As electric vehicles move from single-digit percentages of the U.S. fleet to more mainstream volumes, EV entitlements are going to be front and center in the EV charging discussion.
Imagine if you could buy a fancy new car today and the government would give you money back. After you buy it, your local utility service or the carmaker would help you with the added expense of making it work. When you went to the library, airport, hotel, the mall, or to a restaurant, there would be a parking space, front and center, closest to the entrance reserved just for you and your fellow owners of that EV model. At highway rest stops, there will be special stalls just for your brand to use. With free energy! Who could resist that model?
All of these entitlements are real, and all of them apply to some or all electric vehicles. These incentives, a.k.a. entitlements, were hunky-dory when almost nobody owned an EV. Those days are just about over. EVs are among the fastest-selling, most highly marked-up vehicles on sale today and are poised to become mainstream vehicle options. The entitlements that many EV early adopters have come to expect are not sustainable.
Back when Tesla was new, the company made headlines and earned fans by telling everyone who would listen that Tesla owners would have special parking places just for them (away from the unwashed masses) where they could charge up their pricey performance sedans and other future wonder vehicles at no charge. For life. Forever. And Ever. One owner actually believed that, and he is now suing Tesla because they won’t let him enjoy his entitlement. His suit brings us to the second type of entitlement.
One new twist will be the 100,000 new Tesla owners scrambling for public chargers and also a connection on Tesla’s private, often crowded, network as Hertz has just placed a massive order for Tesla Model 3 cars. It will be interesting to see how their fumbling with Tesla’s chargers will be received by the folks already in the club as owners.
If our understanding of the Tesla owner’s case is correct, the issue isn’t so much the cost of the electricity, but the right to park forever in the spot, whether charging is happening or not. It’s been eons since Tesla reneged on its free Supercharger promise, so we don’t really remember what the deal was with just using the spots to park in when not charging. Who would expect that? Who would be so selfish? Well...
In America, when we entitle someone to something that makes questionable sense, we don’t end the entitlement. Instead, we make the entitlement “equitable.” We expand the entitlement to everyone. That is why many public EV chargers are being installed in places where limited EV chargers will do nothing to help once everyone owns an EV. Like dense inner cities where residents struggle to park at all. Imagine adding the need to charge an EV for hours in a few special spots when winter plowing means everyone needs to move at once. Or in cities like Providence, Rhode Island that have overnight parking bans on public streets.
A comment under a recent EV story on the subject of public charging caught our attention. The discussion was about how hard it is to find a public charger for those who cannot charge at home. One EV owner living in a remote Vermont ski resort town commented, “I don’t have any trouble charging. I just use the one a few blocks from my house.” We searched for public chargers in that area and found there are only a handful. So, imagine you are an EV owner headed to that resort town from afar and arrive to find that the charger is taken by a local resident who owns a home nearby. Who was that public charger built to serve? Are the tourists from afar entitled to that special spot, or the person who lives a block away and pays property taxes in that town? If there is a right answer, tell us in the Car Talk Community.
The primary reason that EV charging spots are close to building entrances is that it is very costly to run a circuit under the already-paved parking lot. It’s pricey enough to do it before the lot is constructed, but trenching to the rear of a perfectly paved lot to lay high-amperage wiring is just never going to happen. So the pair of EV charging spots typically end up next to the spaces reserved for the physically disabled and expectant mothers. Right up front, close to the front of the building from where the electricity originates.
Those spots are desirable to folks not in an EV. Given the choice to live-park in a spot while Grandma runs in for a few items, many folks would prefer to break the rules and park in the EV spot rather than be that horrible individual that takes spots from the disabled. Most live-parkers will move along when you ask why they are parked there not charging. Some uncaring non-EV owners (like the owner of the Honda Odyssey above) simply park in the charging spot and walk away. This is a widely grumbled about topic on social media. It’s called being ICED-out. ICE stands for Internal Combustion Engine.
Most folks can understand why taking an EV charging spot if you don’t need to charge is rude when there are other spots at the back of the lot available. But what is the proper etiquette for parking in a small lot when all of the other available spots are occupied? In this scenario (demonstrated above), why would it matter if the last spot was designated EV-only? Who is entitled to the very last spot in a lot if it happens to have a charger connection?
Electric vehicle owners and fans have as much brand loyalty and tribalism as any other type of vehicle class. Join any Tesla social media group or discussion and see what members think of owners of hybrids, low-cost EVs, or other types of green vehicles. If you like abuse, create a post asking the Tesla owners their thoughts on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
EV-othering is on full display on social media. The battery-electric crowd hates it when they see a plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle (PHEV) parked at any public charger. They post up images and angry-grams saying something to the effect of, “This selfish PHEV owner took a valuable spot and they don’t NEED to charge.” The idea is that one type of planet-saving electric vehicle is more entitled to the charging network than another.
Not all brands of electric cars work on all chargers. Tesla has its own special chargers called Superchargers. They are often located near other generic chargers. Since the Tesla cars can use any charger, but not the reverse, friction results. Here’s a post from an EV social media group that typifies this Tesla entitlement and the resultant unhappiness of other brands’ owners. “I hate it every time I see this. There are at least 10 Tesla chargers, but this dude chose to use the Chargepoint station to charge his Tesla. You might ask why the owner does that? Because Chargepoint provides 2 hours of free charging. This Tesla is now fully charged up sitting here blocking the one spot where a non-Tesla car can charge while there are many unoccupied Tesla Supercharger spots just 20 feet away.” This example is a segue to the next EV charging hot potato.
The difficulty with public charging is that your time occupying the charging spot may exceed your charging time. Airports are the best example of this. What sense does installing EV chargers in an airport parking lot make? Everyone who plugs in will be flying away (in a fossil-fuel-burning machine of all things). That means that the car will sit plugged in while not charging for the majority of that spot’s existence. This same concept applies to hotels. Imagine arriving at your hotel in an electric vehicle in need of a charge only to find the charges are occupied by fully-charged vehicles whose owners are asleep for the night. Who is more entitled to the charger? The first arrivals, or the late arrivals whose cars are in need of charging?
One way to avoid most of the EV entitlement conflict evolving today is to simply charge at home in your own garage or driveway. Many utility companies have special programs for EV owners who charge at home and offer them cost discounts. Many utilities even pay for the home charger equipment. One would think this lower-cost EV charging entitlement would be harmless, but it is not. How equitable is this reduced-rate charging to those who own EVs but don’t have a garage or driveway? Or low-income homeowners who can’t afford any vehicle? Is it fair that they are paying more for electricity just to heat their homes and cook their food as opposed to charging a high-performance luxury EV (or two)? How are these electricity ratepayers without the luxury of at-home charging to receive the same entitlement value from a community utility? Reduced rate at-home charging verges on price supports for the wealthiest among us, does it not?
Electric vehicle adoption is the policy of the United States as well as many individual states. The driving benefits of EVs are apparent to anyone who tries one, and we are confident that EVs will continue to gain market share. Heck, Tesla Model Y’s ordered today have a six-month waiting list, and the new 2023 Cadillac Lyriq first edition sold out in minutes. That EVs are about to ramp up dramatically in sales is not really a point for debate any longer. The real question is who is entitled to charge their EV, and how much should they pay in a world where public EV charging will soon be a concern for all of us. If there is one correct answer to that question, tell us your view in the Car Talk Community.