Electric Vehicles: Tacoma council committee will revisit plan to waive charging station fees

City of Tacoma staff continue to explore a proposed ordinance that would make it free for drivers doing business with City officials to recharge their electric vehicles at some City-owned charging stations.

Tacoma’s 11-member Sustainable Tacoma Commission recently recommended councilmembers adopt such an ordinance, which would be modeled after a Washington State law enacted five years ago.

The City owns and maintains 30 charging stations at eight locations. Twelve electric vehicle charging stations in five locations are currently available for public use.

City of Tacoma Office of Environmental Policy and Sustainability Director Kristin Lynett outlined the plan in a May 6 memo to Tacoma City Manager T. C. Broadnax, and discussed the issue during Tacoma City Council’s Infrastructure, Planning, and Sustainability Committee meeting on May 14.

According to Lynett, the move would demonstrate Tacoma’s commitment to sustainability by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving air quality, and encouraging broader support for electric vehicles. She also told committee members the cost to charge electric vehicles can range between $1.50 to $13.

“Often times, this can be more than the cost of gasoline,” said Lynett. “We’ve seen the most demand for something like this at [the Center for] Urban Waters, where there are a fair amount of visitors, either other agencies coming to do business with the City, or City employees that are really finding it kind of cost-prohibitive.”

If an ordinance is adopted, City staff would determine which charging stations would offer free electricity, establish guidelines for each station, and regularly evaluate usage at the charging stations.

But Tacoma City Councilmember David Boe was concerned about the public perception of letting City employees and visitors charge their electric vehicles at no cost to the vehicle owners.

Lynett pointed to the Washington State law that allows electric vehicle owners to re-charge their vehicles at State-owned charging stations while doing business with the State of Washington. She also described the expense to the City as “de minimis.”

“I know the State’s done it,” said Councilmember Boe. “I just think this has the potential to be a much stickier issue than the reality of it is.

“It has nothing to do with the cost or the cost recovery,” he added. “It’s more of the concept of, ‘Oh, you’re getting something for free. And even though you can say it’s 13 cents, it doesn’t matter. It’s for free.’ It could actually do more harm than good in pushing the ball forward.”

“But these are largely facilities that employees use with City vehicles,” replied Tacoma City Councilmember Ryan Mello, who also chairs Tacoma City Council’s Infrastructure, Planning, and Sustainability Committee.

“Exactly,” said Councilmember Boe. “So now you’ve made the case even stronger for someone to say, ‘It’s not for me going to the Tacoma Dome. It’s only for those that are in the system.’”

During the meeting last week, council committee members asked City staff to spend more time drafting an ordinance while also researching whether jurisdictions other than the State of Washington have enacted similar laws. If the council committee renders a “do pass” recommendation for the proposed ordinance, Tacoma City Council could vote on the law this summer.

“Obviously we want to make sure we vet everything and we can address people’s comfort levels,” said Tacoma City Councilmember Anders Ibsen. “But, personally, from where I’m coming on this side, I think it’s a very valid policy and I think we have a Sustainable Tacoma Commission for a reason—to bring forward these very timely suggestions for furthering our climate and our conservation goals. My bias, of course, is for taking action as soon as we can on this.”

Tacoma City Council’s Infrastructure, Planning, and Sustainability Committee is tentatively scheduled to revisit the issue and review the proposed ordinance during a meeting on Weds., June 11, at at 4:30 p.m., at Tacoma Municipal Building North, 733 Market St., Room 16, in downtown Tacoma.

Meeting materials from the Weds., May 14, meeting of Tacoma City Council’s Infrastructure, Planning, and Sustainability Committee are available online here.

An audio recording of the Weds., May 14, meeting of Tacoma City Council’s Infrastructure, Planning, and Sustainability Committee is available online here.

To read the Tacoma Daily Index’s complete and comprehensive coverage of electric vehicles in Tacoma, Pierce County, and Washington State, click on the following links:

Todd Matthews is editor of the Tacoma Daily Index and recipient of an award for Outstanding Achievement in Media from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation for his work covering historic preservation in Tacoma and Pierce County. He has earned four awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, including first-place honors for his feature article about Seattle’s bike messengerssecond-place honors for his feature article about whistle-blowers in Washington State; third-place honors for his feature article about the University of Washington’s Innocence Project; and third-place honors for his feature interview with Prison Legal News founder Paul Wright. His work has appeared in All About Jazz, City Arts Tacoma, Earshot Jazz, Homeland Security Today, Jazz Steps, Journal of the San Juans, Lynnwood-Mountlake Terrace Enterprise, Prison Legal News, Rain Taxi, Real Change, Seattle Business Monthly, Seattle magazine, Tablet, Washington CEO, Washington Law & Politics, and Washington Free Press. He is a graduate of the University of Washington and holds a bachelor’s degree in communications. His journalism is collected online at wahmee.com.