Should Plug-In Hybrid Drivers Use Public Charging?

©. Chrysler

I am about to augment my used Nissan Leaf with a plug-in hybrid Chrysler Pacifica. Yes, I'm aware that I'll be ripped apart by some TreeHugger readers for this choice. This is indeed a tank of a car and a bike would be much better—but the choice of a 3rd row vehicle that'll use zero gas on our daily commute just makes sense in our family's specific circumstances. At least for now. So we'll save the "are large hybrids green" debate for another day. What concerns me right now is a more specific etiquette question:

Should plug-in hybrid owners use public charging stations, even though they have gas to fall back on while pure elective vehicle (EV) drivers do not?

The reason I ask is that I am planning several road trips, and it sure would be nice to reduce the amount of gas we burn along the way. That said, I have no desire to use up a charging spot I don't really need while someone else is cursing my existence. It's a topic I touched on when asking if electric vehicle drivers are becoming mean, and it seems there are almost as many opinions on the matter as there are weird plug-in vaporware concept cars at an autoshow.

For some, the argument appears to be that charging stations are for emergencies only—they are there to help EV owners who get unintentionally stranded and—by their very presence—to eliminate range anxiety for folks considering an EV purchase. If you take up these spaces with a Chevy Volt, or a gigantic plug-in hybrid minivan, then you're potentially leaving a Leaf driver stranded far from home. (I've heard similar arguments made about long-range EV owners using such stations when they don't need to.)

For others, the argument is that they are a public resource and a perk for battery electric vehicle owners of all stripes. And, as such, they are to be used as we see fit. After all, they are paid for by public tax dollars, and usually are not dedicated for pure EV drivers only.

And then, there's a more pragmatic approach offered by Kyle Field over at Cleantechnica: Don't take the last charging spot available and/or leave a note with your phone number for any pure EV drivers who find themselves in need of a charge. This seems like a reasonable compromise to me...

I also suspect that etiquette will depend on where you find yourself and when. In Raleigh, NC, there are a ton of charging stations (several in every public parking lot), and I often see them sitting empty. I suspect there is an argument to be made for a use-it-or-lose-it approach. Not only does using these charging spots signal a demand to the authorities that they are needed, but it also, of course, minimizes the amount of gas that any of us are burning. Meanwhile, just down the road in Durham, there are a lot fewer charging spots available. I'd be inclined to think twice about plugging a plug-in hybrid in here, in case I lock someone else out from a charge they really need.

But I turn this topic over to you all, dear readers: What's the correct etiquette for plug-in hybrids in a public charging spot?