Range Confidence: Charge Fast, Drive Far, with your Electric Car

By David Herron

Charging station etiquette - effectively sharing limited electric car charging resources

Autonomy and electric driving freedom Electric vehicle drivers Bill of Rights

Currently electric car charging stations are a limited resource. There aren't enough, in most areas, to support the electric cars currently in use. The few areas with enough charging stations, like the Netherlands, are the exception rather than the rule. Of course we all must share the facilities fairly. Isn't that what our parents taught us as children, to share?

In the news we see stories about competition for charging stations sometimes results in actual fights. We see the anger in online forums for electric car owners. The loudest anger is over folks parked at an electric car charging station without using the station. There are two labels used for this:

  • An ICEHOLE is the owner of a fossil fuel powered vehicle (ICE means Internal Combustion Engine) parked at a charging station
  • An EVHOLE is the owner of an electric vehicle parked at a charging station, but the car is not plugged in and charging

In both cases other people are being prevented from using the charging station.

Another area of anger is when someone unplugs another person's electric car. To an extent this is a case of "don't you dare touch my car", but there's also the issue of priority. Any electric car owner needs to charge their car. But who has priority? Does the person whose car is currently charging have priority over someone who drives up and needs a charge? The person angry over their car being unplugged from the charging station therefore believes they have priority.

Electric vehicle owners are all in the same boat, trying to make best use of this new type of car, while working around the inadequate infrastructure. We shouldn't be fighting one another, but instead working together on solving the problems.

We can avoid the fight by following some common sense principles:

  • Charging stations are only to be used for charging a plug-in electric car
  • These scenarios are not to be allowed:
    • Non-plugin car parked in front of a charging station
    • Plug-in (PHEV or BEV) parked in front of a charging station, but not plugged in
  • A plug-in car that’s become fully charged should move away as quickly as possible
  • Driving a plug-in car doesn’t give us free reign to violate other laws in order to charge our car
  • Offer education to those who don’t understand, rather than abusive anger

Here's a few problems we're facing:

  • ICE'd Charging Stations: Gasoline car owners sometimes park their car in front of the station, blocking access to charging stations. Sometimes this is done from ignorance, not understanding what a charging station is much less why charging station access is so critical. Other times it is purposeful, by people with a political beef against electric cars. Either way, a blocked station is one that cannot serve electric car drivers.
    • "ICE", in this case, means "Internal Combustion Engine"
    • Electric car owners sometimes do so as well, generally from a mistaken sense of entitlement. As laudable as electric car ownership is, we aren't free to commit other crimes.
  • Hogging the Charging Station: Sometimes an EV owner leaves their car plugged in long after the car is fully charged. This blocks access to the station just as completely as if it were a gasoline car.
  • Too many cars for available stations: Sometimes so many people want to use a cluster of charging stations, that some have to wait. Not everyone likes to wait, do they?

Understandably, there's plenty of room for anger. The phrase "charger rage" comes to mind, and has been used in the press. Anger might lead you to do things that aren't entirely wise. I've seen people in online forums wanting to "key" the offending car, to let air out of their tires, to block in the other car, to make revengeful visits to gasoline stations and block gas pumps, etc. Doing any of these things may feel satisfying for a few minutes, but in the long term don't solve anything. Instead these things compound the problem by escalating the level of conflict, and in most cases those actions are crimes.

If there's an empty handicapped parking spot next to a blocked charging station, do you park there and stretch the cable over? That's not recommended because you'll then have committed a crime. The handicapped person needs that parking spot just as badly as the electric car owner needs the charging station. The difference is the longer history over which the needs of handicapped people became a big enough political issue to pass laws to govern use of those spots and penalties for misuse.

The cure, until there's enough charging stations, is to learn to share. Electric car owners need to understand cooperative access to shared resources. Gasoline car owners need to grasp the significance of charging stations and why access is so vital.

Points of Electric Car Charging Etiquette

Safety first
Be careful with how you run the charging cord, taking care to run the cord in a way to avoid a tripping hazard. It's unfortunate that few charging station makers use retractable cords, and instead we are left with a tangled mess of cords at charging stations.
Non-plugin cars do not belong in electric car charging spaces
A non-plug-in car parked in an electric car charging spot is said to have ICE’d the parking spot (ICE: Internal Combustion Engine). These cars are unable to use the charging station, and block electric car owners from using the station.
Hybrid cars are not electric cars
Hybrid cars clearly cannot use charging stations, but are often seen blocking station access anyway. Their owners might be carried away with the pride of owning a hybrid car, and might believe the phrase “electric cars” includes hybrid cars. While hybrid car ownership is laudable, a hybrid car parked in an electric car charging space blocks electric car owners from using that space. The plug-in hybrid cars (the Chevy Volt and Prius Plug-In) can use charging stations, but normal hybrid cars cannot.
Plug-in Hybrid car owners have a right to use charging stations
Any car that can be plugged in is an electric car, and is a step in the desired direction. There’s an ongoing argument among electric/PHEV owners over whether PHEV’s “count” as electric cars. And some would even deny PHEV owners access to charging stations. However, by choosing a car that can be plugged in PHEV owners choose to avoid gasoline for some of their miles. The greater good is served by encouraging PHEV owners to drive as many electric miles as possible.

