Charging Stations Need A Plan & Not Random Kindness For Busy Times

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A recent video from Out of Spec Dave on YouTube shows us something cool that happened at a Tesla Supercharger: drivers figuring out how to deal with a busy charger on the fly. I don’t mean to bag on the kindness of strangers, because ultimately that’s kind of what makes civilization run. But, at the same time, it doesn’t always work out the way we hoped. To avoid things not working out on their own, sometimes we have to create plans.

But, before I get to some possible ideas for that, let’s look at the video first:

Before getting to the good experience another driver had, Dave first told the story of what had happened the night before at another charging station he was visiting. When the station got full, the lot was laid out in such a way where people couldn’t really form a neat line. People didn’t know who was next to charge, and they didn’t know how to figure that out.

This led Dave to wonder why Tesla hasn’t created a system to deal with the issue of queuing, and why other companies haven’t worked out a system either. It’s a real problem, and not just because Dave ran into one charger that was hectic. He’s seen other stations get like that, and he’s talked to other drivers who’ve seen much worse.

However, one driver at a charger told him about a very different charging and queuing experience in Plattsburgh, New York, during the traffic rush for the solar eclipse. The guy already knew him from YouTube, interestingly enough, and he had an opportunity to invite him onto the show. To experience totality, Norbert drove all the way from Connecticut up to northern New York. It turned out that the Supercharger there was in just the right spot, so he planned to charge while checking out the total eclipse, thinking that other drivers would be elsewhere and then only want to charge after the eclipse was over.

It turns out that a lot of other Tesla drivers had a similar idea, and he wasn’t able to pull in and charge like he had hoped. Interestingly enough, a man walked up to him and said that there was already a system in place and that he was #35 in line. An hour later, he was now #18 and #12 was charging. The guy who had been managing the queue then asked him if he could take over, and he later passed it on to somebody else.

The challenge at that point was to watch out for two entrances, which made it difficult to see who showed up when and give the right person the right number to be fair. By the time he could leave, he ended up giving away #89! People started donating pieces of paper to get as high as #120, with 100 cars waiting.

The system worked pretty well, despite not having any kind of official sanction from Tesla, the property owners, or anyone else. People saw a fair system that worked, so they participated. It also didn’t hurt that everyone was where they wanted to be instead of being on the way to somewhere else.

Before Norbert jumped off the call, Dave and him discussed possible ways for Tesla (and other charging providers, obviously) could improve the situation. The number system could work with geofencing, with software automatically assigning numbers to cars as they arrive, for example. Another way to possibly do this is via navigation, with numbers being assigned prior to arrival.

Other Possible Ways To Deal With This

I think there might be different ways to do this depending on the situation different chargers face.

For many existing charging stations, they’re located in places that aren’t dedicated to chargers, instead renting space in the corner of a lot that’s dedicated to something else, like a truck stop or a Walmart store. In those cases, a numerical queue of some kind makes sense, because vehicles are going to need to sit somewhere in the lot. Adding a physical line in these existing parking lots can create real problems for people not there to charge.

But, where there are giant charging stations built in dedicated charging lots, more options are available. For example, Tesla could set up dedicated lanes for people to join lines for different stations. This may work better and be easier to understand while being harder to cheat on.

Another possible idea for a dedicated lot would be to offer the ability to skip lines for a fee. This might sound unfair, but it helps bring in more revenue to expand the stations (and thus reduce lines) while also offering people in bad situations and emergencies the opportunity to get going faster than people who don’t think it’s worth the extra money. This allocates charging to people who need it fast the most.

Whatever charging providers decide to do, it might also be important for some of them to consider their own customers. It might make sense for a manufacturer charging network to prioritize members over guests in some way, for example. A queuing system could be very good for this, and might encourage people to become members or buy a certain brand to get priority.

Getting people to leave at 80% is another issue. Pricing for charging over 80% might make sense in some cases, but it might also be good to find other creative solutions to getting people to not stick around for no reason. Education is obviously a good part of this, but vehicles that can integrate navigation with the charging experience can warn users to not charge over what’s needed to get to the next stop (with some extra padding, of course).

Charging Companies Need To Figure This Out, Though

While we can come up with ideas all day, it’s ultimately going to be up to the charging providers to figure out how to deal with queuing. For some rural stations, it might not really be necessary to come up with a system. But for stations that regularly get clogged up like that, it’s a good idea to make a plan to avoid planning to fail.

Featured image by Jennifer Sensiba.


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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1983 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba