Image courtesy of Andrew Piltser-Cowan
John Goreham's picture

How One EV Owner Relies On Urban Public Charging - Yes It's Possible

Many EV fans would like to own an EV but are concerned that without a home charger it is impossible. Here is a first-hand story explaining why owning an EV in the Boston area is possible.
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Andrew Piltser-Cowan is an Attorney with a practice serving the greater Boston area. We met Andrew through a social media group related to living electric. We asked Andy to overview for our readers what life is like for those who own an electric vehicle, but do not have a home charger of their own on which to rely. The city Andrew lives in adjoins Boston, and is one of the most population-dense cities in America. A place where finding a parking space alone can be a challenge. We’ll let Andy tell the story unfiltered.

Related Story: Why not a Tesla? Read About Andrew's Kia Niro EV Here.

Q - AC, please give us a bit of background.

I've lived in various places around Metro Boston for the past 13 years, and I currently live in a small 12-unit condo in Somerville with my spouse, another friend of ours, and our two goldendoodles. We have assigned parking spaces for each unit, but there isn't currently electrical service to those spaces, nor are we a big enough building to warrant a community charger. I'm currently the only EV owner in the building, though several other residents have expressed interest. I have a law practice that focuses pretty heavily on criminal defense, and that involves a lot of driving around to courts and jails, as well as going to look at crime scenes or meet clients or witnesses in other places. There's a lot less of that since the pandemic started, and we do a lot more on zoom, but in late 2014 I was mostly driving my spouse's 2004 Buick LeSabre, spending about $200 a month on fuel, and with the age of the car, the maintenance expenses were starting to get pretty high, so I started to seriously consider the possibility that a loan or lease payment on a new EV wouldn't be much higher than what I was paying to keep the Buick on the road. I ended up getting a 2019 Kia Niro EV (known to the rest of the world as the Kia e-Niro) in late December of that year, and haven't bought a drop of gasoline since.

Q - You have a challenging charging situation. Please tell us your setup (about your condo setup without a charger)

We have a small parking lot behind our condo building with an assigned space for each unit. There's no charging station for the building, nor currently any straightforward way to install a charger at any of the parking spaces. The condo association was talking about resurfacing the parking lot in the summer of 2020, and that plan would have involved running electricity to each space under the pavement so that unit owners could install chargers, but then the pandemic happened and the resurfacing hasn't. I do most of my charging at a public charger operated by the City of Somerville in a metered lot in Davis Square, which is about a 5-minute walk from my home. On the rare occasions that all four Davis Square charging stations are occupied, there are two more in Teele Square, and one by the Kennedy School in Porter Square. On one occasion I had to go all the way to the Union Square ice rink to charge, but 99% of the time I just have to go two blocks.

Image courtesy of Andrew Piltser-Cowan

(Andrew continues) When I go to see my parents in Maine, I just plug into a 120-volt outlet in their garage. It takes 22 hours to top up after driving there, but I can do the drive without stopping to charge, and I usually have no need to go anywhere for over 22 hours once I get there. And if that doesn't work out for any reason, the Maine Turnpike has Level 3 DC fast chargers in both directions at the Kennebunk Service Plaza. If I'm on the road, I always try to find a parking spot with a charger near my destination, and it's pretty easy. For example, when I go to Worcester federal court, there's a garage down the street with Sema Connect chargers. And this summer and fall I've been traveling to a lot of regional cycling events, but most of them start and end at conservation sites that have free, off-network chargers in their parking lots.

Q - How do you manage to charge your BEV? Roughly how many miles do you average per week?

I try to keep the car at over 50% SOC, which usually means one overnight charging session per week. Mileage has varied a LOT since the pandemic started. In February 2020, the last full month before the pandemic, I was averaging over 250 miles a week. A lot of months have been closer to 75 miles a week, which is obviously easier on the charging situation. But we've been doing more court hearings and jail visits in person since the vaccine started rolling out, and between that and traveling for family and cycling, it's been anywhere from 75 to 500 miles in a week.

Q - Some New England cities have overnight public parking bans. How do you manage that if you need to charge at night?

Somerville does permit overnight parking both on streets (for permitted residents) and in city lots. Cambridge is the same. Brookline and Belmont have overnight parking bans, but Brookline has public chargers in Coolidge Corner that are among the town's designated spaces where overnight parking is allowed.

Q - In winter, many cities have "No parking during snow emergencies" How do you manage that?

Somerville's snow emergency rule is about street parking. Municipal lots stay open, and only one of my usual charging spots (Teele Square) is on-street; the rest are in municipal lots. Plus, I don't need to charge every night, so I would usually just leave the car in my own parking lot for a snow day.

Q - Why not a hybrid-electric or plug-in hybrid like a Prius or RAV4 Prime? Please tell us how you decided to move to a BEV now without a charger at your residence.

I was pretty concerned about the environmental impact of tailpipe emissions as well as the cost of gasoline. PHEVs are a decent compromise for people who want all-electric short-range driving for commuting and errands but want the flexibility of being able to fuel with gas when they're on a longer trip. I have heard of studies that conclude PHEV owners just run on gas and hardly ever charge, which defeats the purpose and in many cases is LESS efficient than a hybrid or even a highly efficient traditional gasoline engine. I wanted to make a clean break with combustion, and I spent about a year researching range and charging practices and reading about EV owner experiences before I decided to take the plunge. That gave me the confidence to know that I could make it work without a home charger.

Q - On a scale of one to ten with ten being extremely challenging, how would you rate the difficulties of owning an EV in the city without a charger you call your own?

One. I spend less time and effort on supplying my car with energy than I did when I got that energy in liquid (gasoline) form. The only time it's been annoying was when 3/5 chargers in my local area were out of service at the same time for a couple of weeks this summer. But as soon as I called 311 to complain, they got fixed. It seems like it was just a matter of somebody needing to call it in.

Q - Tell us a bit about your future plans. Will you be able to add a charge at your residence? Will you opt for a shared charger there, a personal one, and if personal, what type of setup do you envision?

Whenever the condo association resurfaces the parking lot, I'll put in a level 2 charger at home. Shared chargers don't make as much sense as personal chargers with how our parking lot is set up, though I'd be happy to consider a sharing arrangement if either of the folks in the adjacent parking spaces were interested. Since I don't know when that will be, I'm not putting a lot of time into researching specific charging equipment until I know I can install one. I did look into installing one at my parents' house in Maine this summer, but it turned out that running a 220-volt circuit to their garage would have been expensive, and I don't really have a problem with my level 1 (120 volt) setup there.

Our thanks to Andrew for taking the time to help us in spreading the word on urban EV charging.

Images courtesy of Andrew Piltser-Cowan.

John Goreham is a long-time New England Motor Press Association member and recovering engineer. John's interest in EVs goes back to 1990 when he designed the thermal control system for an EV battery as part of an academic team. After earning his mechanical engineering degree, John completed a marketing program at Northeastern University and worked with automotive component manufacturers, in the semiconductor industry, and in biotech. In addition to Torque News, John's work has appeared in print in dozens of American news outlets and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on TikTok @ToknCars, on Twitter, and view his credentials at Linkedin

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