There is a question of priority. Given two cars, a BEV and a PHEV, both needing to charge which should be given access to the charging station? It's probably the BEV car, maybe.

Electric cars should be parked in an EV charging spot only while charging
An electric car owner may think electric car parking is some kind of privilege for electric car owners, but that's wrong. In reality charging stations are a convenience for those who need to recharge their car. Any car, electric or otherwise, parked at a charging station but not charging is blocking that charging station. Owning an electric car does not give a right to park in an electric car charging spot without using it. What gives the right to park at a charging station is actively charging the car at that station.
When your electric car is done charging, move it so other electric cars can use the charging station
Leaving an electric car plugged in long after its finished charging is called _Squatting_. To reiterate, just driving an electric car doesn't grant the right to park in front of charging stations. Instead it's the use of the station which gives that right.

Charging stations are just like the concrete pads in front of gas pumps. They are spaces that should be occupied only while the vehicle is being refueled. Since charging stations are a scarce resource we must share them effectively. That means moving your car out of the way once it's fully charged.

Airports and other ultra-long-term parking is the exception
The current electric car charging model doesn't work well at airports. You'll be gone for at least a couple days, but the charging time is less than four hours. By the time your charging session is finished, you'll be hundreds of miles away, probably cruising at 35,000 feet altitude, and unable to return to your car to move it. Airport long term parking should either have lots of low power charging capability, or lots of fast charging, rather than 6 kiloWatt charging. The individual persons etiquette lesson is to recognize the suboptimality of charging stations in long term parking areas, and that there's no clear best practice for this case. It's the owner of that long term parking facility that must think up the best EV charging solution for their customers.
Leave the charging flap open to indicate you need a charge
It sometimes happens you arrive at a station, all the charging cords are occupied, and you need to go somewhere nearby. There might be an open parking space next to the charging stations. Park in that space, and leave the charging flap open indicating you need a charge. This is supposed to be a signal others will recognize.

If you feel the open charging flap is too subtle a signal, leave a note for the other drivers.

Clear signage and labeling at charging stations
What will educate everyone is if charging stations have clear signage, and painted information on the pavement and walls. The idea is to use color and signs to delineate the area around a charging station. Over time everyone will grow accustomed to their presence and understand charging stations' significance.
Place an EV charging placard in your electric car window
As a courtesy to other electric car owners, leaving a note in your car window giving your phone number can let them get ahold of you if there are concerns or problems.

For an EV charging placard - scroll down.

Look at indicator lights to see if a car is still charging before unplugging it
****: Many electric cars have indicator lights showing how fully recharged the car is. Unfortunately there's no standard about these lights, and not all cars have them in the first place. In any case, the idea is to, before unplugging a car that’s charging, to have an idea if the car is fully recharged yet. It's okay to unplug a fully charged electric car. The difficulty is determining if the car is indeed fully charged.
Placing notes on cars who ICE an electric car charging space
Electric car owners sometimes get irate when a charging station is ICED. We sometimes wish to turn into the Incredible Hulk and start smashing things. An angry note left on a car might give a momentary rush of power, but will that nastygram help with relationships between gasoline and electric car owners? No. It is better to educate than to escalate violence. Do you want to be shot dead over an argument about charging stations?

Discussion

Now that we've gone over principles and rules of etiquette let's talk about practical situations. For the most part these are questions seen in online discussions.

When is it okay to unplug electric car at a charging station?
This is tricky. Earlier we said it's okay to unplug a fully charged electric car. That's the opinion of the person who wrote this, and probably the opinion of lots of other electric car owners. But some electric car owners get downright uppity about being unplugged no matter the circumstance. But that stance does not make sense.

An electric car parked at a charging station but not actively charging is blocking access to that charging station. By rights the owner of that car should have moved their car to free up the charging station, but that's not always possible. What if there's a free parking spot next to the car, and the cord can be easily unplugged and moved to the other car? So long as the first car is fully charged the owner of that car does not have much ground to stand on. For what rightful purpose do they have to deny another electric car owner the ability to charge? For what rightful purpose do they demand their car not be unplugged in any circumstance?

The right to park at an electric car charging station ends when the charging session is over.

Is it illegal to park at a charging station?
The problem here is law versus etiquette. Unfortunately the laws have not caught up with the needs of electric car owners.

Consider the issue of handicapped parking spaces. Universally there are laws about handicapped parking, where access to handicapped parking is limited to people meeting the required criteria. A car owned by a non-handicapped person does not have a right to park in such a spot, and can get a parking ticket or have their car towed. That's because of laws making it illegal to park in a handicapped spot unless the car has a handicapped sticker.

A similar argument can be made about electric car charging. Just as handicapped drivers need the handicapped parking spaces, electric car drivers need the parking space in front of the charging station to charge their car.

But the laws to make it illegal to park at a charging station are few and far between.

