No, You Can’t Charge Here – Taxi, Uber, Lyft Drivers Banned

Hyattsville EV charging
Signs at Hyattsville City Municipal Center EV Charger

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.

The charging stations here in Hyattsville were installed for the use of Hyattsville Residents and guests to Hyattsville, they were not intended for commercial enterprises like rideshare vehicles such as Uber, Lyft or Taxis.  At the City Administrator’s direction the signs prohibiting “For Hire” vehicles were installed.

Manager, Code & Parking Compliance, City of Hyattsville

No Commercial Vehicles or Taxis in Takoma Park

The City of Takoma Park also considers their free charging stations to be for their residents. Problems occurred with commercial vehicles queuing up at the free stations. As a result, the city decided to post signs to prohibit commercial electric vehicles at the free charging stations in BY Morrison Park and the Tacoma Park Community Center.

Pepco EVsmart
“No Commercial Vehicles or Taxis” sign at BY Morrison Park, Takoma Park, MD

The signs only apply to where the city has had free charging stations. The commercial vehicles would literally line up, even blocking other open parking spaces, and residents were having a very hard time utilizing the free chargers. The City made the decision to restrict commercial vehicles from using the free chargers. Any charger that accepts a credit card is unrestricted.

Sustainability Manager, City of Takoma Park

Pepco recently replaced the free charging stations in BY Morrison Park with two Pepco-owned Level 2 units that have a fee of $0.18 per kWh. Since the Pepco stations are not free, the signs prohibiting commercial vehicles and taxis are due to be removed by the City.

Pepco, BGE & Lyft Partnership Proposed

What latitude do governments have to restrict access to public EV charging on their property? Especially since the Maryland Public Service Commission is considering a proposal from the Exelon utilities to partner with Lyft to put 100 electric rideshare vehicles in Maryland.

The utility proposes a 25% fleet discount at utility-owned Fast Chargers. If the program works the same as Maven Gig in Baltimore/DC and Lyft Express works in Denver, then the drivers will essentially have “free charging” since the vehicle rental includes charging.

With Maven Gig, the charging was in partnership with EVgo. Folks in the Baltimore/DC area have probably seen Bolt EVs with a Maven Gig sticker at popular EVgo sites such as the six stalls at Courtyard Marriott in Silver Spring.

Can Government Ban Rideshare EV Drivers from Charging?

The utility-run public charging stations in Maryland are required to be placed on property owned or controlled by state, county or local governments. What if some of these jurisdictions decide they don’t want taxis, Ubers or Lyfts charging on their property? Can they post signs banning commercial electric vehicles the same as Hyattsville and Takoma Park have done?

Update, Feb. 4, 2020: Richard Hartnett, adds the following to this discussion.

In reference to this article, it’s because those fast chargers in Hyattsville are currently free. When Takoma Park first installed chargers on their City Hall parking lot, the DC EV Taxi Drivers quickly discovered that they were free, and instead of paying to charge their “business vehicles,” they were lining up at the Takoma Park chargers and getting the “fuel” to run their business for nothing. It was so bad at times that people with non-commercial vehicles (for whom the chargers were intended), couldn’t use the chargers for all of the taxis and Uber drivers hogging them, so signs had to be erected prohibiting their use. Once Takoma Park starting charging to use the stations, the Taxis, Uber Drivers, etc. disappeared.

The same thing happened in Hyattsville. We got those stations through an MEA grant, and as a means of encouraging people to buy electric vehicles and to patronize our local businesses while charging, they decided to leave them free (at least for now). But just like in Takoma Park, it didn’t take long for the DC Taxis, Uber, Lyft and Maven drivers to realize they could run their businesses partially for free, and started lining up at the Hyattsville chargers. Other EV drivers started complaining to the city that they couldn’t use the chargers, and residents of the city decried that their tax dollars shouldn’t be used to fund private businesses, especially ones that are operating in another state. (And rightly so) As such, the signs went up prohibiting commercial vehicles from using the chargers, and the problem vanished. If however, the city decides to start charging for use of the DCFC stations, the signs prohibiting commercial vehicles will most likely be removed.

It should be noted that I was the person responsible for acquiring the EV Police Car, our two EV Police Motorcycles, and those two DCFC stations, as well as the other 18 Level 2 charging stations we have throughout the city, and I was the one that suggested the signs prohibiting commercial vehicles. Please feel free to contact me directly if you have any further questions about our electric vehicles or charging stations program.

Sgt. Richard Hartnett, Hyattsville City Police Department

The Maryland Public Service Commission is scheduled to rule tomorrow on allowing BGE and Pepco to spend $500,000 of ratepayer funds to help Lyft put 100 electric rideshare vehicles in this region.

Lyft will also get a 25% discount over what individual EV drivers would pay for fast charging. The Lyft Express Drive rental program normally includes charging. Rideshare drivers that rent a vehicle get a card that essentially gives them “free charging” on a partner network. In Maryland, the charging partner would be Pepco and BGE.

The utility-owned public charging stations must be placed on government-owned property. There’s likely to be competition between Lyft Express drivers and individual EV owners for space at some utility-owned fast chargers, particularly when the BGE/Pepco fast chargers are few in number.

The discussion on subsidizing charging costs for commercial fleets must include lessons learned from towns like Takoma Park and Hyattsville where commercial vehicles have overwhelmed the available public charging infrastructure.

Beverly Hills attempted to solve their EV charging issues by banning Plug-in Hybrids. The public objected and California passed a law that prohibited municipalities from restricting which types of electric vehicles can access public charging stations funded, at least in part, by the state or from ratepayers.

The various stakeholders in Maryland need to figure out acceptable alternatives to manage these charging issues.