GM Sponsors Bill That Creates Problems for Electric Car Charging
For the second time, General Motors has sponsored a California bill that creates more problems for electric car owners than it solves. Without some eleventh-hour intervention, AB475 is going to pass. As other states often follow California’s lead, the perils of this trend are hardly restricted to the left coast.
Public charging has existed in California since 1996, much of it funded by General Motors. Because federal law requires American Disabilities Act (ADA) access, chargers are often located in prime parking spaces. Signage restricts parking to electric vehicles, but “ICEing”—a gas car parking in a charger space—has been an ongoing nuisance issue. It’s also been a manageable one, via local parking ordinances that allow offending vehicles to be ticketed or towed.
But in 2002, with EV population arguably in decline, the California legislature passed a law restricting public charger use to “zero-emission vehicles.” It also requires a DMV sticker so parking enforcement can easily tell which vehicles are eligible. Without clear evidence that local ordinances were insufficient, the 2002 law has been “a solution looking for a problem,” adding complexity and administrative costs. But its use by only a few charging sites limited the inconvenience, with just over 800 parking stickers issued to date.
That is, until plug-in hybrids hit the market and Chevrolet Volt drivers were excluded from those chargers. GM stepped in when asked, turning to Assemblymember Betsy Butler, whose district includes the company’s Torrance facility (and my house), and AB475 was born. Originally, it simply expanded eligible vehicles to include PHEVs (plug-in hybrids). But in June, the sticker scheme and complex definitions were scrapped in favor of verbiage stating that any plug-in is legally parked “while connected” to a charger. The change appears to greatly simplify things, but it’s surprisingly problematic.
First Problem: No Exclusions
Verbiage in the statute allows parking spaces to be designated “for the exclusive purpose of charging and parking a vehicle that is connected for electric charging purposes,” with no language that excludes gasoline-only vehicles, or alternative fuel vehicles that are not battery electric vehicles or plug-in hybrids.
There is nothing that refers to being connected to the EVSE, charger, or electric fueling infrastructure in the space, nor what type of electric charging is permitted. Someone could put a battery tender on the 12-volt auxiliary battery in a Suburban, and claim that he is “charging and parking a vehicle that is connected for electric charging purposes.” The language is fuzzy enough that anything on a car that one could argue is being “charged” would technically be in compliance.
The required signage associated with this statute invites an even looser interpretation: “Unauthorized vehicles not connected for electric charging purposes will be towed away at owner’s expense.” If a gas vehicle were charging a device plugged into its accessory port (say, a cell phone), it would indeed be "connected for electric charging purposes."
Second Problem: No Sharing Allowed
We’ve learned through years of trial and error that infrastructure use is maximized and cost minimized by installing chargers between two or four parking spaces where feasible. Drivers then share chargers by unplugging a fully charged vehicle and plugging the next one in, without having to wait for someone to move his car. It also helps with ICEing, the very issue this law is meant to address. Rather than waiting for that vehicle to be moved or towed, the plug-in simply takes the next space.
Here’s the problem: The current verbiage prevents sharing and guarantees that site owners will bear increased hardware and installation costs by having to install two to four times as many chargers to serve the same number of spaces.
When plug-in advocates raised these concerns with General Motors, its policy staff seemed to share them. Alternatives were collaboratively drafted—one as simple as reverting back to the original bill, another eliminating the previous bill entirely—and presented to Butler’s staff. Weeks followed with no movement on the language—-odd with stakeholders and the bill’s sponsor seemingly in alignment.
Butler’s final response came last week: the bill won’t be changed, as contrary to all indications, “General Motors did not share your concerns.” This is not the first time interests of a corporate constituent outweigh those affected by the proposed law, nor the first time GM has prioritized its own needs above those of their customers—but neither get any easier to swallow with experience.
What To Do
Plug-in vehicle charging should be made as simple and consistent as possible, by revoking the 2002 law and starting over. Now is the time to assess the need for and best implementation of a state law as more vehicles are deployed, while relying on effective local ordinances in the meantime. Even reverting to the original version of AB475 would be better than what’s about to happen. With the bill in danger of being passed at any moment, now is the time to weigh in.
Instead, we will soon have a law that seeks to address one problem by creating several others, while forcing current plug-in drivers to use more gas.
CALL TO ACTION: Readers are urged to express opposition to AB475, via Assemblymember Betsy Butler's website ASAP, as well as contact their own Assemblymember.
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