As the New York Times pointed out this week, one of the many unanswered questions surrounding electric vehicles is how to assure that parking spaces with charging equipment will not be taken up by non-electric cars (“Pointing the Way to Where E.V. Drivers Can Plug In”, May 4, 2012) . There is a lot of discussion regarding where stations should be located, but once the stations are constructed it is unclear how to deal with this potential problem. I was amused to learn that EV owners have begun to refer to this problem as getting “ICEd” – as in internal combustion engine vehicles taking their parking spaces.
I had an interesting experience with the “ICE” phenomenon recently while trying to find a parking space at the HEB on 41st and Red River. I should point out first that I do not own an electric vehicle, so I was not purposely looking for a spot to charge up. Rather, I am interested in what the EV charging infrastructure will look like in the future so I tend to keep my eyes open for these types of things. Anyways, if I had been looking for a charging station I would have had absolutely no problem finding one at this particular HEB. This is not because they have dozens of charging spots in their parking lot, nor because of some sophisticated enforcement mechanism to keep “ICErs” out. Rather, the reason I would have had no problem finding a spot to charge my car at HEB was because the lone spot was located at the very back of the parking lot – literally the furthest away from the store that you could get without going onto an adjacent property (see map below) . In other words, it is very unlikely that an EV owner would choose to park their car at this spot – which I measured to be ~500 feet from the front entrance – unless they were in desperate need of a charge.
I am willing to give Austin Energy (the owner of this charging station) the benefit of the doubt before completely letting loose on the ridiculousness of this location; perhaps this was the only feasible location to hook up to the grid, or maybe they wanted a location along a major arterial in order to increase awareness. These are both legitimate reasons for putting it where they did. In my opinion, however, the HEB charging station is doing a disservice to electric vehicles. Locating this station where they did sends a strong signal to EV owners that, “yes, we care about your needs, but not at the expense of our regular, ICE-driving customers”. If we are going to encourage the mass adoption of alternative fuel vehicles we need to ensure that consumers feel that their normal day-to-day behavior will not be seriously affected when they make the switch.
Good policy is one area where we can make EV drivers feel that they will not be left out to dry. A number of states have begun adopting laws prohibiting non-electric vehicles from using parking spots equipped with public charging stations. This is a good start, but there are many other logistical details that need to be ironed out, including how charging stations mesh with zoning laws, what types of on- and off-street signage are most effective, and how to make parking spaces accessible for all users . While most research on EVs has been focused on technological issues such as their interaction with the grid or battery range, its is clear that the large scale adoption of EVs will bring with it many other issues that haven’t been addressed yet.
 google maps