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ICEholes beware: Colorado is considering parking fines for blocking electric-vehicle charging stations

“I would never park my car at a gas station and walk away. That’s essentially what they’re doing,” said Margaret-Ann Leavitt, with National Car Charging in Denver.

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As any thoughtful electric-vehicle driver needs to do, Sean Mitchell plotted the stops on his road trip to Los Angeles before leaving home last month.

He didn’t want to run out of fuel for his Tesla. Driving west was fine. But on his return to Denver, he pulled into a critical stop at a hotel in Glenwood Springs and found that all six charging stations were occupied — and none by electric vehicles.

Arriving at night at the Residence Inn in Glenwood Springs, Tesla owner Sean Mitchell was miffed that all the charging stations were occupied by gasoline vehicles. Electric-vehicle owners have a name for those folks — ICEholes. And when this happens, an EV owner has been ICE’d. (Provided by Sean Mitchell)

“This was problematic because I had 30 miles left of range on my battery and the next Supercharger — east or west — was about 90 miles,” said Mitchell, president of the Denver Tesla Club. “Having access to this Supercharger was imperative for me to get back to Denver in a timely manner. So I parked my car and went into the hotel and told them.”

The Residence Inn already knew there was a problem.

“Thankfully, the employee had their car parked there to protect a stall so I was able to charge it enough to get back to Denver,” Mitchell said.

MORE: Colorado is a top electric vehicle state without a mandate. So why can’t locals buy most of the EVs for sale?

Maybe the other drivers didn’t see the EV-only/no-parking signs or the 5-foot-tall Tesla chargers. Or maybe they couldn’t find a spot closer to the hotel’s entrance so they parked in the charging stalls located on the back side of the parking lot. Or, perhaps, they were just “ICEholes,” a nickname for drivers of internal-combustion-engine vehicles who intentionally block access to charging stations.

Whether ICEing is intentional or not, such drivers are scorned and shamed by the EV community. There’s a hashtag, bumper stickers and multiple Facebook sites, including EVHOLE, which recently posted a photo of a GMC truck parked haphazardly across two charging spots even though there is an empty spot nearby. There are even EV fakers who park at charging stalls and place the power nozzle into a slot in their car so it looks like they’re charging.

Colorado is one of the top states for EV sales in the nation, and that’s bringing about a behavioral change — for EV drivers and, apparently, some non-EV drivers. EV owners learn to plug in their cars at home each night.

They plan out road trips based on fueling locations because they can’t just drive up to a gas station. They share notes on dealing with ICEholes. But obnoxious behavior by drivers who may feel contemptuous that the often higher-priced vehicles get special parking spots has put a damper on being part of the EV culture.

A proposed Colorado law to fine violators could help prevent this.

“Regardless if it’s a problem or not, it’s a reality. This is a change in how people fuel,” said Margaret-Ann Leavitt, vice president of marketing for Denver retailer National Car Charging, which sells EV chargers. “I would never park my car at a gas station and walk away. That’s essentially what they’re doing. Most people who stop at a public charger, they do so because they need to. (Most) people who have an EV fuel at home. If they’re fueling at a public charging station, it’s probably because they’re on a long, extended trip.”

(The U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy estimated that more than 80 percent of EV owners charge at home, with growth projections at 90 percent.)

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The parking proposal

Kamala Vanderkolk, a Tesla Model X owner who lives in Roxborough Park, said she doesn’t run up against many rude “gasholes.” But after posting a picture on Facebook of getting “ICE’d” by a Subaru and a Buick in Grand Lake, she started getting trolled by a guy who said he was going to start parking in charging spots from now on.

“Talking about it makes the problem worse,” said Vanderkolk, who decided to take a different route to curbing violators.

After spotting a sign in Arizona warning of $350 fines for drivers who park in spots reserved for charging electric vehicles, Colorado resident Kamala Vanderkolk helped craft House Bill 1298, which would fine violators. (Provided by Kamala Vanderkolk)

She learned about the impact of parking fines after pulling into a Marriott in Flagstaff, Arizona, and finding that all the charging stations were full of non-electric vehicles. But on the sign, it said violators would be fined $350.

“Immediately, I went to talk to the owner and said, ‘Tell me about this,’” Vanderkolk said. “She said, ‘It was great. Before this law, I couldn’t do anything about it. Now if someone tells me they can’t access a spot, I can call local enforcement and they’ll come give them a ticket.’”

Vanderkolk, who unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the Colorado House last fall, found a lawyer to help her write a bill and then found sponsors in state Sen. Kevin Priola, a Henderson Republican, and state Rep. Jovan Melton, an Aurora Democrat.

House Bill 1298, which passed the House and is now in the Senate, could provide some relief for anxious EV drivers. It would slap a $150 fine — a compromise from the original $350 fee — on violators occupying reserved charging spots. That includes plug-in vehicle owners who are finished charging but haven’t vamoosed (there’s a 30-minute grace period).

“This is not to create some type of convenience for EV vehicles,” Melton said during the House debate. “This is saying don’t block the port where they can charge.”

2019 electric-vehicle bills in Colorado

House Bill 1298

Would fine drivers $150 for parking in EV charging spot while not charging. Status: Passed House on April 18, expected to be heard by Senate committee this week.

House Bill 1198

The EV Grand Fund bill allows Colorado Energy Office to make grants to universities, apartment buildings and other organizations who wish to install EV charging stations. Status: Passed, signed by Gov. Polis on April 17.

Senate Bill 77

Allow public utilities, like Xcel, to build EV charging infrastructure and operate them for profit to get a return on investment. Status: Passed House on April 18, now in Senate.

Those who opposed the bill felt the fine was too high or provided special treatment. As Rep. Lois Landgraf, a Republican from El Paso County, argued, what about special parking signs for big cars?

