-  Photo: Sophie Jonas

Photo: Sophie Jonas 

Today, a majority of fleet users – more than 80% – recharge their electric vehicles (EVs) either at home or work. However, a segment of EV users rely on public chargers, a segment that promises to increase as EV usage proliferates to broader demographics. Many in this segment, for a variety of reasons, cannot charge their EV at their residence.

In the commercial fleet market, most companies provide home chargers for employee drivers. This benefit, of course, is contingent the employee’s home allows installing an onsite charger. Not all residences permit charger installations.

For example, some employee homeowners live in older homes in which existing electrical wiring cannot accommodate the power needed to operate a home charger. Installing a home charger may require rewiring the entire home. The question then arises: “Who will pay for this expense?”

For another example, consider a company EV parked in a detached garage, separate from the main residence. In this case, installation of upgraded electrical conduit could be required. Again, who will pay the upgrade expense?

Still another issues: if a company pays to install a more robust electrical system at an employee's home, that home’s property value will inevitably increase. Is that added benefit fair to other employees? Should a company even be concerned about this unequal treatment?

Home Charging Not Available to All

Only 68% of Americans are homeowners; the remainder are renters. Of the 68% who own a home, one-third are not included in the workforce – essentially retirees. Fleet managers must identify how many drivers live in homes that can accommodate home chargers. And, as EVs become more prevalent throughout the fleet, the fleet driver population will skew to younger demographics.

Another driver segment are people who live in multiple unit apartment buildings or condominiums or are governed by homeowner's association rules that do not allow home charger installation. These employees will use the public charging infrastructure.

Many sales representatives cover large territories that require that they travel to multiple cities in a workweek. These employee drivers will need public charging stations to fulfill their job responsibilities when out of town, away from their home chargers.

Confidence in Public Charging Dropping

In view of these circumstances, what is the current level of confidence in public charging?

Despite the fact more public charging stations are in operation today than any time before, customer satisfaction with public-level charging has fallen in 2022 compared to 2021. The fear is those satisfaction levels will continue deteriorating for the foreseeable future.

What’s behind this fear? Some people believe the growing number of EV users will put too much stress on existing public charging infrastructure.

Not every public charging station has issues. Many do, but the majority do not.

However, the number of public charging stations with problems seem to be increasing. First-hand feedback from EV users published on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube appears to support the contention that problems at public charging station sites are mounting.

Most importantly, this anecdotal evidence has been substantiated by a formal study based on a survey of 11,550 EV drivers and published by J.D. Power and Associates last August. To date, this study has been the best in documenting the driver satisfaction.

The study’s significant takeaway is user satisfaction with public charging declined in calendar year 2022 compared to 2021.

The J.D. Power study’s bombshell revelation, however, was the first-ever documentation that one of every five drivers was unable to charge their vehicle during a visit to a public recharging station – a 20% failure rate.

Nearly three fourths of the failures are due to inoperable charging equipment.

Based upon social media comments, the incidence of non-working charging equipment was not a surprise to heavy EV users, those whose EVs are their sole transportation for both local and long distance travel. According to these users, the problem at public charging stations is getting worse.

A J.D. Power study of user experiences at public charging stations revealed one of every five drivers was unable to charge their vehicle during a visit to a public recharging station.  -  Photo: Ernest Ojeh

A J.D. Power study of user experiences at public charging stations revealed one of every five drivers was unable to charge their vehicle during a visit to a public recharging station.

Photo: Ernest Ojeh

Repair Times a Key Complaint

Growing use of public EV chargers is causing maintenance issues, primarily hardware related, are rendering some chargers inoperable.

A key complaint among frustrated users concerns the often lengthy repair times. Public charger maintenance issues range from motherboard malfunctions to faulty temperature sensors in charging handles.

Many charger maintenance issues can take a long time to resolve due to the long lead time for replacement parts – a consequence of the ongoing supply chain shortage.

The increased frequency of charging events and user misuse/abuse of chargers invariably leads to other problems such as broken handles, a dilemma only discovered once a user begins the charge. When the originally selected handle does not function, the driver is forced to stop the charging session, get another handle, and start a new charging session, all producing a negative user experience.

The fundamental issue with many public charging stations is hardware reliability. Often, the hardware requires updating or replacement.

Older hardware also experiences material degradation from exposure over time to natural elements, ranging from high humidity, heat, and precipitation to snow, hail and prolonged subzero weather in snowbound states. This degradation increases EV recharging time.

Inconsistent user experiences, varying from station to station, is another public charging issue.

For example, some charging stations bill by the minute or kilowatt. When billed by the minute, user costs increase simply due to a slow or broken charger or multiple EVs attempting to charge at the same time. Although the amount of electricity purchased is the same, the greater length of time the EV is connected to the charger boosts user costs.

Still other negative user public charging interactions result from chargers that stop charging prematurely before the battery is full or a user double-billed for a single charge.

A personally annoying practice are EV drivers using charging stations as parking stalls long after a vehicle's been recharged.

A case in point is the town in which I live. It's very friendly with public chargers available all around town, in shopping centers, grocery store parking lots at city hall, sidewalk chargers, even at the local Kiwanis Club.

However, if I attempt to charge an EV after 3 p.m., I'm out of luck. Invariably, all the charging stalls are occupied as parking spaces as the EV owners leave their vehicles overnight at the charging station long after the vehicle has been recharged. Rather than returning to pick up the EV later that evening, owners wait until the following morning.

Another negative user experience with public charging is the wait time. With the limited number of chargers in some high density areas, it's common for drivers to wait in line, sometimes up to an hour and a half, for an available charger.

Once in line, the driver has no idea how long the wait will be. Inoperable chargers further exacerbate long wait times.

More Needs to be Done

EVs are getting better and better. Some phenomenal EVs are taking to the road today and more await in the current product pipeline. However, EV enthusiasts say the public charging infrastructure has not kept pace with end user expectations, prompting declining customer satisfaction with EVs charging.

However, major OEMs are proactively addressing these issues. Ford Motor Company monitors charging stations and reports problems, removing consistently underperforming stations from those it recommends to owners.

Likewise, General Motors is working with private Flying J truck stops to build a charger network along interstate routes using EVgo fast chargers. But more needs to be done.

In fact, an EV user bill of rights is needed. Number one on that list must be a greater commitment to fix malfunctioning chargers quickly. Chargers should be installed in well-lit and heavy traffic areas.

Charger location information can be found on YouTube videos or LinkedIn and Twitter posts, especially for after-hours charging when some areas may be sketchy at best or downright scary.

At a bare minimum, the industry must do a better job of maintaining existing public charging stations. The improvement can be tracked in positive user satisfaction results in next year's J.D. Power study.

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