To support the government target of ending sales of all new non fully electric cars by 2030, electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure is improving fast. According to Zap Map, there are now almost 30,000 public EV charge points in the UK (considerably more than the fewer than 9,000 petrol stations), and the number is still growing rapidly. This is on top of the fact that many EV owners have home charging units as well. However, the number of EVs being bought and on the road is also increasing rapidly. There is likely therefore to be competition for use of these public chargers.
On top of that, parking pressures are rife generally in many town and city centres, and in residential areas. Where EV usage is yet to catch up with the infrastructure provided, it can be galling for a non-EV owner to circulate looking for a free space and see half a dozen charge points lined up with no cars in them.
However, parking in a space reserved for electric charging is not advisable. Being shut out of an EV charge point because a non-EV vehicle is parked there now has a name: it is known as being “ICEd”, the ICE standing for Internal Combustion Engine. Generally, if you park a non-EV vehicle at a charge point, you run the risk of getting a fine. In addition to that, there are also restrictions on EVs themselves using the spaces if they are not actually charging.
Can You Get A Ticket for Parking A Non-EV at an EV Charge Point?
There is no blanket UK law on this so it may not strictly be illegal. But most rules about parking are set and applied locally by the landowner. Most will have a policy of not allowing combustion engine cars to park in an EV charging space. This is because fully electric vehicles need chargers in order to refuel. Some drivers, if they live in a home without a driveway, will be reliant on public charge points. Without parking restrictions, many of the charge points would rarely be available to EVs.
On roads and in public spaces, parking charges and fines are managed by the local council.
Places like supermarket car parks or outside hotels or gyms will be the responsibility of the landowner and usually run by whoever is operating the entire facility. In both cases, use of the charge points is probably prohibited for anything other than charging a plug-in EV. The rules of use should be clearly displayed at the location.
Enforcement is the responsibility of the landowner. This might be done by traffic wardens or in some places cameras. There is no guarantee that enforcement is in place. However, if it is, you may well end up with a ticket, as well as the ire of any EV driver trying to get enough charge to finish their journey. But if the rules are not clearly on display, or if you feel they have not been applied fairly or transparently, you may be able to appeal a penalty charge.
There are also rules to abide by if you are driving an EV. The space should only be used for actually charging the vehicle. This may be made explicit on the signage at the charge point, but is in any case good EV charging etiquette. Public chargers should only be used to get up to an 80% charge (which some say is better for the battery anyway rather than charging all the way up to 100%).
How enforceable this is might vary. Traffic wardens will be able to monitor if a vehicle has been in the same charging spot for hours at a time. A sensor can now be installed which can tell whether or not a car is being actively charged. Some councils are making use of these, though for information-gathering, not enforcement purposes at this time. It is feasible for enforcement usage to come later.
Do You Have to Pay for Parking When Charging an EV?
It is generally necessary to abide by all parking rules, whether charging or not. In a supermarket car park, for example, there may be a maximum stay of 90 minutes. This generally still applies even for vehicles that are charging. These rules are often enforced using Automatic Number Plate Recognition, which simply records when a vehicle entered the car park and when it left. If it’s longer than the maximum time allowed, a penalty charge notice is generated.
In a pay-and-display car park, it may still be necessary to buy and display a ticket even when charging. This is on top of any fee for the electricity or for membership of the charge point system. Again, the signage at the vicinity should make it clear, but it is safe to assume that even if making use of the charging facilities, normal parking fees also still apply.
There may also be a maximum time limit for use of the charger which is less than the maximum stay for the car park as a whole, so it’s worth reading the small print at the charge point. Some research in advance is helpful. Zap Map does not hold detailed information on parking charges: only the general warning “charges may apply”. However, there is an option for previous users to leave comments on any problems which may include warnings about parking enforcement. There should also be information online about specific car parks, or a council’s general policy for on-street or public parking.
Watch out also for car parks that close at night or have a no overnight stay rule, and also for rules that require a minimum spend inside the store or use by hotel guests only. Even if charging, EV drivers need to abide by these. Practically speaking, this means that taking a very long charge at a “destination” charger like this is not a viable option, but many of them are fast or rapid charge points in any case. If the destination is staffed, going inside to check might clarify the situation. Sometimes staff will be able to put a vehicle onto a list to exempt it from the ANPR system, just as they do sometimes for Blue Badge holders, if it is done within 15 minutes of arriving. If in doubt, it is safest to assume that all rules apply to you.
Even for on-street parking, the rules may need to be tightened up as the market grows and demand increases, especially for overnight charging. In some UK places, new rules have been brought in restricting non-EV parking near on-street chargers. While this may be unpopular in areas where parking spaces are limited, the direction of travel suggests these restrictions will increase over time. In Glasgow, on-street charging used to be free, but parking charges have now been introduced following abuses where a car would be parked in an EV charging space for eight or ten hours at a time.
Leaving a vehicle while charging is allowed, and some providers of charging space will assume that you will use their services, such as shops for example, while the car is charging. However, a general rule is only to charge it for the minimum amount of time needed, and then move out of the spot to make it available for someone else. This is all part of good etiquette, although it may create problems for those EV drivers without a charge point at home who are dependent on public chargers.
What About Hybrids?
Plug-in hybrids are also entitled to use public charge points. This can be controversial, as a hybrid vehicle can charge up the battery when driving using petrol or diesel, and therefore strictly speaking does not need to use a charge point. According to etiquette, a hybrid owner should therefore give way to a fully-electric driver who may end up stranded without a charge. However, it can be argued that using a charge point is greener than charging the battery with conventional fuel, so it can be done if there is a charge point available.
In terms of enforcement, it has been said, by Glasgow City Council for example, that it would be very difficult to enforce different rules for hybrids than for fully electric vehicles. Effectively, rules around their use will generally therefore be the same, although etiquette would give hybrid drivers lower priority.
While there is no blanket prohibition of the use of EV charging points for general parking, the growth of the EV market and the importance of having charge points for drivers of fully electric vehicles only points in one direction. If restrictions and enforcement are not yet in place, the chances are they soon will be. Unless you are actively charging a plug-in electric vehicle, therefore, EV charging spaces are best avoided.