“What I’d like you to consider next year is parking for full-size cars because nothing stops all those people, all those cars — the EVs, the compact cars — from parking in full-size car spaces,” she told Melton before the House voted to approve the bill. “The few that are left are used by cars that could park elsewhere. Some of us have no place to park.”

Another contingent also felt the bill is unnecessary.

“This is a solution looking for a problem,” said Tim Jackson, CEO of the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association, a trade group representing 260 dealers. “Non-electric cars parked in electric charging stations are rare and didn’t need protection from hundreds of dollars in fines or tow-aways to solve.”

The association has a few EV chargers and parking spots at its headquarters on Speer Boulevard in central Denver. Jackson said that in five years, “I can count on one hand, and even one finger the number of times that someone has parked a non-electric car in an electric charging station.”

After working with legislators to lower the fine, the organization now has a neutral position on the bill. But Jackson said there are still concerns about law enforcement going on private property. He plans to seek more revisions during the Senate hearing.

Colorado is friendly to would-be EV owners. The state offers a $5,000 incentive at the time of purchase. Gov. Jared Polis signed an executive order to join California’s zero-emission vehicle standard shortly after he was inaugurated in January. State employees are still hammering out the rules and it goes before the Air Quality Control Commission next month.

MORE: More electric vehicles will likely be available in Colorado after a new executive order from Gov. Polis

But before Polis, Gov. John Hicklenlooper also promoted a plan to increase the number of charging stations and encourage adoption of electric vehicles. Extreme growth scenario? Get to 940,000 EVs by 2030, which is up from about 11,238 in 2017.

Currently in Colorado, there are 690 public electric vehicle charging stations with 1,809 ports. (Here’s a map). More are on the way because of state grants to companies and organizations installing chargers. The state Regional Air Quality Council provided funding for 547 charging stations to date, according to Matt Mines, program coordinator.

The state Energy Office says that no complaints have come in about blocked chargers, but director Will Toor said the proposed law is among a handful of EV-charger related bills that will help the state meet its clean air goals.

Prepping for an EV future anyway

Nic Ansuini, who lives in Conifer, doesn’t own an electric vehicle. But he recently put down a deposit for the new Tesla Model Y, which won’t be out until late 2020. So, yeah, he’s concerned about not finding an open spot when he really needs one. He ended up testifying in favor of the charge-station parking bill.

“You see all those horror stories of people trying to charge their EVs and the ICE vehicles are in the way. That was a concern for me,” said Ansuini, adding that his daily round trip commute to Denver is nearly 90 miles. “What if I pull up and there’s not a spot available? It’s not like I can pull up to the nearest gas station.”

This increased his range anxiety, or the fear that the electric vehicle will run out of electric juice before reaching his destination. But he feels there’s time to remedy that.

MORE: How a Louisville company aims to make electric cars cost less and drive farther using technology from CU

“It’s not a big enough concern for me right now but the introduction of this bill has definitely added to my enthusiasm,” he said.

Charging stations tend to be located at hotels and tourist spots, and near highways connecting regions and states. Businesses also install them for office workers to use.

Tesla Supercharger at the Park Meadows Mall in Lone Tree on April 20, 2019 was full of Teslas, which are the only electric vehicles that can use these spots. (Tamara Chuang, The Colorado Sun)

Sometimes they’re located near the front door of a business, but most of the time they are not. The Park Meadows Mall in Lone Tree has Tesla Superchargers at the back of its parking lot opposite Crate & Barrel. The Denver Museum of Nature & Science has a spot at the far end of its parking lot, plus five more on the lowest level of its parking garage.

Tesla, which owns and manages its Superchargers, places stalls away from major entrances so they’re accessible for traveling Tesla owners. That’s a reason why the company targets smaller towns where residents may not own a Tesla, but the nearby roadways are oft-traveled by road trippers. Non-Tesla drivers must find charging stalls elsewhere in town.

The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park sees a lot of Tesla visitors. It has seven Tesla chargers and is in the process of adding more in what used to be a dirt lot. It’s been good for business, as travelers often dine at the hotel while charging.

The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park turned a dirt lot into a charging area for Tesla’s. It’s away from the main entrance so other hotel guests would have to drive out of their way to park there. It currently has seven Tesla chargers and is planning on adding more. (Provided by Grand Heritage Hotel Group)

“We built a specific lot for them. It’s located right behind the hotel. It’s like going to the gas station,” said Reed Rowley, vice president of Grand Heritage, which owns the hotel. “Good design solves a lot of problems, but not everyone gets the opportunity to design from scratch. By giving them their own parking lot, it didn’t take away from other parking spots.”

Complaints to the Glenwood Springs police department about drivers blocking charging stations are rare. Police Chief Terry Wilson doesn’t recall hearing of one, although he added that  “doesn’t mean it’s not happening.”

A city ordinance already allows an officer to write a ticket for anyone violating a parking sign, including one that says “EVs Only.” But most of the charging stations in town are on private property, so it would be up to property owners to handle enforcement.

“We write a bunch of tickets for handicap parking. I couldn’t give you a number but it’s not uncommon for us to have three, four, five a week,” he said. “They’d have to be blind not to see the signage and markings, which would qualify them as handicapped and I wouldn’t want them to be driving.”

He’s pretty sure that even if the bill becomes law, people would still park in spots reserved for charging vehicles. But he’d be able to ticket the cars, just as he does violators parked in handicapped spots.

“People park in them because they are flat-out lazy,” he said. “I had one gentleman try to justify parking in a handicap space because he said it was 8:30 at night and handicap people don’t go out at night. Needless to say, I advised him to pay the ticket.”

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