Howard County Proposes Legislation to Prohibit “ICEing”

All six charging stations ICEd in Maple Lawn.
All six charging stations ICEd in Maple Lawn.

“ICEd.” It’s a term that stirs up EV drivers. To find a spot ICEd means that a vehicle with an Internal Combustion Engine, or ICE, is blocking access to a charging station.

ICEd_NoticeThe problem of gasoline powered vehicles parking in front of electric vehicle charging stations has been an issue at some locations in Howard County, Maryland where I live. To gain an understanding of the problem, one can view the reports on PlugShare, a popular app used to review EV charging sites, and see comments that note the driver couldn’t plug in because the station was ICEd. Many of these reports of being ICEd are at stations located on property owned by the Columbia Association.

I have written to Columbia Association (CA) officials several times expressing my gratitude for the charging stations but also suggesting that they take steps to ensure that the parking spots adjacent to them remain available for plug-in vehicles to use. I’ve suggested placing appropriate signage to discourage non plug in vehicles from parking there. They’ve responded that part of the reason for not erecting official no parking signs at the stations is the lack of legislation that allows for enforcement.

ICEAC1Ensuring access to charging stations is a relevant policy issue because many of those public stations were funded with tax payer money. It is my understanding that the charging stations on CA property were partly funded through a US Department of Energy grant. The cost of installing Level 2 public charging stations is generally between $6,000 and $10,000 each. That investment goes to waste each time they are not accessible for their intended use.

There is a history of attempts at legislation to address this problem in the Maryland General Assembly. In the 2012 session, Delegate Guy Guzzone, who represents my district, co-sponsored HB108. I wrote and offered input and support for that bill but HB108 didn’t pass.

In 2013, a similar bill HB1149 was introduced but it also failed to move through.

Earlier this year, Delegate Frank Turner, who also represents my district, co-sponsored HB1020 which died after an unfavorable report in the House Environmental Matters Committee.

Meanwhile, Montgomery County passed a law (bill 32-13) which is the first in the state of Maryland to deal with the issue of ICEing. I was the only person to attend the public comment session and testify in support of the Montgomery County bill. The bill ended up passing unanimously and the law became effective on June 11, 2014.

After the state bill failed for the third year in a row, I contacted my Howard County Council representative for District 3, Jen Terrasa, and explained the problem that plug in vehicle drivers face and asked her to propose a law to address this in Howard County. I provided links to resources including the Montgomery County bill, the text of Maryland bill HB1020 and a report from the Maryland Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Council.

I also cautioned against some factors that might sound good on the surface but actually have unintended consequences. One of those is requiring the vehicle to be plugged in or charging while parked at a charging station. Experienced EV advocates including Chelesa Sexton, from the movie “Who Killed the Electric Car,” fought against that provision in California AB 475. The argument against language requiring vehicles to remain connected is that no matter how or why your electric vehicle becomes unplugged, it can be towed, even if you can prove that you were connected to begin with.

Howard County Sheriff has a Nissan Leaf
Howard County Sheriff has a Nissan Leaf

Councilwoman Terrasa also heard from other Maryland EV drivers who have experienced being ICEd and who supported the introduction of legislation to deal with the issue.

On June 26, 2014, Councilwoman Terrasa filed CB36-2014 to reserve parking at charging stations that are designated with certain signage for plug in vehicles only.

The current text of the bill is located here. In my opinion, it covers all the bases without any of the well-meaning language that could cause difficulties in actual practice.

The bill uses the harmonized definition of a plug in vehicle used by the state which includes cars that have been converted from gasoline to electric. It will apply to private property but only if the property owner elects to erect an official sign. It does not require a plug in car to be charging or plugged in which could prevent plug swapping or leave an innocent driver susceptible to a fine or towing if someone unplugs their car without authorization. Time limits can be imposed to deal with squatters where necessary. And let’s face it, the real problem is not so much other plug in drivers, it is the gas cars parking at charging stations that needs to be solved.

According to the Maryland MVA, there are 252 plug in vehicles in Howard County as of December 2013. That ranks the county third in the state. There are over 35 public charging stations at 13 sites in the county.

Howard County Government is a huge supporter of EVs. They installed the first public charging stations in the county in 2011 at the Dorsey Building. They have a number of plug in vehicles in their fleet including a Nissan Leaf used by the Sheriff’s department. And recently they installed four more charging stations at the George Howard building where the County Council meets.

George Howard Building with EV Charging Stations
The George Howard Building where the Howard County Council meets has charging stations in the parking lot.

The Howard County Council will receive public comment on the bill on July 21, 2014, at 6:30 PM in the Banneker Room of the George Howard Building located at 3430 Courthouse Drive, Ellicott City, MD 21043.

I have already signed up to testify in support of the bill at the public hearing. If you are interested in joining me, you can sign-up in person the night of the hearing, or online by clicking here. You may also submit written testimony, comments or questions to Councilwoman Jen Terrasa or to the entire Council. See this contact page.

The Council is expected to vote on CB36 on July 25, 2014.