Federal law hurting growth of electric vehicle market


It’s summer and you’re on a family vacation cruising down the interstate listening to the Eagles. Your child interrupts that peaceful easy feeling by declaring an immediate and unyielding need to use the restroom.

As a responsible parent you pull off the highway into a rest area. During the family bathroom break, you notice something: Rows of vending machines, stacks of pamphlets for attractions that you never knew existed, and maybe a few lottery machines.

Oddly, the setup looks basically unchanged from when you were a child with a small bladder on a family road trip.

If you’re interested in driving an electric vehicle, you might be concerned about more than the next place to make a pit stop. “Range anxiety” is one of the most significant challenges to expanding the electric vehicle market. Prospective purchasers are uncertain if they’ll be able to find the next charging station. That’s not a huge problem if you live in a city with plenty of options, but it’s a big deal when it comes to that family road trip. Most people don’t have the means to have one car for longer trips and another for around town. They want a car that has the capacity to handle any situation.

It’s also a problem that might be ameliorated by a relatively convenient solution.

Let’s go back to the rest stop. While you might think its unchanging nature is the product of a chronic love of vending machines and weird fetish involving racks of paper advertising, it’s actually federal law. Section 111 of Title 23 of the United States Code severely restricts commercial activity on interstate rest stops. In fact, it’s basically limited to what you’re familiar with: Vending machines, commercial advertising not visible from the highway, travel information, and in-state tourism offerings. Motorist call boxes are still permitted, but most people don’t even know what those are thanks to the modern cell phone.

The prohibition also seems to include commercially available charging stations for electric vehicles.

Most personal electric vehicle charging stations are relatively small structures and far from an eyesore. They don’t require a storefront or attendants, and they don’t emit fumes or runoff that might disrupt the aesthetic of the rest area. The federal government could change the law to allow those charging stations at rest stops, permit providers to charge customers, and generate revenue from their use. Electric vehicle drivers would have a predictable, stable location to charge their cars on long haul trips to alleviate range anxiety.

Competition is good for consumers and the internal combustion engine has fuel infrastructure that’s generations ahead. Getting rid of a government prohibition on electric fuel charging stations makes electric vehicles more competitive without direct subsidy or skewing the marketplace via government fiat. It also makes a lot more sense than forcing charging companies to figure out how to put a charger in a traditional vending machine or advertise a remote station with a pamphlet.


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