Lawmakers weigh penalties for blocking charging stations

Staff writerFebruary 27, 2013 

A proposal in the state Senate threatens penalties for anyone parking a vehicle at an electric vehicle charging station without being connected to an electrical outlet.

If approved, the infraction would carry a $250 fine — the same penalty for parking illegally in a disabled spot.

Owners of electric vehicles say they often encounter gas-powered vehicles needlessly blocking charging stations. They call it getting “iced” — a play on the acronym for the internal combustion engine.

Kevin McMahon of Maple Valley has put more than 13,000 miles on his electric car since 2011. In that time, McMahon said he’s been “iced” multiple times — sometimes when the car’s battery was nearly dead.

“I’ve stopped at Fred Meyer to use their charger because my navigation system said the charger was available,” McMahon said. “But when I got there, it was blocked. Rather than wait there, since I have no idea how long the spot’s going to be blocked, I have to go to the next one.”

McMahon said the problem is compounded in some areas, such as Marysville, that have only one station in the whole city.

More Washingtonians may face those frustrations as electric-vehicle ownership grows. According to the state Department of Licensing, approximately 4,300 plug-in electric vehicles were registered in the state last year — more than twice as many as the previous year.

Jeff Finn, a member of the Seattle Electric Vehicle Association, said he thinks the proposed law would go a long way in raising awareness. He said he thinks there would be fewer issues if drivers realized blocking a charging station is no better than parking in front of a gas pump.

The proposal would require the charging station parking spot to be indicated with a vertical sign and the pavement marked with green paint.

Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, is the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 5849, which was heard Tuesday in front of the Senate Transportation Committee.

Similar to other parking infractions, violations of the electric-charging station law would be policed by local law enforcement.

Some cities have struggled to curb illegal parking violations given their limited numbers of parking enforcement officers. Loretta Cool, public information officer with the Tacoma police, said her agency relies on a combination of parking enforcement officers and tips from residents to keep disabled parking spaces open for those who need them.

Other agencies, including the Olympia Police Department, have turned to volunteer patrols to issue citations.

Amy Stull, an Olympia police senior project specialist, said the agency has 10 volunteers who, along with other duties, are authorized by state law to cite vehicles that are illegally taking up disabled parking spots. Stull said the volunteers have issued up to 400 citations per year.

However, those volunteers wouldn’t be allowed to cite vehicles illegally parked at an electric charging station. While state law allows volunteers to issue disabled parking citations, the charging station proposal has no such provision.

Jimmy Lovaas: 360-943-7123 jimmy.lovaas@ Twitter: @jimmylovaas Download the Capital Update app for iPad and iPhone for a seven-day free trial.

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