With almost 100,000 plug-in electric cars on U.S. roads now, congestion at charging stations is starting to crop up.

And that has brought to light an issue of electric-car charging etiquette that may prove challenging: Should battery-electric cars get precedence over plug-in hybrids?

The question has cropped up again in a Reddit post written by BMW ActiveE driver Robert Olson, entitled, "Ford Motor Co should follow their own EV etiquette."

Olson customarily drives to work in downtown San Francisco, and parks and charges his battery-electric BMW in a public garage at Mission and Fifth Streets that has several ChargePoint charging stations.

Monday morning, he found that the spaces had been roped off by garage staff since Saturday (a repeat of a problem he'd had to complain to management about several weeks ago, which was fairly promptly resolved by restoring first-come, first-serve access to the charging stations).

This time, however, the culprit appeared to be Ford Motor Company--or, at least, someone acting on its behalf who needed to charge an entire fleet of 2013 Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid sedans.

That model has just gone on sale in California and a few other locations, with 119 sold last month.

To be clear, there are two separate issues at play here. First and most annoying is that garage staff blocked access to the charging stations for two days to permit a single customer exclusive use of public infrastructure (likely installed with some Federal funding).

[UPDATE: Ford responded: We're really sorry we inconvenienced you but wanted to let you know that we did follow the rules for these spots. They ask for reservations in advance and we both reserved and paid for charging. Again, I know it's an inconvenience to you, but we did observe the policies that the garage outlined for us.]

Electric-car charging stations blocked by garage staff in San Francisco garage [photo: Robert Olson]

Electric-car charging stations blocked by garage staff in San Francisco garage [photo: Robert Olson]

Worse, the garage posted no warning of the impending closure, which affected all customers who drive plug-in electric cars--though it posts alerts about other kinds of work literally weeks ahead of time, Olson says.

The second issue, and the one that additionally irked Olson, is that the cars being charged weren't battery-electric vehicles like his ActiveE (or Ford's own low-volume Focus Electric hatchback), but plug-in hybrids.

The Ford Fusion Energi has a smaller lithium-ion battery pack, giving it an EPA-rated electric range of 21 miles, but can operate as a conventional hybrid at any time if the pack is depleted, using its gasoline engine and regenerative braking to recapture energy.

So, Olson wrote, Ford is actually contradicting its own advice on charging etiquette, proffered in a video that it posted on YouTube last September (see below).

MORE: Your Ultimate Guide To Electric-Car Charging Etiquette

"EV etiquette suggests that [hybrid plug-in drivers] give the spot to the all-electric car," says "EV Charging Etiquette Expert" Tommy Simon in the video (starting at 1:42). "Keep in mind, electricity is his only means of fuel."

In the end, Olson not only posted the story on Reddit but also left the following note:

2013 Ford Fusion Energi

2013 Ford Fusion Energi

Dear Ford Motor Company,

Thank you for inconveniencing several drivers that use these EV chargers for the last two days, they have been BLOCKED so you can park a plug in hybrid that does not need to charge into them… I know of at least 4 people that were impacted by your request to have these chargers blocked off, which resulted in BEV drivers that commute in from San Jose, etc to have to wait several hours at a DIFFERENT location in order to make it home.

And to garage management if you read this, GIVE US A WARNING NEXT TIME! We don’t all have gas generators for backups!

His post is another example of electric-car owners trying to use a little public shame to persuade others to behave more considerately.

Where do you fall on this issue? Is the garage within its rights to block access to charging stations and restrict their use for two days to a single customer?

And, should battery-electric car drivers get preference for charging-station access over drivers of plug-in vehicles that also have a combustion engine?

Leave us your thoughts--politely, please!--in the Comments below.


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