOV." It did not occur to them that I was eligible to use the lane because I was on a high efficiency vehicle. (The American Motorcycle Association did a great deal of lobbying in the past to make this part of the federal highway funding rules.)

Maybe the rest of us need to act to create a similar standard and understanding of what a high efficiency vehicle is before we start allowing single passenger Hybrid Tahoes on the HOV lanes.