On a recent morning, Jack Luu parked his plug-in Toyota Prius in one of the most expensive lots at Los Angeles International Airport before flying off to a film shoot in Canada. The lot, where Mr. Luu leaves his car as many as 10 times a month for business trips, normally charges $30 a day.
But when Mr. Luu returned home three weeks later, he drove out, as usual, without paying a dime. “That was a huge reason why I bought the car in the first place,” says the 35-year-old Santa Monica, Calif., postproduction company executive, whose car qualifies for free parking for up to a month at a time in two of LAX’s most convenient—and costly—short-term lots.
Other than that, he says his ride is “expensive, underpowered and not really all that green,” because it can run just 12 miles on electricity before switching to gas.
For years, LAX has offered electric-vehicle owners one of the most generous incentives of its kind in the country: free parking for 30 days in two of its terminal lots, which contain, altogether, 38 charging stations. The rule was meant to encourage people to buy greener cars, but lately it has turned the lots into a mob scene, with some electric-vehicle drivers circling the stations desperately for electricity or running extension cords while others hog the charging spaces for weeks at a time.
Tension is rising between all-electric-car drivers, who say they actually need to charge their vehicles daily, and hybrid owners who can get away without doing so because their cars can run on gas as well.
Some electric-vehicle owners say the airport should expand its free-parking program to cover all eight of its short-term lots, not just the two with charging stations. Others want valets to ensure all the electric cars get to recharge.
But the airport announced on its website this week that electric-vehicle drivers will have to start paying normal parking fees in March, and began leaving warning fliers on parked electric cars.
“No one understands why we’re doing this—especially in today’s economy,” says airport spokeswoman Nancy Castles, adding that not even handicapped travelers are allowed to park free of charge anymore. LAX is owned and operated by the city of Los Angeles.