As More Plug-in Cars Hit the Roads, Inconsiderate Use of Public Charging Stations is On The Rise Too

Four years ago when cars like the Nissan LEAF and Chevrolet Volt hit dealer lots around the world, those eager to be early-adopters of plug-in car technology had to contend with the unfortunate realisation that public charging infrastructure in many places was at best unreliable and tough to use, and at worst, non-existent.

Rapid charging is far more common than it once was. But so too are inconsiderate users of it.

Rapid charging is far more common than it once was. But so too are inconsiderate users of it.

A few years later, despite massive public and private investment in public charging, those same early adopters had a new foe: drivers of internal-combustion engine (ICE) cars who parked in spots reserved for electric car charging, blocking plug-in drivers from using the few charging stations which did work.

Now there’s a new menace to plug-in car owners around the world, but this time it comes from within: owners of plug-in cars who treat publicly-available charging stations as their own private charging station or worse-still, parking space.

Taking advantage

It’s a problem we’ve covered here before on Transport Evolvedwith occasional reports from frustrated electric car owners finding that a charging spot is either taken up by a parked car that’s not connected to the charger, or has finished charging but has not moved.

In recent months that problem has become more common, resulting in some heated discussion among plug-in car owners over usage restrictions or penalties for those who abuse public charging provision.

Some Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV owners are being accused of abusing the network by fellow plug-in owners.

Some Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV owners are being accused of abusing the network by fellow plug-in owners.

Charging networks like UK-based utility company and Electric Highway charging provider Ecotricity are acutely aware of this growing problem, and are working hard to solve it. In Ecotricity’s case, that means working with host sites to ensure parking restrictions ban cars not charging from parking in electric car charging bays, enforcing parking penalties where possible, and encouraging its users to be proactive in reporting those who violate those rules.

Now the nationwide charging provider is going one step further: publicly asking those who use its network to practice decent charging etiquette.

Currently, Ecotricity doesn’t make a charge for electric car owners to use its nationwide network of DC quick chargers. Nor does it mandate any time-based or use-based restrictions. While that does mean that British electric car drivers can — if they’re willing to set aside the time it takes to charge — drive from one end of the country to the other for free, it also means some owners are taking advantage of the service.

In turn, the minority of inconsiderate drivers have caused a mass of Internet forum threads and social media outbursts from those who feel public charging is being spoiled for the majority. One particular group of plug-in owners — those with Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrids — seem to be causing a lot of frustration.

The whipping boy?

With a 2.0-litre gasoline engine and a 12 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is a very versatile vehicle, operating in all-electric mode for about 25-30 miles before needing a refill or switching over to its internal combustion engine. Europe’s most popular plug-in vehicle of 2014, the Outlander plug-in hybrid has become a common site on the roads and a common site at motorway charging stations thanks in part to it being the only plug-in hybrid on the market today with a CHAdeMO DC quick charge port as standard.

All charging should be fairly shared, especially if it's free to use.

All charging should be fairly shared, especially if it’s free to use.

Like the Nissan LEAF, Mitsubishi i-Miev and Kia Soul EV, that means the Outlander PHEV can make use of CHAdeMO DC quick charging stations, refilling its battery pack from empty to 80 percent full in around 20 minutes and delaying the use of its gasoline engine for its owner for another 25 miles or so.

Unlike all-electric cars however, the Outlander PHEV doesn’t need to plug in in order to be driven, and it’s leading to a spat among plug-in owners. It’s something regular Transport Evolved panelist Chelsea Sexton often calls the “Circular Firing Squad” of plug-in advocacy: owners fighting among themselves over need and priority of charging when every plug-in car is and should be allowed to make use of it.

To calm things down earlier this week and following continued complaints from owners concerning Mitsubishi Outlanders parking in the charging space while not even charging, @Elechighway, Ecotricity’s official Twitter feed for the Electric Highway, made the following plea:

Here at Transport Evolved, several of us on the editorial team have come across Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV cars parked at Ecotricity charging spots without being plugged in. For the most part however, the majority of Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV owners we’ve met seem to be just as capable of using the provided charging infrastructure in a courteous and considerate way.

As the most popular plug-in car of 2014 however, there’s one fact we think might be overlooked: the more people own a particular make or model of car, the higher the possibility will be that you’ll encounter someone who isn’t as nice or as considerate as the majority.

Are the majority being singled out for the actions of the minority?

Are the majority being singled out for the actions of the minority?

In other words, more Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV owners are getting the majority of the negativity aimed towards inconsiderate public charging station use because there are more of them than other plug-in car owners. And as a consequence, there will be a higher number of d**ks spoiling it for everyone else, regardless of how well-behaved and considerate the majority are.

Playing by the rules

We’ve said it before and we’re about to say it again. In order for electric car charging networks to work for everyone, those who use them have to be reasonable about their expectations of what is essentially a free-to-use network, considerate towards others, and understand that no charging network is there for their own personal use.

Like any shared public service — even though they are usually provided by private companies — charging networks are there for the good of all plug-in drivers. And as the networks increase in popularity, those who plan to make use of them need to understand that adding extra time to their journey to allow for any queues which may or may not exist should be a prerequisite of any long-trip.

It doesn't matter where the charging is or what form it takes: it should be shared if it's publicly available.

It doesn’t matter where the charging is or what form it takes: it should be shared if it’s publicly available.

