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Electric car charging etiquette

A few years ago, you could venture into some beneficent municipality and find — in the public garage, or the library car lot, or right in the middle of Main Street — a couple of plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) charging stations. These cities, along with college and corporate campuses, were demonstrating their commitment to preserving the environment, offering free power and prime parking to those citizens who were willing to spend a lot of extra money for a low-range, underpowered, unsexy vehicle. Those charger-augmented spots were often empty, simply because there weren’t enough PEVs on the road to fill them.


Today, there’s likely to be a flock of passive-aggressive drivers circling for a spot. And the problem isn’t just that PEVs are more popular because they have longer ranges, ludicrous power, and (in some executions) some serious sexiness. It’s that these spots provide free power and prime parking. The legacy of that eco-conscious carrot has lingered a little too long.


To avoid a modern-day tragedy of the commons (a metaphor that is perhaps too on-point if you think of its origin), there are a few rules we all need to abide by.


Plan ahead. If your battery icon is flashing red, an occupied spot is apt to turn you the same colour. With ranges of more than 300 miles on new vehicles, running low on electrons is no longer an issue of technological limits; it’s one of personal responsibility.


Forget that last 20 percent. EV batteries charge quickly when they’re low, slowing down as they pass the halfway point. Beyond 80 percent, the charging slows to a trickle. So while it may feel good to pump an additional 50 miles worth of electrons into your range, the time you spend topping off is obnoxiously inefficient.


Charge up, then move out. Even if you do need to get a full charge from a public spot (perhaps a Tesla & Lousie scenario?), park elsewhere when your trickling’s done. Don’t hog the free-parking rewards for your virtuousness when there are other deserving drivers in need of electrons.


Don’t personalise it. Yes, you’ve parked there since you bought your Bolt, but now Tricia from accounting needs the plug occasionally. Rather than mourn the loss of your private parking spot, rejoice in the discovery of a new friend — one that you know will text you as soon as she’s charged (and vice versa, we hope).


If you’re not plugged, don’t park. Though this should go without saying, that prime parking is for powering up only. Merely parking there doesn’t help the planet, though it may help the city’s power bill.


Use an app. There are a variety of apps that list charging stations (free and otherwise), which can take some stress out of finding a refuel — and there are all sorts of hidden charging stations in a typical city grid. For-profit networks of charging stations have apps that that not only point you to stations, but tell you if a spot is occupied, and even send you alerts when your car is charged.


Charge up in down times. Don’t expect to find a spot at your local strip mall during prime shopping hours. Rather, think about pulling in during the less busy evening, while you’re dining or taking in a movie.


Look to the future. Realise that the technology and the social environment are changing, and that more PEVs will mean more charging spots — but they are unlikely to be free, and less likely to be in prime locations. Plan now for the coming eco-utopia, perhaps by buying comfortable shoes.


Shoulder the burden yourself. If you bought an EV for purely economic reasons, this doesn’t apply to you. But for those of you that have some interest in conservation, you can do your part by charging up overnight in your garage. You’ll be doing the planet a double favor if you attach your home charging station to a home solar array.


Buy a new car. Though it isn’t happening yet, when autonomous vehicles arrive, they’ll likely be able to drop you at the front door of your destination, then drive themselves to some out-of-the-way spot to charge — probably through induction plates in the cement, with no human assistance. Once that happens, you won’t care about whether or not Tricia is going to text you soon — unless she’s meeting you for coffee.

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