Raleigh Report

Gas guzzlers can’t stay out of electric-only parking in Raleigh

A non-electric car is parked illegally in space 378 on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh, N.C. on Thursday, December 18, 2014. The spot located next to an electric charging station is often occupied by gasoline powered automobiles.
A non-electric car is parked illegally in space 378 on Fayetteville Street in downtown Raleigh, N.C. on Thursday, December 18, 2014. The spot located next to an electric charging station is often occupied by gasoline powered automobiles. rwillett@newsobserver.com

People can’t seem to resist Raleigh’s electric-vehicle parking and charging spots – even when they’re driving gas guzzlers.

A sign next to each of the city’s 23 special spaces warns that gasoline-powered vehicles blocking the charger will get a $50 ticket. Yet fuel-burners just keep coming, especially to spot No. 378, which may be the most frequent site of parking tickets in Raleigh.

In fact, the Fayetteville Street space has produced parking fines more often than it has charged vehicles – to the tune of about $27,000 in fines – according to city records for a one-year period that ended in November.

In that year, the city cited people about 540 times for parking gasoline-powered vehicles in the single space, which is on the 200 block of downtown’s central street. (A map of local chargers is available at bit.ly/wake-ev.)

That’s about 1.5 tickets per day for this particular spot, and they’re more costly than the $20 ticket for an expired meter.

Dan St-Germain, a freelance driver for Uber, saw so many people cited that he decided to become the spot’s guardian, warning people off the forbidden pavement.

“It’s happened very quite often,” he said. “ ... Sometimes I argue with the girl issuing tickets.”

Part of the reason for the frequent citations at 378 is that Fayetteville Street is the busiest stretch of curbside parking in downtown, according to Gordon Dash, Raleigh’s parking administrator. Fayetteville Street will always see more activity, and thus more fines, than other parking areas.

Still, spot 378 is especially magnetic for rule-breaking drivers. In fact, it produced seven times as many fines in a recent year as other spaces on the same block of Fayetteville Street.

In other words, people ignore the electric-only sign on Fayetteville far more often than they forget to feed the meter.

St-Germain, who narrowly avoided one of the electric-only tickets himself, thinks the spot’s warning sign isn’t obvious enough.

“You're not going to lift your head all the way up there,” he said. “It's not visible at all.”

Dash said that the city tried to fix that this year by bringing the posting closer to the road.

“There is a fine balance between just enough, to be informative, and too much, to the point that it's cluttered,” he said.

Temptation might be a problem too. The electric spot on Fayetteville is free more often because of its special rules, making it an obvious if unlawful choice for people hustling to the courthouses.

“They’re scrambling to find on-street spaces, because they think they’re going to be there a short time,” Dash said.

Or maybe drivers are simply still adjusting. The city launched the electric-vehicle charging program in 2009, in partnership with Duke Energy and Project Get Ready. It has only fined people for blocking the spots since 2012, when City Council member Bonner Gaylord – who drives an electric Nissan Leaf – complained that combustion engines were blocking the special spots.

Now, he says, it might be time for another look at the program’s aesthetics.

“You can paint the whole spot a color, and hope that people recognize when they park,” he said. That’s how electric spots are marked at North Hills, the retail-office-residential center Gaylord manages.

And in the future, he said, the city might consider stationing spots on calmer roads.

Originally, Raleigh wanted the chargers to be in highly visible locations. Now it seems that electric drivers are finding even the sites on calmer roads. The charger on East Cabarrus Street, for example, dispenses hundreds of charges with only a handful of citations each year, Dash said.

“If they see a space, or a couple of vacant meters, they'll get the word out,” he said.

Gaylord said he would ask city staff to consider better markings for its electric-only spots.

  Comments