NRT / Shutterstock.com

Where is it OK to siphon power?

There are a few unassailable rules even in the developing field of smartphone etiquette: Don’t use your phone in a movie theater. Limit use at the dinner table. Don’t walk and text. Do not, under any circumstances, hop onstage at a Broadway play to charge your iPhone.

But as Techdirt points out, we’re still struggling to suss out the finer points, including which power outlets are fair game for phone charging. London Evening Standard reported that a man was recently arrested on the London Overground for plugging his smartphone into a train outlet. The charge? “Abstracting electricity.” (He was subsequently “de-arrested” for this offense but “further arrested for unacceptable behavior.”) According to Transport for London, on-board sockets are clearly designated for “cleaners’ use only.”

What if the power outlets aren’t marked? Does that mean you can juice up with abandon? Not necessarily. The laws on electricity theft vary widely, and depending on where you live—and how zealous cops choose to be—you could risk a fine or arrest. In 2012, a homeless man in Sarasota was arrested for charging his phone in a public park. In 2014, three people were arrested and charged with theft of utilities when they plugged into Los Angeles Metro power outlets. (The mayor later ordered a halt to these arrests.) New York City’s utility, Con Edison, “can extract back bills, large fines, and, in extreme cases, press felony charges” against electricity thieves, according to a New York Times report.

A resourceful New Yorker taps into a lamppost to charge her phone. (Paul Kostabi / EV Grieve)

Some cities are designing for smartphone users, instead of hounding them. New York and London are converting old pay phones into free charging stations, and Montreal offers a charging dock in the Lionel-Groulx Metro station. But more needs to be done to accommodate the growing demand for on-the-go power. As architecture professor Malcolm McCullough told CityLab in 2012, “recharging is becoming a basic infrastructural need in cities, like subways or lights.”

It’ll be a while before our cities become fully mobile-friendly. In the meantime, here’s a recap of where you can charge your phone: Airports—yes. Trains—if you’re feeling lucky. Broadway—absolutely not.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. photo: A lone tourist in Barcelona, one of several global cities that have seen a massive crash in Airbnb bookings.
    Coronavirus

    Can Airbnb Survive Coronavirus?

    The short-term rental market is reeling from the coronavirus-driven tourism collapse. Can the industry’s dominant player stage a comeback after lockdowns lift?

  2. Illustration: two roommates share a couch with a Covid-19 virus.
    Coronavirus

    For Roommates Under Coronavirus Lockdown, There Are a Lot of New Rules

    Renters in apartments and houses share more than just germs with their roommates: Life under coronavirus lockdown means negotiating new social rules.

  3. A pedestrian wearing a protective face mask walks past a boarded up building in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. Governors from coast to coast Friday told Americans not to leave home except for dire circumstances and ordered nonessential business to shut their doors.
    Equity

    The Geography of Coronavirus

    What do we know so far about the types of places that are more susceptible to the spread of Covid-19? In the U.S., density is just the beginning of the story.

  4. photo: South Korean soldiers attempt to disinfect the sidewalks of Seoul's Gagnam district in response to the spread of COVID-19.
    Coronavirus

    Pandemics Are Also an Urban Planning Problem

    Will COVID-19 change how cities are designed? Michele Acuto of the Connected Cities Lab talks about density, urbanization and pandemic preparation.  

  5. Equity

    We'll Need To Reopen Our Cities. But Not Without Making Changes First.

    We must prepare for a protracted battle with coronavirus. But there are changes we can make now to prepare locked-down cities for what’s next.

×