Busted in Baltimore – Ticket for Blocking a Charging Station

BWMI-03aThis weekend I watched a Baltimore City Transportation Enforcement Officer give a citation to a gas car driver who had parked in a space designated for EV charging only. The ticket was for $32. Actually, they were lucky. If not for a quirk in the signage, they may have gotten towed.

On Sunday I drove my Think City EV to Baltimore to meet my friend Scott who drove his all-electric Nissan LEAF up from Silver Spring. I didn’t quite have a full charge when I started out but I planned to charge for an hour or two while we had lunch so I would make it back home with a comfortable margin. After getting together near Penn Station we decided to go to the Inner Harbor for lunch.

GEWattstationI suggested we head to the two curbside charging stations by the War Memorial Plaza near City Hall. I’ve used those stations several times and knew that parking there was free on the weekends. I looked at the GE Wattstation App on my phone and they were both “available” which meant that nobody was plugged in. I lead the way on the ten minute drive and when I approached the charging stations I saw a red Buick sedan that obviously wasn’t an EV parked in one of the spaces. A white car with a City of Baltimore logo on the side was standing behind the second, empty, charging space and I realized it was a parking control officer. I rolled down the window and mentioned that we had two EVs wanting to charge and he said he was trying to find out if he could have the car towed.

BWMI-01BWMI-07Scott and I squeezed our two cars into the remaining space and I plugged in while we waited to see what would happen. The officer explained that he was unsure which citation code to apply and was waiting to be advised. He showed us the sign that pointed toward the charging stations that read “charging electric vehicles only” and a sign above it that said, “tow away zone.” The problem was, there was a red arrow on the “tow away zone” signs pointing away from the EV charging spots. Apparently, the whole side of the street on that block was designated “no stopping, tow away zone” except for the two spaces next to the charging stations. This seemed odd.

The officer had requested a supervisor and was waiting for them to arrive when the driver of the vehicle showed up, wheeling a small cart, apparently returning from the nearby Farmers Market. When it was evident that the driver was about to leave and with the supervisor still en route, he quickly finished filling out the citation and handed it to the driver who then pulled away.

BWMI-06Scott was finally able to park next to the charging station and plug in.

BWMR-02-08-19-2013 crop2
Previous tow away zone sign, Aug. 19, 2013

The supervisor arrived a few minutes later and explained that before the charging stations were installed about a year ago, that entire side of the street was a tow away zone. By inserting the two parking spots for curb-side charging, it left a hole in the designated tow-away zone. If a driver stops on that side of the street outside of the charging spaces, they could get a major fine and get towed away, but if they block the charging stations, they’d get a smaller fine and won’t be towed.

One of the reasons that I picked the War Memorial charging stations is that I’ve been researching them for a “Featured Plug In Site” post here. I learned that they were funded by a settlement of a legal action between the Maryland Department of the Environment and a local company over alleged violations of air pollution requirements. The settlement agreement required the company to install two electric vehicle charging stations in Baltimore with a total value of at least $60,000. The goal of the consent order was to encourage usage of electric vehicles as a cleaner mode of transportation to improve the air quality in the Baltimore area as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and other officials at ribbon cutting ceremony on Sept. 27, 2013
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and other officials at ribbon cutting ceremony on Sept. 27, 2013

As I stood there with the parking control officer who was trying to figure out if he might be able to tow the vehicle, I was mindful that there was $60,000 worth of charging equipment that we could either abandon to the gasoline car or stick by and claim for the electric vehicles for which they are intended. One of the reasons for placing the charging stations at the War Memorial Plaza was the high visibility in order to demonstrate that there’s an EV charging network that drivers can depend on. If we didn’t plug in there, the only car that people may have seen there that day would have been a gasoline one. That sends the wrong message.

BWMI-02 BWMI-09I’d like to mention that the Baltimore City Transportation Enforcement Officer and his supervisor were professional, polite and helpful. I especially noted the compassion with which he treated the driver who received the citation. Nobody enjoys getting a ticket and it must be a difficult job to have to write them. Thanks, Baltimore City Department of Transportation Parking Enforcement, for doing a tough but necessary job.


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