Commercial Vehicles Not Welcome at Some Maryland Public Charging Stations
Government encourages us to eliminate the burning of fossil fuels by driving electric vehicles. Some cities and states support these efforts by installing EV charging equipment on public property. What happens when government decides to prohibit commercial electric vehicles from using public charging stations?
Hyattsville and Takoma Park, Maryland are environmentally friendly towns that enthusiastically support EV charging. The Hyattsville, MD Police Department is the first in the US to use a Chevy Bolt EV patrol car. Takoma Park attracted national attention when a former gas station dumped the pumps and installed Fast Chargers.
Perhaps due to the pioneering nature of these two towns, they are also first to experience challenges that go with providing the public with free EV charging.
For-Hire Cars Prohibited at Grant Funded Chargers in Hyattsville
Two DC Fast Chargers at Hyattsville City Municipal Center opened in August, 2018. The chargers are funded in part by a grant from the Maryland Energy Administration. The MEA grant program has helped fund many other fast chargers in Maryland from Ocean City to Hagerstown.
The guidelines for the Maryland Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Program require that DC Fast Chargers funded by the program be publicly accessible. The guidelines don’t clarify if the term “publicly accessible” applies to making the chargers available to commercial vehicles.
The City of Hyattsville partnered with the grantee to provide a site for the two 50 kW chargers in the parking lot in front of the City Municipal Center.
According to the Manager of Code and Parking Compliance for the City of Hyattsville, the city’s position is that the chargers are not intended for use by commercial vehicles and the City Administrator directed that signs be posted that prohibit any “for-hire” vehicles from parking or charging there.
Electrify America is building one of their largest and highest powered charging stations in the parking lot of Walmart in Columbia, Maryland. There are 10 DC Fast Charging dispensers, five are labeled 320 kW.
When construction started to wind down and signs were installed, I was disappointed to see only “branding” signs with, “EV charging only” printed in small, thin letters on the far ends of the charging area. I took to Twitter and asked @ElectrifyAm for signs that conformed to the MUTCD standards so that the police could enforce Howard County’s anti-ICEing ordinance.
Montgomery County Department of Transportation, Division of Parking (MCDOT), which manages the operation and enforcement of Electric Vehicle charging stations in all County owned and operated public parking facilities, has changed the signs at their EV charging stations to clearly state that the spots are for charging. The new signs are in response to customer feedback that electric vehicles were parking in the spaces and not actually plugging in and charging.
The previous signs stated, “No Parking Except Electric Vehicles” which may not have communicated clearly enough for some that the spots are intended for using the charging station and not just for parking an EV. Read More …
On March 4, 2013 I contacted the Columbia Association, a non-profit community organization that had recently used a U.S. Dept. of Energy grant and their own funds to install five EV charging stations at four of their facilities in Howard County, Maryland. I thanked them as an EV driver and suggested they post “no parking except for electric vehicle charging” signs at the charging stations since there were often gas vehicles parked in front of them.
Other EV drivers also contacted them about the ICEing problem. The response we got was that they had designed blue signs that said, “Electric Vehicle Charging Station.” They added that they were not willing to post signs that restricted parking to electric vehicles only, in part, because there were no enforceable regulations similar to those for handicapped spaces. Read More …
A Policy Statement issued June 17, 2013 by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration addresses regulatory sign standards for electric vehicle charging and parking facilities. [Link to webpage]
This Policy is intended to provide guidance based on the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways (MUTCD) for uniformity among regulatory signs used for on-street electric vehicle charging and parking sites.
This Policy can be shared with local officials and property owners that wish to have signs that conform to MUTCD specifications that are required in some jurisdictions in order for the police to enforce anti-ICEing laws. (legislation reference)
Signs have been posted at public charging stations in Ocean City, Maryland that read, “ELECTRIC VEHICLE CHARGING ONLY, PARKING WHILE NOT CONNECTED TO CHARGING EQUIPMENT IS A PARKING INFRACTION, $30.00 PENALTY.”
Ocean City is apparently using an existing local ordinance rather than passing a specific anti-ICEing law to regulate and enforce parking at EV charging stations at city-owned parking facilities. Town ordinance 90-137d4 prohibits parking where prohibited by an official sign. That offense carries a maximum $30 fine.
Sec. 90-137. – Stopping, standing or parking prohibited in certain places; other parking restrictions.
(d) Parking. A person may not:
(4) Park a vehicle at any other place where parking is prohibited by an official sign.
The signs also prohibit electric vehicles from parking and not plugging in. The charging stations where the signs are posted are on city property and there is no fee to use them at this time.
Thanks to Chrgit for the tip and photo.
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Last Tuesday the Howard County Council voted on a bill to authorize the Howard County Police Department to enforce parking restrictions at designated plug-in vehicle charging stations on private property. Within four days, the Columbia Association had taken down all signs that said “EV PARKING ONLY” at their five EV charging stations in the county.
