A Frustrating Experience

I planned on driving to DC to pick up family from Union Station. While technically the car’s range can get me to and from DC on a single charge (it is 78 miles RT), I knew I would have a car full of people and luggage so I decided to charge when I got to Union Station. Similar to a gas powered car, the more weight, the less range it has.

WhilImagee planning is involved when using public charging, very little of it needs to be done. Since I have a ChargePoint card (used to activate the public charger), I visited their site to make sure the chargers at Union Station were operational and unoccupied. Everything checked out.

When I arrived at Union Station there was a line of cars waiting to get into the parking lot. Once I reached the front I was informed that the garage was full. Crap! Not a problem I thought, the electric vehicle (EV) spots would be open, since only EVs are allowed to park there.

I explained this to the attendant and experienced something I was not prepared for: he had never seen an EV and didn’t realize Union Station had public chargers. No big deal, I would give him a primer on EVs and explain that Union Station had two parking spots on the first floor for cars like mine. Success! He contacted his superior to ask for permission to provide me access. His bosses’ response was that they they did in fact have chargers, but they were not operational. Crap! Even though I knew that wasn’t true, I was stuck.

So I drove off frustrated, but not worried because there are many public chargers in DC and the car’s navigation, with the touch of a button, will get me to any one of them. After navigating to charger after charger, I learned a hard lesson. Two of the three chargers my navigation sent me to were not visible from the road, hence not an option since there was no way I could ascertain their status.

The final charger was in the correct location, but the garage was full and blocked off.

Even at this point I was far from worried because there are many public chargers in Northern Virginia and at least three of them I knew for sure were open and operational. I did get the charge I needed at the Pentagon City Mall, and was able to shop and have lunch with my family while charging.
The worst part was the inconvenience of not having the day go as planned. Because of not getting a charge at Union Station, my outing was extended by a couple of hours. All and all not a huge deal, but that’s because it’s me. I love my car and am probably more understanding.
So What Really Happened?

My experience was not really a big deal, but for those who are basing a purchasing decision on the ease and availability of charging infrastructure, an experience like this could make them think twice. The lack of education for employees at garages and businesses which provide this service is frightening. It is easy to see how you can be in a tough position quickly.

The good news is that there are some very simple steps that can be taken to ensure a situation like this doesn’t happen again.

1. Provide education to employees at places where they have control over access to charging stations. This can be as simple as educating them on where chargers are located and what the price (if any) is.

2. Each facility should have a sign – preferably with an open/closed notification – that drivers could see before entering the facility. This way, drivers would know for sure the status before entering a facility.

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