An electric vehicle charges at a public station in Henrico County, July 2020. (Sarah Vogelsong/Virginia Mercury)
Virginia lawmakers may not agree on much in a divided General Assembly. But Democrats and Republicans alike are standing up for the parking rights of drivers with electric vehicles.
One of the first bills to pass both legislative chambers in the 2022 session creates a new traffic infraction that would fine drivers caught parking a gas-powered car or truck in a spot meant for electric-vehicle charging.
Proponents of the law, which essentially puts law enforcement power behind signs designating parking spots as EV-only, called it a common-sense step that would protect the investments of property owners who install charging infrastructure and drivers who buy electric vehicles. Several supporters compared it to existing laws reserving parking spots for people with disabilities.
“I have heard personally from EV owners in Virginia being blocked from charging at a station because a gasoline car was parked there,” Charles Gerena, an organizer with Richmond-based Drive Electric RVA, said in committee testimony last week. “So it’s not an abstraction. It’s actually a real problem that will only get worse over time as more charging infrastructure is put in and more people decide to buy electric vehicles.”
Supporters said more than a dozen states have already implemented similar parking laws to prepare for the growing numbers of electric vehicles on the roads.
How steep the fine should be is undecided. The bill that passed the Democratic-led Senate sets a fine of $100 to $250, while the version approved by the Republican-controlled House of Delegates sets a maximum fine of $50. Later in the session, legislators will also have to reconcile differences in the two bills over whether gas-powered vehicles could be towed from charging spots. Both versions say penalties would only apply if clear warning signs are posted.
The bill empowers local governments to pass an ordinance enforcing the rule, meaning any city or county that might disagree with it wouldn’t be forced to start writing parking tickets over EV spots.
The bills passed in each chamber with bipartisan support, but three dozen Republicans voted against them. The Senate version, sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, passed two weeks ago in a 28-12 vote. The House version passed 73-24 Monday.
Though the proposal might appear uncomplicated, legislators wrestled with the question of what to do about EV drivers who take up a charging spot even though their vehicle is fully charged. The bills don’t specify a car must be actively charging, and several legislators said it would be unfair to ticket a driver for not moving fast enough post-charge.
At a Senate Transportation Committee hearing, Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach, said EV drivers already have an incentive to keep spots open because many charging stations apply small hourly fees even when cars aren’t charging.
“I think that’s already built-in,” DeSteph said.
Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County, who opposed the bill, said he was concerned it creates special parking privileges for wealthier Virginians who can afford electric vehicles. Lower-income drivers who break the rule in a gas vehicle, he said, might have to pay hundreds of dollars, while an EV driver taking up the same spot without charging wouldn’t pay nearly as much.
“I don’t like the way it treats folks,” Suetterlein said.
Sen. Dave Marsden, D-Alexandria, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, said someone who parks a non-electric car in an electric charging space is “asking for a parking ticket.”
“Someone who is maybe of lesser means who pulls in and is risking a $100 fine, that’s on them,” Marsden said.
In the House, the bill’s patron, Del. Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, D-Alexandria, faced questions over law enforcement’s role in policing parking rules on private property.
Del. Tim Anderson, R-Virginia Beach, asked if the proposal could potentially be widened to allow enforcement of other types of reserved parking, like spots for military veterans or pregnant women. In response, Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, said asking someone to prove they’re pregnant to avoid a ticket is a more invasive proposition than simply looking to see whether a car parked in an EV spot is electric or not.
“’How does one identify an electric vehicle?,” asked Del. Dave LaRock, R-Loudoun, the chair of the House transportation subcommittee that first heard the bill. “Is it pretty obvious?”
“My understanding is that it is, Mr. Chairman,” said Bennett-Parker. “I would also imagine that being connected to the charging infrastructure would also be a way to identify it.”
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