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Living with Leaf: GM is Changing the Charging Rules in California

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2011 Nissan Leaf

author photo by Joni Gray

In California, GM wants full access to public charging plugs for its Chevrolet Volt. But as a result of a bill GM backed, parking spots with chargers will now be for charging only. When the charging's done, you are outa-there!

Back in 2002, a law was passed in California that allowed no-emission only cars (electric or natural gas only) to park in and charge at public and retail-owned charging stations. Many of us, including me for my Nissan Leaf, Hal, filed for and received the $18 sticker that allows you to park in front of a charging station. As it stood, there was no restriction for continuing to park there even after your charge was topped off. If you were in the mall, you'd finish shopping. If you were at the airport, you'd go on your trip and come back long after the charge was complete.

But that bill was created before plug-in hybrids came into being, so now that the Chevrolet Volt has entered the market, GM backed an amendment to the bill. The Bill, AB 475, has already passed, but the California Governor could still veto it on or before Oct. 8, 2011.

The controversy about AB 475 is that, although the new bill eliminates the need for stickers and makes any car with an available plug legal to park in these stations, it also restricts those cars from remaining in the space - under threat of towing - anytime after the charge is complete.

Advocates of electric-only cars, like my Leaf, are pushing to have the bill killed because it not only makes life less convenient for electric car owners, but it disallows "plug sharing," a practice by where another car could park next to you and used the plug if you leave a note saying it's OK to do so. The GM-backed bill would call that "tampering" with the car under penalty of law.

I'm concerned about this in-fighting being played out in California, because whatever happens here will probably be the way other states will roll out their rules and regulations. We're all in this together, and it's going to take the cooperation of all EV owners and manufacturers to really impact the market today.

My biggest concern is that folks parking at the airport chargers have no way to comply with such a rigid rule, and there are no valets there to move your car after a charge is done. The free parking and charge available at LAX would be a thing of the past.

If electric cars are going to be embraced and bought in the future, part of the motivation is how easy or difficult it will be to find available charging stations. For now, I'm only using my own home unit. It limits my outward bound range, but I hope that further legislation doesn't de-motivate potential EV and plug-in buyers who cannot really enjoy the privileges of parking at a charging station and coming back to their car when it's convenient for them.

My argument for dropping this bill: Aren't all special parking spots based on a first-come-first-serve basis? I think it they usually are unless you're employee of the month or in a 30-minute only pick up area.

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Living with Leaf: GM is Changing the Charging Rules in California