Marin Voice: As gas station bans increase, we need to create, improve charging points

The perceived need to build additional gas stations in Novato, or elsewhere, is puzzling. There are now about 18,000 electric vehicles registered in Marin County, so fewer cars line up for gas.

Perhaps the response to ban stations is more emotional. If you collect older cars or have invested time or money in what you drive today, it’s hard to imagine a future with fewer gas stations.

There are two ways to look at this: the first is that gas-powered vehicle drivers will be inconvenienced and pay higher prices. The other is that the automotive world as we know it is going “green”. Most Americans may not be aware that a more draconian policy has been adopted in Germany in 2020. This country, home to Mercedes and BMW, will require its 14,000 gas stations to offer electric vehicle charging.

For a while, I thought gas stations were the missing piece of EV infrastructure, but an October meeting of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District clarified that view. Richmond Transportation Services Project Manager Denee Evans gave a compelling presentation on how people in her community were having issues charging at EV stations. Downtime and unreliability often made them inaccessible.

EV chargers are placed in remote locations and people do not feel safe calling on the phone or waiting for tech support. The stations lack signage and are difficult to locate day and night. But, above all, because they are not so visible, the rate of vandalism is high. Sometimes the vandals are malicious, other times they’re after the copper wiring.

Moving the location of EV stations from remote areas to gas stations solves many community problems, for Richmond and elsewhere. When charging stations are on the property of an owner’s service station, they will receive proper care and maintenance. If a connection is broken or the charging pins are bent, it’s more likely to be picked up quickly. This means more station availability and greater reliability.

For over 30 years I have been involved in studies of electric vehicle infrastructure and worked on California’s first mandate that 2% of new vehicle sales be electric by 1998. Today , I’m proud to volunteer with Marin’s Ride and Drive Clean non-profit and teach an EV class at Marin College.

Some pesky issues we face are how to change the misconceptions people have about electric vehicles and how to reach those who live in older multi-family dwellings that have almost no ability to charge at home.

Not everyone can afford a brand new electric vehicle, but driving a plug-in hybrid and having a convenient place to charge it can help. Plug-in hybrids are often cheaper and cheaper to run when you’re driving less than 30 or 40 miles a day. But these owners need to identify a convenient and familiar place to recharge their batteries.

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