Signs posted at electric vehicle charging stations around Boulder tell drivers those spaces are reserved for electric vehicles, but that hasn't stopped drivers of conventional cars from snagging the spots, especially when lots are full.
So far, that hasn't been something the city's parking enforcement officers could address. Nothing in Boulder's city code makes it illegal to park a conventional fuel vehicle at an electric vehicle charging station.
That could change under an ordinance being considered by the Boulder City Council at its meeting Tuesday night.
The code change would make it a ticketable offense with a $20 fine to park a non-electric vehicle at an electric vehicle charging station. It also would require that electric vehicles parked at the spots actually be charging.
Boulder City Council members raised the issue at their annual retreat in January as a small but concrete step the city could take to promote electric vehicle use.
Where to plug in
There are a number of options to charge an electric car in Boulder, from stations at city locations that cost $1 per charge to private businesses that offer the service for free, such as Alfalfa's, or at varying costs.
Locations in Boulder include:
North Boulder Recreation Center, 3170 Broadway
East Boulder Recreation Center, 5660 Sioux Drive
South Boulder Recreation Center, 1360 Gillaspie Drive
Downtown parking garage, 1500 Pearl St.
Alfalfa's Market, 1651 Broadway
Boulder Nissan, 2285 28th St.
Rocky Mountain Institute, 1820 Folsom St.
University of Colorado, Parking Lot 470, west of Wolf Law
Walgreens, 1830 30th St.
Tuesday night's vote is a first reading, with a second reading and a public hearing to be set if the council approves the first draft of the ordinance.
In a memo to the City Council on the proposed change, Boulder officials said many other cities already make it a ticketable offense to park non-electric vehicles at charging stations, with fines ranging from $25 to as high as $300 in Philadelphia. Many cities make the fine the same as that for parking in a handicapped spot, which in Boulder would be $112.
City officials recommended a $20 fine based on other city parking fines, which are $15 for staying too long at a meter, $20 for unauthorized parking and $25 for parking on a sidewalk or in a loading zone.
The ordinance also would require electric vehicles to actually be charging at the stations to ensure they are used for their intended purpose, rather than as a reserved parking space, and would create a time limit that could be changed as vehicle charging technology improves.Stations around Boulder
It currently takes about four hours to fully charge an electric vehicle, but new technology is expected to reduce that time. Boulder Nissan already has one Level III charging station that can charge a vehicle in a half hour.
The city has installed 12 electric vehicle charging stations with a $500,000 Department of Energy grant, seven of which are for city fleet vehicles and four of which are available to the public. Another public station is expected to be installed soon.
There are stations at the South, East and North Boulder Recreation Centers and at the downtown parking garage at 1500 Pearl St.
There also are non-city charging stations at the University of Colorado, Alfalfa's, Rocky Mountain Institute, Boulder Nissan and Walgreens.
According to the ordinance language, the fine would apply on private as well as public property, similar to how handicap parking violations are enforced.
A spokeswoman for Alfalfa's said the Boulder store does not seem to have a lot of problems with conventional vehicles using the spaces, but the management still supports the idea of using tickets to discourage the practice.
The store has four charging stations, two of which are sometimes used by a store delivery van and a car share vehicle.
If you go
What: Boulder City Council
When: 6 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Boulder Municipal Building, City Council chambers, 1777 Broadway
“People tend to respect it, and when the parking lot is pretty full, we let people park there,” Sonja Tuitele said. “I think the challenge that people have is, ‘Am I going to make it to my next charging station?' If you arrive at a spot and you can't charge because someone else is there, that creates more barriers to using renewable energy, and if we want renewable energy to be more acceptable, we need to reduce barriers.”‘Some people turn their noses up'
Nigel Zeid, an electric vehicle sales specialist at Boulder Nissan, said the question of “where to charge” is “getting better, but it's getting worse.”
“There are more charging stations, but with more electric vehicles on the road, you start to have issues of charging etiquette,” he said.
The availability of charging stations is a major concern for people buying electric vehicles, Zeid said, and he sees plenty of instances of people in conventional vehicles using spaces by charging stations.
It happens even at the dealership.
“It's just the one spot, but people will still take it,” he said.
Zeid said ticketing such drivers would probably get people to change their habits.
“There are certain places you don't park, like near fire hydrants, and people know that and don't do it,” he said. “But I think some people turn their noses up a little at electric vehicles and don't take it that seriously.”