I was surprised during a recent visit to my local Whole Foods to see a non-electric car parked in front of (and blocking) one of the two chargers — right near the entrance — that the environmentally minded grocer provides for its customers. And it got me thinking.

Is there some kind of enforcement to ensure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen? Meaning fines and tow-aways ... or worse? With a little research, I found a raging debate about proper EV etiquette, and some fairly tough local laws. The bottom line, though, is that people should learn to respect EV parking. The gas guzzlers can park somewhere else, even if it’s further away; the electrics are counting on plugging in.

Since the beginning of the year in California, it’s not enough just to have an electric car in an EV space — you also have to be plugged in and actively charging. Any battery electric (the Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi i) or plug-in hybrid (Toyota Prius plug-in, Chevrolet Volt) may use a space, but if the car's not actively charging, they can get towed.

EV parking signNot every Californian loves this, and Plug In America opposed AB 475 because it prevents plug sharing — two or more EVs parking near a single charger and sharing it.

In Davis, Calif., the city’s municipal code makes it quite clear that electric parking spaces “are reserved for parking electric or car share vehicles only as marked.” I’d hate to know what they do to scofflaws in that green mecca.

I feel the pain of EV owners who can’t charge because somebody took their space. Brian Hines took his newly acquired electric blue Nissan Leaf to the Chemeketa Parkade in downtown Salem, Ore., and found a row of spaces with EV chargers — nearly all of them filled with gas cars. “This is irritating,” he wrote. “Most people respect designated handicapped parking spaces. Why don’t they respect electric vehicle-only parking spaces?” That's Oregon's signage at right.

Hines notes the city of Salem doesn’t have any fine for miscreants, and neither do most states or municipalities. Whether people respect handicapped spaces or not, they know they risk a ticket. In Hawaii, they’re getting tough. EV spaces — which are actually required, along with charging stations, for parking lots with more than 100 spaces — will be clearly marked, and reportedly enforced with fines. The same basic plan has been approved in Portland, Ore.

SignIn Maryland, SB 340 imposes fines on people who park gas cars in EV spots. But state Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-Cecil) is incensed. “I think the idea we’re going to create a preferential class for expensive vehicles is wrong,” he said. “We’re using the power of the state to further one particular private business. I think that is not appropriate.”

But Leaf owner Doug Kornreich, who’s had to fight off gas cars in front of his local Walgreens’ charging station, thinks of the matter as “refueling rights.” He says, “I can’t park anywhere else and charge.” I hear him.

And so we come back to my Whole Foods and the gas car parked in the space. The owner came out while I was shooting, and opined that he didn't "believe in" electric cars and, in any case, none were around. But if any showed up, of course, they'd have no way of getting around his car. Here's the video I shot:

MNN tease illustration: Shutterstock

Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.

Caught on tape! Gas cars parking in electric vehicle spots
EV charging spots are conveniently located near the entrance, but gas cars sometimes hog them. What can be done about that?