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EV Charging Companies: Fix Your Charging Stations!

Carolyn Fortuna

Aug 18, 2023

Unfortunately, although interest in purchasing EVs is on the rise, the ability to find reliable public EV chargers is elusive.

I admit it: I’ve been spoiled by owning a Tesla. If I travel around Florida to visit friends, attend a conference, or explore a cultural attraction, I can always count on being able to charge at one of the numerous Supercharger stations up and down I-95. As a general rule, they’re well-maintained charging stations, located in brightly lit areas where I can buy a snack or shop retail.

As I vacation in New England, however, I’ve found my charging experience to be entirely different whenever I venture away from my Level 1 home charging. A used 2017 Chevy Bolt is my EV of choice, and my travels can take me to 6 states, to shorelines and mountain villages, to urban areas just inside the Connecticut/ New York border, and into rural small farming communities. Traveling 3 hours from my cabin in the woods isn’t unusual, and lots of those are highway miles. So, with the guess-o-meter reading about 200 miles range fully charged when I depart, I know I will need to charge a couple of times on a New England trip.

As emissaries of all-electric transportation, we EV drivers try not to impose on our hosts for charging at their homes. Anyway, not everyone has an outdoor plug near their parking spaces. That means until the NACS becomes pervasive, I’ve got to locate reliable, accessible, efficient, and working charging stations. I really need to find fast charging stations, too, so I can zip in and get back on the road.

Good luck with that.

Charging companies just don’t seem to be maintaining their charging stations. I read so many comments on PlugShare that describe broken chargers, slow or interrupted charging, barriers around the charger that prevent more than one vehicle from charging, and the like. Charging companies say they’re proud of being on the cusp of US transportation electrification, but, unless they spend a lot more time addressing the pervasive issues at their chargers, their business models will be going right down the toilet.

As I plan for my final month of New England summer travels, allow me to share some of my charging legwork and attempts. It’s not pretty.

I was invited to a Saturday evening engagement party in Norwalk, CT. Clearly, the hosts would be attending to guests, so charging at their home was out of the question. I’ve been looking for a charging station near the restaurant, right on Main Street. I’d park, plug in, and walk to the restaurant. What could be easier? Nope. The parking garage charger hasn’t been reliable for a while, according to comments left on PlugShare. A nearby inn looked promising until I read about the convoluted charging instructions: Download AmpUp – EV charging app to start charging to use the station. NOTE: It will not show in the app, you will HAVE to scan the QR code. Attending the engagement party looks like too much of a hassle, so I’m sending a gift card instead.

Younger brother has a vacation home in the Vermont mountains, and there is a plan floating around for a family rendezvous overlooking Mad River Glen. You would think that I-91 would have lots of fast charging stations, right? I’d certainly need to charge along this highway, due to necessary high travel speeds. Wrong. There’s an entire fast charging desert along the Massachusetts section of the route. Sure, it’s delightful to see 3 icons with “Coming Soon” descriptors, but that won’t help me this year. Finally, I’ve found a fast charger in the Greenfield Big Y parking lot which seemed to actually work. I’ll plug in here on the way up and back and will probably be fine.

I’ll be visiting friends in a packed seaside community, Falmouth Heights, Massachusetts, at the end of the month. I was so excited to see a fast charger as soon as I searched PlugShare! Alas, it turns out that it’s a campground, and you must be a guest to use the charger. One charger of unknown kW is available at Falmouth Marine Park, with comments from relieved patrons who found it to be working. Hopefully, my weekday trip will allow me to get onto the charger without a wait. Fingers crossed.

On the same trip, I’ll be heading much farther east to the tip of Cape Cod. I wouldn’t expect to find a fast charger nearby, but I know the area enough to plan a stop in Hyannis on the way out and possibly back. The Cape Cod Mall is a popular central location, so I’ve checked the report on the fast charger located there. Nope. Really? This is getting ridiculous.

We have dear friends that live in Marblehead, MA — home to world class sailing, an attraction that brings lots of wealthy folks to the area. You would think there would be a fast charger in that area, right? No. But I was relieved to find a Level 2 charger at the Marblehead Municipal Light Department. We can leave the Bolt there, hop into our friends’ vehicle, and go back for the car later in the day. But, wait! Of the 5 chargers listed, only 1 is working! This may prove embarrassing for us and our hosts.

I must relate my most amusing disappointing unacceptable public charging experience thus far this summer in closing. While we were having some electrical upgrades done on our Connecticut cabin in the woods, I headed to the dealer where I bought the Bolt to grab some electrons. It was another torrential rainy day, so I pulled into the lot, tucked into my hoodie, and stepped out to charge at the fast charger out back near the smokers’ area. I dragged the charging cable to the Bolt, wrestled with the awkward plug, and got it to click in place. Nothing happened on the charging station touchscreen. Unplug and repeat — nothing.

Okay. So I moved the car to the other side of the building and the service bay, where I had been told another fast charger was located. I eased into the bay and got out, ready to charge. A ZZ Top-wannabe technician came barreling over, yelling at me to move the car, that they needed to use it to wash the vehicles. I explained succinctly that I needed to charge (Maybe you don’t see the fast charger right there, dude?).  He held his ground and told me to use the charger in the showroom.

I drove to that bay, where I knew a Level 2 charger was located. During the original sales transaction, the facility manager told a story about placing an Out of Order sign on it because a neighbor who owned a Nissan LEAF was charging there daily, using the dealership’s electricity — and hadn’t even bought the LEAF there! The audacity! I thought, as an actual patron of the dealership, I might be able to use it. Nope. The same manager said the cable ties on it couldn’t be released, even for an existing customer. Another Level 2 charger inside the showroom was blocked by a car ready for delivery.

But the manager told me that there was a fifth charger back by the original broken fast charger I’d tried. I’d recognize it, he told me, because a Cadillac was parked in front of it. If I angled my Bolt in just right, the cable would reach. Back out into the raindrops I went, and — behold! Hidden in a weedy area near the Caddie was a Level 2 charger. I plugged in, jumped in my car, and tried to dry out while I charged for a couple of hours and read.

Why don’t these charging companies and dealers recognize that their reputations rest with problematic attempts to charge such as I’ve described here? Their ineptitude is definitely affecting my ability to travel this summer. We early EV adopters are necessarily resilient, but we do need to be able to charge to drive. And we need these facilities to step up their games and fulfill their contracts with consumers when they say they provide charging.

It’s really not too much to ask.

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