Saturday, April 5, 2014

Driving Electric - Politely

Published in the Sun March 26, 2014

An electric car does not “fill up” as quickly as a gasoline car.  Gasoline is such an energy marvel.  You just pour into your tank and “Voila!” you can drive for hundreds of miles.  Of course, this convenience is the magic of fossil fuels and why we are so loathe to switch to alternative fuels.  A battery, on the other hand, takes some time to recharge, which is why recharging stations are not located at gas stations.  There is nothing to do at a gas station while your car charges, unless you really love fountain drinks, Ding-Dongs, and dirty restrooms.

Car charging stations are best located where people hang out for a while.  Georgetown was pretty smart about their charging stations.  There are a couple at the recreation center, one at the library, and two separate locations downtown.  (There needs to be one at Wolf Ranch as well, and at Southwestern.)

Every new technology develops an etiquette for its use, but sometimes that etiquette is slow to appear.  The etiquette for cell phones is still evolving, which you know if you have ever tried to talk to someone who is using his cell phone under the table, a situation which makes me want to grab the phone like a teacher confiscating a furtive note passed between students.  “Now Jeremy and Marissa, let’s share your little private conversation with all the other children.”

So what is proper etiquette for car charging stations?  It should go without saying that if you drive a gasoline car (yes even a hybrid), you should never park in a charging spot.  Even if you resent the concept of electric cars and believe from the bottom of your heart that God created parking places for pickup trucks, you should still never park in a charging spot.  Almost 96,000 electric vehicles were sold in the US in 2013, and more electric vehicles on the road means more people are looking for a charge.  Somebody might be arriving from another town and counting on that charging station for enough electrons to get home.  Round Rock Nissan sold 40 Leafs last year, practically in Georgetown’s backyard.  There are currently over 400 Tesla owners in Texas.   Leaf owners are rather mild-mannered and usually don’t react if you hog the electric parking spot, but you do not want to mess with someone who drives a Tesla.

Last week I took my Leaf to the Arboretum.  I can make it back from the Arboretum on one charge, but charging allows for some extra side trips and a margin of error.  There is one charger with two designated parking spaces in the parking lot behind Barnes and Nobles.  A Leaf was hooked up to the charger but had finished charging, as indicated by the lights on the dashboard, a code that Leaf owners can easily recognize.  The second designated space was occupied by an SUV, in spite of the fact that the parking lot was virtually empty.  Let’s give the driver the benefit of the doubt and say that when he parked absolutely no other spaces were available, and he must have gone into the Cheesecake Factory whereupon he suffered a massive heart attack, and was even now lying prostrate in the ICU, his recovery hampered by extreme guilt over preventing me from charging my car.  I parked on the far side of the SUV, thinking that just maybe the cord would reach.  Touching somebody else’s car in a garage breaks some kind of modern automotive taboo, but the other Leaf was definitely finished charging, so I unplugged it, swiped my own Chargepoint card, and tried to stretch the cord past the heart attack victim’s SUV.  It was not to be.  The cord was about three feet too short.  I thought about leaving a note but decided that would not improve my karma, and besides, he had probably suffered enough already.

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