For months now, hybrid drivers in some areas across the country have been getting access to commuter lanes, but Baltimore is going a step further — offering hefty discounts on monthly parking for owners of the gasoline-electric vehicles.
Beginning Monday, those discounts — up to 45 percent off — will be available for contract parking at 15 city garages. Officials also might eventually reduce meter prices for hybrids.
"We anticipate there's going to be a lot of interest," Peter Little, executive director of the city's parking authority, told The Baltimore Sun.
Baltimore will limit participation at 200 vehicles, officials said. The city considered several models, Little said, but limited the program to the three with the highest fuel efficiency and that had been accepted by other government programs. Those are the Toyota Prius, and Honda's Insight and Civic Hybrid models.
Several states have passed laws allowing hybrid drivers to use high-occupancy vehicle lanes without passengers. States must get waivers from the federal government to open HOV lanes or risk losing federal highway grants.
A few other cities — among them Los Angeles, Albuquerque, N.M., and New Haven, Conn. — have experimented with free metered parking for hybrids, but Baltimore appears to be the largest city to offer discounts on monthly parking.
For hybrid owners in Baltimore, the average parking savings would be just over $55 a month.
In 2004, 1,514 new hybrid vehicles were registered in the Baltimore area — a nearly 80 percent increase over 2003, according to the city Department of Transportation. With concerns over the fluctuating price of fuel, city officials said they believe that number will rise.
"Encouraging people to move away from fossil fuels needs to be done with a combination of incentives and disincentives," Cindy Parker, who owns a Prius, told The Sun. "The more incentives, the better."
Besides a $25 application fee, there is one significant catch: A driver must have no outstanding parking tickets.