How to reduce the hassle of electric car charging

An electric car owner’s biggest fear is running out of juice — and not being able to find an available charging station. One of the main reasons that electric vehicles (EVs) haven’t become more popular is that drivers worry they won’t make it to their destination and back.

In a new report, researchers have identified some of the hassles involved in EV charging. People hog the charger parking spots, and drivers often aren’t allowed to unplug another person’s fully-charged car. To bring EVs into the mainstream, the authors say, charging stations need to be designed to encourage turnover, and people should be able to unplug without fear of rousing another driver’s ire or breaking the law.

The report authors visited charging stations at four locations in Vermont, where an unusually high percentage of drivers own EVs. The team also gathered information about the issue from academic studies, trade market articles, and online searches.

A few problems emerged. Some businesses placed EV charging stations in the corner of the parking lot, where only one car could reach the cord. Others gave EVs the best spots in the lot, which encouraged unscrupulous drivers to grab those spots even when they didn’t need a charge.

Etiquette dictates that owners should unplug their cars once they’re charged to free up the cord. But “observation of etiquette is likely to decrease” as EVs become more common, the authors note. And some stores forbid customers from unplugging another customer’s vehicle out of fear of liability. In some states, unplugging another person’s car could cause the owner of that car to face fines or towing.

Common-sense solutions? Put the charging stations between parking spots so they can reach two to four vehicles, the authors suggest. Even better, install an “octopus” charger that charges multiple cars one after the other, in the order that they were plugged in. Don’t give the prime parking spots to EVs, and charge a small hourly fee to discourage drivers from occupying a spot for an unnecessarily long time. (Setting time limits may not be fair, the team says, since some EVs take longer to charge than others.)

Some drivers display courtesy cards on their cars that give others permission to unplug the vehicle at a certain time. But it should be legal and acceptable for another driver to unplug a fully-charged car even if a courtesy card isn’t present, the authors say. Without these changes, EVs may remain a niche product: tolerable for an enthusiast, but too much of a pain for the ordinary consumer. Roberta Kwok | 29 December 2015

Source: Bonges, H.A. and A.C. Lusk. 2015. Addressing electric vehicle (EV) sales and range anxiety through parking layout, policy and regulation. Transportation Research Part A doi: 10.1016/j.tra.2015.09.011.

Image © mimagephotography | Shutterstock