Noel Adams - Charging Ahead

Are Squatters Killing the Electric Dream?

Jul 08, 2013

It's called by various names: 'ICING', Squatting, but whatever you call the practice of leaving your plug-in car at a charge station dock AFTER it's been charged, is a huge discourtesy to your fellow EV driver.

Since they started installing charging stations in Californian and Arizona in 1997 there has been a problem known as ICING where a non-electric car parks in the space reserved for EV charging preventing the EV driver from getting a charge.

Part of the problem was that EV charging spots tended to be in Prime locations. This was more to do with the cost of installing the charging stations than it had to do with giving EV drivers the best parking spaces. Still, when charging stations were lightly used and people could get away with parking there they would.

Charging takes a long time so at most public charging stations it was also possible that multiple EVs would show up wanting to use the same charger. The EV community at that time was small and the drives themselves came up with a protocol for sharing public chargers. Drivers would put a plaque on their dash which indicated the time when they would have sufficient charge to make it home. After that time another driver could unplug the car and use the charger.

In 2011, with the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf beginning to sell in numbers a bill was introduced into the California legislature that would allow government and private parking lot owners to designate public charging stations for dedicated EV charging. The bill was pushed by GM who was concerned about EV drivers unplugging Volts so they could use charger.

California Bill AB 475 was signed into law in August, 2011 and allows Government agencies and private parties who provide charging stations to designate them as being for vehicles connected for charging purposes only. The legislation requires a sign that says “Unauthorized vehicles not connected for electric charging purposes will be towed away at owner’s expense. Towed vehicles may be reclaimed at” followed by the address and phone number of the impound lot.

Unfortunately this legislation has no provision that makes it illegal to unplug a car. This has two consequences. First it made the existing charger sharing protocol unworkable because if the first vehicle was unplugged it could now to be towed. Second, it leaves electric cars vulnerable to being unplugged by someone with malicious intent.

Fortunately very few charging stations have the correct signage to be affected by this law. Some, like the city owned parking lots in Beverly Hills come close warning that cars not connected for charging purposes may be cited, but so far I haven’t seen any charging station with the signage required by AB 475.

EV Charging stations are still mostly in prime parking spots so this has led to another issue much akin to ICING; something called squatting.

Squatting comes in two flavors. In the first case drivers treat the charging space as their own personal property and park there all day every day. I’ve seen this situation on several occasions. I see the same car in the spot every day. The car is usually fully charged but continues to occupy the spot for several hours after charging is complete.

I can accept that someone may not be able to rush down to the parking spot the minute the car is finished charging, in fact my car was completely charged for about20 minutes today before I got back to the car to move it, but let’s face it there must be time in the day when the person can come down and move the car so that others can get a shot at the charger.

The second situation is where an electric car driver parks in the spot with no intention of charging. They use the spot because it is in a prime location. They probably rationalize this bad behavior by telling themselves that there is nobody else using the parking spot. I saw this at work just a couple of days ago. I finished charging around 9am and moved my car to a vacant spot. When I came passed the charging space on my way to the elevator it was already occupied by a Ford Fusion Energi. This would be a great thing except that the car wasn’t using the charger just blocking the space and it was still there when I left at 4pm. That meant the charger was unavailable for at least 7 hours, enough time to fully charge a Nissan Leaf from empty.

In communication with prospective BEV and PHEV drivers I have often heard them mention how they are put off from buying an EV or PHEV because the public chargers are never available as there are always EVs squatting in the spots. This refrain is becoming more and more common especially over on the East coast where there are apparently no laws to protect the EV charging stations from either ICING or Squatting.

Charging stations are being rolled out across the county but not at anything like the rate that new electric cars are hitting the streets. Actual numbers are hard to come by because there are a few companies like Tesla and Wheego and Th!nk that never publish monthly sales but it is pretty certain that there were over 8,000 electric cars sold in June. At this rate there is no surprise that public charging stations are getting more and more use. Squatters don’t help, and the situation is going to get worse as time goes on unless we get a lot more charging infrastructure installed.

The ideal solution, of course, is to install more public charging. I have been advocating for a while now that we try and get more 110V charging installed. While charging is slow at 110V it is relatively cheap to provide 110V outlets in EV charging spots and the slower charging means EV drivers will stay longer at the location and spend more. I do think that we need local laws that provide for ticketing people who block access to public chargers, but more than that we need to have the laws enforced.

One other suggestion someone made on Prius Chat seems like a good idea to me. When the vehicle becomes fully charged then allow a grace period, say 1 hour, then start to charge at high rates for staying connected at the charger when your car is full. This is much easier than trying to train parking enforcement to recognize a fully charged car.

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