Can I leave my EV plugged in overnight?
Again, the right to park at an electric car charging station ends when the charging session is over. It's most likely that overnight at a charging station, the car will be fully charged halfway through the night.
Can I plug a portable charging station into a power outlet I find in public?
In our need to charge our car, we might see a power outlet and think it's a good idea to plug in and recharge. But if that power outlet is not yours, aren't you stealing electricity? It's best form to ask for permission before plugging in to charge.
Can I have a car towed that is blocking a charging station?
We aren't free to commit other crimes because of a blocked charging station. An individual that is not a property owner or property manger, or is not a police officer, cannot request that a car is towed. That is, the only people who can legally request a car to be towed, without permission of the car owner, are either police officers or else a property owner/manager. Anyone else is committing a crime - theft.
Can I damage cars that are blocking charging stations in retribution?
We aren't free to commit other crimes because of a blocked charging station. It is understandable why there is anger about blocked electric car charging stations. We do not have the right to commit other crimes.
Should I block a gasoline pump to show gasoline car drivers how inconsiderate they are?
This might not be explicitly a crime, but it will likely cause an escalation of violence. It's very likely the folks you block from using the gasoline pump are not the persons who block charging stations.
Can I park in a handicapped spot and stretch the charging cord over?
We aren't free to commit other crimes because of a blocked charging station. As we noted earlier the laws against parking in a handicapped spot are nearly universal, because obviously those of limited means need the assistance.
Does a long-range electric car (e.g. Tesla) have the same right to use charging stations as any other electric car?
We see this said all the time, that owners of Tesla electric cars don't need to use electric car charging stations. Their cars have so much range, so obviously they cannot possibly need to charge. And in any case "they" have their own charging stations.

Those stances are understandable but not accurate. The demand that Tesla car owners only use "their" charging stations is bordering on a racist-apartheid attitude. What I mean is - substitute the kind of car for the skin color of a person, and that same attitude has been used over the generations to marginalize all kinds of people.

Any plug-in electric car has the right to use public charging stations.

How can I tell if an electric car is done charging?
This is one of our biggest frustrations. The different car makers have different indicator lights to show whether or not a car is charging. Some have a blinking light on the dashboard, others a light around the charging inlet, but frustratingly some have no light at all. If we follow the rule that an electric car that's done charging is fair game to be unplugged we need a way to tell which cars are done charging. Good luck.

Mitigation - J1772 extension cords

Suppose you find an electric car charging station that's blocked, and the charging cord is free to be used. You could park in a nearby parking spot, then drag the cord to your car. But what if the cord is a few feet too short to reach your car?

You could wait around until someone shows up and moves their car? While the right to park at an electric car charging station ends when the charging session is over, that depends on the car owner actually moving their car. What if they've decided they have the right to leave their car at the charging station overnight? No amount of screaming will make that charging cord longer.

Consider the J1772 extension cord.

JLONG - 40 Amp, 40ft, J1772 extension cable
JLONG - 40 Amp, 40ft, J1772 extension cable:
EV Everything 20 ft Extension Cord J1772 Cable 32 amp Electric Vehicle Charging
EV Everything 20 ft Extension Cord J1772 Cable 32 amp Electric Vehicle Charging:

Both of these products are like extension cords, but they have J1772 charging plugs on each end. Just like we might use an extension cord to run a power drill in the back yard, we can use a J1772 extension cord to extend the reach of a charging station cord.

Tools

What do you do if you’ve found a car violating the etiquette guidelines? Why, leave them a nice note with charging station etiquette education, that’s what. (www.zazzle.com) This notice is available as a pack of Post-it notes through Zazzle. Carry one in your glovebox, and you’ll always be able to dash off a quick note to anyone who needs it.
What do you do if all the charging stations are full, you need to charge, but cannot stick around? You leave a note for other drivers to give assistance. This notepad lets you describe your car and to give your phone number. (www.zazzle.com) It’s available from Zazzle as a pack of Post-it notes.

Resources

"Take Charge and Go" has designed charging cord hangers, and a set of stickers and notes, useful for communicating charging requests and etiquette to others. See (www.takechargeandgo.com) takechargeandgo.com/2015/02/14/hangers

(evrules.com) EVRules.com - A whole website dedicated to charging station etiquette

Plug In America has developed an "EV Card" to help communicate your needs to other drivers - (www.pluginamerica.org) http://www.pluginamerica.org/evcard

The EV Charger News placard is another take on a card with which to communicate with other drivers: (www.evchargernews.com) evchargernews.com/chargeprotocolcard

Discussion groups about EV Charging etiquette

Etiquette posts from around the web


Range Confidence is Copyright © 2016-17 by David Herron

About the Author(s)

David Herron : David Herron is a writer and software engineer focusing on the wise use of technology. He is especially interested in clean energy technologies like solar power, wind power, and electric cars. David worked for nearly 30 years in Silicon Valley on software ranging from electronic mail systems, to video streaming, to the Java programming language, and has published several books on Node.js programming and electric vehicles.

Charging station etiquette - effectively sharing limited electric car charging resources

Autonomy and electric driving freedom Electric vehicle drivers Bill of Rights
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