Dennis Mattey, Director of Open Space & Facilities Services at Columbia Association said the “EV PARKING ONLY” signs were taken down in response to the recent Howard County legislation. He said that they didn’t want people to get tickets. According to Mattey, the charging stations were originally approved under the premise that the parking spots not be only for EVs. He said the signs will be replaced with ones that designate EV preferred parking.
Columbia Association Changed Position on Signage
The reason given for removing the signs contradicts the Columbia Association’s earlier position that “EV ONLY” signs were not posted because of the absence of legislation related to EV charging spaces.
In a Columbia Association Newsletter announcing the charging stations in 2014, the reason given as to why the charging spots were not reserved for EVs only was said to be because of the lack of an enforceable law.
“There are several reasons the adjacent parking spaces are not posted as reserved for EV use only. First there is no statute in Maryland or Howard County designating EV charging station sites as a category of privileged parking (such as the signage posted for handicapped parking). Thus, there is no police enforcement mechanism for EV only designation.”
When Howard County passed its anti-ICEing law in July, 2014, the Columbia Association changed the signs from “Electric Vehicle Charging Station” to “EV PARKING ONLY 4 HOUR LIMIT” once they saw there was an enforceable regulation for EV charging station parking.
The advocacy for the Howard County anti-ICEing law was done largely to solve the problem at the Columbia Association charging stations, especially the one near Kahler Hall. Now that a law has been passed, the Columbia Association has reversed their position and cites the existence rather than the lack of an enforceable regulation as the reason not to reserve the charging spaces for EVs only.
A statewide anti-ICEing bill, sponsored by Delegate Clarence Lam, is now before the Maryland General Assembly.
Double ICEd by Tractor-Trailer
Take a look at that picture. A tractor-trailer truck is blocking not just one, but TWO EV charging stations. And those are the only charging stations for miles around.
This occurred on August 27, 2015 at the “Charging Up Delaware” EV charging stations installed at the Royal Farms store in Bridgeville, DE. I approached the manager of the Royal Farms and she told me that the truck drivers park there and leave them – sometimes for days.
New Installation, Signs Ordered
I wrote an email to the director of the program at the University of Delaware. He explained that the charging stations had just been installed and that signs would be there eventually, but it may take a month or two. We had no choice but to drive slowly, conserving range, to the next available charging station which was in Rehoboth Beach.
No Truck, Cone Placed
The next time we passed through was on September 17th. This time there were no trucks parked there, but no signs yet either. I spoke with a Customer Service Leader at the Royal Farms and she helpfully offered to place orange cones by the charging stations to discourage trucks from parking there. She was able to find only one cone but cheerfully promised to order several more.
No Signs, Cone Gone
On the most recent excursion through Bridgeville on October 25th, I was disappointed to see there were no signs posted yet and the cone was gone. Fortunately, the stations were not ICEd and both stations were accessible. I hope that Royal Farms and the University of Delaware will find a permanent solution to prevent the trucks from blocking these valuable and needed charging stations that enable long-distance EV travel on the DelMarVa peninsula.
The south side of the 400 block of E. Lexington St. in Baltimore is designated a “Tow Away Zone” except for two curb-side EV charging spots. This came to my attention when a parking enforcement officer was examining the signs to determine if he had the authority to have a non plug-in car towed. The driver of that car received a ticket for blocking a charging station. I believe the officer said it was classified as a “code 99, all other parking violations” citation. I thought it was kind of odd that the two parking spots reserved for EV charging had become something of a safe harbor from the risk of an impound ticket in that area.
I asked the Parking Authority of Baltimore City why those EV charging spots are not included in the Tow Away Zone. They responded that there is no authorization in the Baltimore City Code providing for impoundment of non-EVs when they park in EV charging spots.
There happens to be several spaces reserved for Zipcar parking on the other side of that same street. I went on Google Street View and saw that they have signs saying, “No Parking, Tow Away Zone, Reserved for Zipcars only” with a red arrow pointing toward the zip car spaces. It turns out that language was added to the law to allow spots reserved for car-share vehicles to be designating as an impound area. Here is the section of the Baltimore City Code that addresses the impounding area for car-sharing spaces.
§ 31-107. Car-sharing spaces.
(a) “Car-sharing program” defined.
“Car-sharing program” means a program by which an entity offers the use of motor vehicles to its members and patrons on a 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week basis, charging for the use of these vehicles on a time-used basis.
(b) Impounding area.
Impounding areas include those locations on the streets, on public-metered parking lots, and in City-owned parking facilities that the Director of Transportation reserves for parking vehicles used in a car-sharing program approved by the Director.
It appears that the code will have to be amended in order to provide for impounding of ICE vehicles that block the charging stations in Baltimore City.
Howard County passed the first law in the state of Maryland to specifically allow for impounding of non plug-in vehicles that block a charging station. My council representative initiated that bill with my encouragement. Perhaps a resident of Baltimore City can contact their city representative and urge them to consider legislation to address this. I will be happy to help.
This 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.
I 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.
Scott 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.
Scott was finally able to park next to the charging station and plug in.
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.
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.
I’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.