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As the number of electric cars on American roads increases, there's a growing need for public charging stations. Now, the demand is still relatively low, so both vehicles that run on gas and gas stations aren't going anywhere anytime soon. But at least one gas station owner in Takoma Park, Md., sees electric cars as an opportunity. State officials say his is the first gas station in the state that's been completely converted into a charging station. NPR's Hannah Hagemann went for a visit.
HANNAH HAGEMANN, BYLINE: At first glance, RS Automotive doesn't look too different from a typical gas station, but there are some telltale clues like a brand-new blue and white sign. It reads EV Charging. Some drivers are still confused when they pull in.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Oh, not for everyone.
DEPESWAR DOLEY: New gas, yeah.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Oh.
DOLEY: Only for electric cars.
HAGEMANN: Owner Depeswar Doley sets them straight. Doley says that's been happening a lot since he went from gas to electric.
DOLEY: Yeah. A lot of them pull up, and then they get upset.
HAGEMANN: But people are interested, too. Every week, Doley's has been fielding calls from gas station owners interested in making the switch. So far, though, business has been slow. But Doley's patient. He's gone through 20 years of fluctuating oil prices, bad contracts and store break-ins. It made him want to get out of the gasoline business altogether. The plan was to just keep the repair shop side of the station open.
Then Doley got a call from the city. They wanted to know if he would fully convert to an electric car-charging station. The offer came with funding to help pay for the transformation - a combination of state funding and money from Baltimore-based Electric Vehicle Institute. Doley's 17-year-old daughter, Teresa, convinced her dad to take the leap.
TERESA: I mean, I think it's kind of, like, encouraging people because a lot of people don't want to get electric vehicles because they're worried that they're not going to be able to charge them. I think that if you make it more available, then people are more likely to want to try it.
DAN BOWERMASTER: You know, there's about 40 EVs on the market right now. And roughly there's going to be a 120-ish by, you know, three or four years from now.
HAGEMANN: That's Dan Bowermaster. He's with the Electric Power Research Institute. Bowermaster says, as more affordable electric cars roll out, there will be a demand for more public charging centers.
BOWERMASTER: There's definitely a very real need to have these EV fast-charging plazas, whether it's for lower-income customers or for fleets or for, you know, again, those who have, you know, live in a townhouse or something, where they just simply don't have a garage.
HAGEMANN: In the state of Maryland, Montgomery County has one of the highest rates of electric cars on the road. For Doley, that might mean more and more business down the line. But for now, the only regular customers have been taxis and police cars. The cars take around 15 to 30 minutes to charge up. So while customers are waiting, they might wander on the neighborhood. That is if there were customers.
RAYMON DAWES: No traffic whatsoever.
HAGEMANN: Raymon Dawes runs a barbershop next door to RS Automotive.
DAWES: By and large, I only see the police using it (laughter). But it's a learning curve.
HAGEMANN: It's not a thriving business yet, but it's early days. Doley's not too worried about it. He has more than money in mind.
DOLEY: If I can spread that one word around and one little drop if I can contribute for the betterment of the environment and earth in general and for us humanity, well, that's more than enough. That's a better reward than the money.
HAGEMANN: A reward that may make his leap of faith worth it. Hannah Hagemann, NPR News.
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