This article cracks open the can of worms that is public plug-in vehicle charging etiquette. Those of us who own or drive plug-in vehicles have experienced the ups and downs that come from using a shared public charging network. For the most part, this applies to the normal (J1772 in the US) Level 2 chargers, but it is starting to creep into the DC fast charging bracket as more and more of those stations are installed.
Disclaimer: This article is positioned intentionally to broach topics relevant to EV drivers who make use of public chargers. With the myriad of different charging setups across the nation and around the world, it is not possible to summarize all positions in any single article without going full-bore doctoral dissertation. Net — this article does not cover all possible scenarios but provides general challenges, perspectives, and positions.
Having said that, let’s jump in…
EV Charging Duration
One of the more obvious etiquette challenges is charging time. With public charging stations generally in short supply, is it wrong to charge for longer than you “need” to? What if the car is at 80% charge and the owner goes in to catch the latest 2-hour-long blockbuster, tying up the spot the entire time?
Many owners are great about this and will actually come back to their vehicle to move it to a non-charging stall after the required charge/range is attained, but many are not. With EV spots often located in prime parking spots, they are prone to abuse and frequently host plug-in vehicles that are full — even several hours after filling up.
Good Etiquette: Charge as much as needed, then move the car. At the very least, don’t leave a plug in vehicle in the spot after it’s full.
Charging Only When Needed
Scaling the sensitivity meter back a bit, is it wrong to “convenience charge” even if you don’t “need” any extra range to get home? This is commonly seen at free chargers where insiders or even employees of a local EV advocate business will leave a plug-in vehicle parked in the charging stall all day. It is a tough call because free charging is nice, though when boiled down to dollars and sense, it’s not really a big deal.
Good Etiquette: Don’t take the last charging spot for convenience charging or, if you do, leave a note with a phone number.
Big Gubbament Blocking Spots at Night
Many cities, townships, and municipalities are starting to explore ways to cut carbon footprints, save cash on gas, or want to take advantage of state and federal grants to purchase plug-in vehicles. As part of this exploration, charging naturally becomes a part of the discussion and, inevitably, a few chargers will get installed at City Hall, the metro depot, or at a service yard.
What many people see, though, is that these stations become full-time employees of the handful of city plug-in vehicles — never available for anyone else to use — yet they are almost certainly listed on PlugShare.com as “public” chargers. Blocking spots full time is the prerogative of the owner, but it will not make any friends around town. On top of that, it projects a very anti-EV image that is counter to the original intent of the charging station.
Good Etiquette: Cities that truly want to promote plug-in vehicle driving need to set a good example. Park government plug-in vehicles in the spot next to the EV charging spot and put stickers on city plug-in vehicles indicating that they can be unplugged after fully charged. This is greatly facilitated by plug-in vehicles that provide external state of charge indicators — like the Nissan Leaf and the Kia Soul EV.
Teslas Charging in Public Charging Spots
The facts are plain and simple: Teslas have 2–4 times more all-electric range than most plug-in vehicles on the road. With that, Teslas are generally not in need of charging when out running around town — and if they are, Superchargers are sprinkled around at regular intervals — so why not go there, right?
Since purchasing our Tesla, we have used public charging more. Why? Superchargers are actually intended for long distance travel — not just to top off while grabbing groceries every Tuesday afternoon (you know who you are). More relevantly, we have not yet installed the Tesla Wall Connector that came with our CPO purchase (requires an electrical panel upgrade which requires a full new wiring upgrade which… you get the picture) and are driving the car more, so the 110 volt charger simply isn’t cutting it. This results in me actively seeking out public charging for our Tesla.
Flipping the coin over, do I “need” to charge there? Nope. Almost certainly not. I want to take advantage of the mind-blowing 6.6 kilowatt public charging to fill up for the week so that, as my insufficient nighttime charging eats away at my range through the week, I have enough to get home. As a former Leaf driver, I can see how this is a problem for many plug-in vehicles with lower range.
Good Etiquette: Don’t charge the Tesla at public charging locations unless there are other open charging stalls (not on the same block or in the same city…but in the lot 🙂 ).
Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV) that “Need” to Charge
I have to be honest — this one grinds my gears. While at the “Drive Electric Week” event in Santa Monica, California, many plug-in vehicle owners were charging at the handful of free city charging spots under a PV solar canopy that offset much of the power used to charge. As more owners arrived, I started coordinating charging at the limited number of spots. “You want to charge? Okay, the blue Leaf only needs another 30 minutes. Park here and we’ll plug you in when he’s done.”
This continued for much of the morning… with just fully battery-electric vehicles. Then a Volt rolled in. I told him that all of the chargers were full and that because he didn’t “need” to charge, that it wasn’t a big deal. The driver said with urgency “We NEED to plug in!” Now, I was 56 miles from home and arrived with ~20 miles left, so I felt entitled. I really did “need” to charge to get home, but this Volt owner clearly didn’t. I get that the owner was trying to avoid burning gasoline and that’s great, but it is a want, not a need.
This situation is only compounding, as I recently noted a similar experience when we turned in our Leaf to Tesla and they wanted to charge it before driving it further (as documented here)… and I see it all the time around town. I regularly count more PHEVs than BEVs in charging stalls around town. And why not? The infrastructure is there for them as well, right? It’s a touchy subject and not one that will be settled in a few paragraphs.
I personally advocate shifting battery-electric vehicles to DC fast charging only for stops around town. With the onslaught of PHEVs coming year after year, the problem will only get worse. If BEVs were to “give” the public J1772 / Level 2 charging network to PHEVs and switch to DC fast charging (DCFC) only, the issue goes away. We need more DCFC stations before this can happen and would create significant ripples in the plug-in vehicle force. Ultimately, this will happen as a result of new fast-charging standards. If a BEV driver can fully charge up a 200 mile range battery in 10 minutes, why would they use a J1772 at all? Then again, if a BEV owner can fully charge up in 10 minutes, why have a PHEV at all? 😀
Alternately, cities, states, and others could simply ban PHEVs from using public charging. Thinking back to why public charging exists makes this an obvious choice. Public charging stations exist to keep BEV drivers from getting stranded. PHEV owners can’t get stranded by running out of charge. This is an ugly one because it drives a huge shaft into the plug-in vehicle movement and takes away something that many drivers have grown accustomed to using.
Good Etiquette: Similar to Tesla owners, don’t take the last charging spot, or leave a note with a number to call if the spot is “needed” by a BEV owner in dire straights.
Finally, a cause we can all rally behind. Nobody likes an internal combustion
engine (ICE) vehicle parked in an EV charging spot. That’s just not cool in any town, no matter what. Sorry dude.
Good Etiquette: Build EV parking spots away from the entrances to the store/mall/market. This reduces the incentive to park in a plug-in vehicle charging spot. Having and enforcing firm “Plug In Vehicle Only” regulations helps drive the point home if needed. Printing up “feedback notes” (like these) and having them ready in the car is also a great tactic.
At the end of the day, it’s all about following the golden rule: Do what you would want the guy parked next to you to do. Don’t be a jerk… because living in a world full of jerks sucks.
Article inspired by a TMC forum post.
All images by Kyle Field
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