Facts don't match fear in Atlanta parking garage electric vehicle ban

As electric vehicles leap in popularity, a major downtown Atlanta parking garage is taking a different approach: a ban on all EVs from the property.

In October, a sign announcing the ban went up at 55 Marietta, a multi-story garage that does not have any charging facilities.

For two years, Tonya Hicks parked her Kia Soul there because her nearby condo had an agreement.

Not anymore.

"Everybody’s like ‘Are you sure?’" she said after telling her friends. "I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m sure. They’re kicking me out only because I have an EV.’"

Tonya Hicks says she's parked her EV at 55 Marietta each night for the last two years. But she's now forced to find somewhere else.

A few months ago, Hicks received an email from 12 Oaks Parking, the company that manages the garage:

"Unfortunately, Mike (the property manager for 55 Marietta) came to the decision to remove any fully electric vehicles from the garage for safety reasons, as there have been several battery fires recently, which can not be put out, and he considered them to be a liability," the email read.

Another email said, "If you are unable to change vehicles … we will be forced to close your account."

The FOX 5 I-Team rode with Hicks on her last day of parking at 55 Marietta.

"No one should be turned away just because they have an EV because someone thinks something may happen," Hicks said.

Full disclosure: this writer also owns an electric vehicle. He parks at home.

The 55 Marietta parking garage put up this sign last month banning all EVs.

No one from 12 Oaks or Stream Realty — the property management company — would respond to the FOX 5 I-Team's attempts to get answers.

It’s true that EV fires can be difficult to extinguish after a car accident. But how realistic is the concern that an electric vehicle could spontaneously catch fire in a parking garage?

In 2021, Chevrolet recalled 110,000 Bolt electric vehicles because a design flaw led to a handful catching fire. But we found the other rare spontaneous EV fires involved mishaps during charging, not parking in a public-use garage.

In fact, authorities say two of the largest garage fires recently were started by gas-powered vehicles: the 2017 blaze that destroyed a parking garage in Liverpool, England, and the 2020 fire that led to a building partially collapsing at an airport in Norway.

This parking garage fire at the Stavanger Airport in Norway was started by a gasoline-powered car. (Photo from a presentation of RISE report 2020:91, available at https://risefr.com/publications, used with permission.)

RISE Fire Research, partly owned by the Research Institutes of Sweden, determined that not only did EVs not start the airport garage fire, but the ones that later caught fire did not make it any worse.

"EVs did not contribute to the spread of the fire beyond what would be expected from conventional vehicles," said Ragni Fjellgaard Mikalsen.

RISE has done extensive research into the risk of EV battery fires.

John Higham is a former member of the Electric Vehicle Association, a national lobbying group. He said he’s not aware of any parking garage fires started by an electric vehicle.

"I’m certainly not OK with parking garages banning EVs," he said. "I think it’s reactionary, and it’s done out of… I hope it’s done out of ignorance and not out of spite."

The National Parking Association referred us to their Parking Consultants Council. We never received a response to our questions about whether they’ve seen EV-related fires or support an EV ban.

Tonya Hicks reached out to city officials, but they tell the FOX 5 I-Team that an EV parking garage ban doesn't violate current rules.

The city of Atlanta set a goal of 100% clean energy by 2035. Yet an EV parking garage ban is not against the law.

According to a statement from the Department of City Planning, a garage "can legally ban a specific vehicle size, weight, or type of motor vehicle that is foreseen to cause a hazard…"

For Hicks, it’s a double whammy. She advocates for safer EV access for women, the elderly and the disabled through her nonprofit She-EV.

Once attacked by a homeless man at night, her walk home from any other parking garage will now be at least 10 minutes longer.

"All I could think is what if this starts happening to other people?" she said. "It’s not right."