When long-distance trips are concerned, those who decide to make use of motorway or freeway rapid charging points to extend the range of electric cars beyond their usual daily range should understand that they trade the convenience, cost and pollution of driving a conventional gasoline or diesel-powered car with the green credentials and low-cost of driving electric. Sadly, that also includes being prepared to allow extra time and being willing to accept that sometimes others will be using the infrastructure too.

Similarly, those with plug-in cars who don’t intend to charge should park elsewhere, and leave charging provision for those who really need it.

It’s all summed up by well-known actor Wil Wheaton, whose famous ‘don’t be a dick’ law.

Or to put it more politely, as Simon Crowfoot, MD of Ecotricity’s Electric Highway project puts it:

Ecotricity’s electric highway is an open nationwide network, currently free to join, free to use and powered by renewable energy. We encourage our registered customers to behave respectfully to other users and to abide by our terms and conditions of use. We also publish and distribute a ‘good etiquette guide’ to encourage users to behave fairly. It is in the interests of all drivers to respect this code as we all transition to lower emissions travel.

Either way, it boils down to remembering what our parents taught us as children: be fair, be kind, and think of others. And regardless of the plug-in vehicle, everyone should be allowed to plug in if the infrastructure exists.


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  • vdiv

    D**ks? You sure they are not b****es?

  • Maybe a combination of self-driving cars and Elon Musk’s dream of fully automated charging cables (like animated snakes) will help the situation. nnThe car could drop its owner at a nearby coffee shop, then park itself for charging. The charging cable would auto-connect and juice up the vehicle. When complete, the cable would disconnect and the car would notify the owner via their smartphone or tablet that the charge is complete (or reached the desired level) and the car is ready to pick them up. If the owner isn’t ready to be picked up, he or she would notify the car, which would simply move itself to the nearest non-charging parking spot.

  • Michael Thwaite

    Circular firing squad? It get’s worse. Recently I’ve seen a crop of sites popping up to name and shame EV drivers and post photos of ICE cars in EV spots. I’m all for reminding people that we need those spots but, I fell that we have to remain good citizens, even if it means biting our lips… a lot!

    • vdiv

      Some people are unable to do that (looks around, ends up pointing fingers at oneself), nor should they when their perceived rights and entitlements and if not self-esteem is being stepped on.nnIsn’t this evidence that sharing the public commons in a “fair” way doesn’t work?

    • Maybe I’m just ignorant. I started a hall of shame for ICE cars in EV spots 3 years ago. Help me understand what is wrong with such a page?nnIf ICE drivers are not made aware they are causing an issue how can they be expected to improve?

      • Michael Thwaite

        I _totally agree_ that ICE drivers should be made aware, a polite note left maybe but, we’re the new kids on the block. I view that most ICE drivers are future EV drivers, we need to lay out the welcome mat and show that this is the ‘light side’.nnA parallel example might be that, most ICE drivers don’t appear to know that idling is even bad for themselves let alone that it’s illegal in many states – the police in our state don’t enforce it because it just creates unnecessary friction and they accept that drivers simply don’t know yet. In that example signage is helping and there is a growing understanding that will, in time lead to fines but, three, five, ten years down the line? Probably.nnI’m sure that there are bolshy ICE drivers who just think that we’re an entitled bunch of tofu eating, sandle-wearing hippies but, do you think those ICE drivers would regularly frequent a name-&-shame site to see if they’re listed? If they were, they might consider it a badge of honor and compel their friends to do the same. Those should be ignored for now until public sentiment is against them, then they’ll either conform or be shunned naturally by society.nnnnI apologies for standing opposite you, riffle in hand 🙂

        • Thanks for your response. I do use kind notes as well. I found a decent example online, I found it a little too direct and softened the tone and keep a ready supply inside of the drivers door.nnnI agree ICE drivers won’t seek out my webpage, but I have had several people at work comment on my blog and they aren’t EV drivers. One lady commented that she found it interesting the challenges involved in charging an EV away from home and mentioned my page on being “asked to leave” the Embassy Suites. So the word is trickling out one driver at a time.nnnThe advantage of facing me in the ‘circle of friends’ is that I shoot blanks 🙂

          • Michael Thwaite

            That’s an interesting aspect of sharing the ‘pain’ that I’d not considered, sharing your troubles with friends educates them and helps spread the word before they accidentally transgress – that’s cool.

  • David Peilow

    Ecotricity could ease the problem by allowing power sharing between cables (apparently their hardware is capable). They could SMS owners when their charge session is finished. They could log how long a car is plugged in after reaching 100% and ban repeat offenders who don’t unplug and move on. Trouble is, all that requires integrating their back office with other systems and at the moment they can’t even get a live map online after three years.

  • D. Harrower

    It makes me a little sad that we have to take the time to lecture adults about how to share.

  • Interesting about Outlander drivers and CHAdeMO sites. This is very similar to the debate between LEAF owners and Volt owners over the use of L2 charging stations. I believe the consensus at that time was that all drivers should be treated equally and given equal access to charging locations.nnnIf BEV drivers start treating PHEV drivers like less privileged individuals, things will take a turn for the worse. I see a plug as a plug. We don’t need foster ‘EV apartheid’.nnnI’m on the Beta program for myEV from Carma. They have come up with the idea of a QR code to put in the EV’s window that can be scanned by their app to connect drivers so they can ask another driver for the OK to unplug based on the recorded SOC of their vehicle. Not sure it will go anywhere, but we need some way to share the resources fairly.

  • EVrider

    Ecotricity have very little say on the installed rapid hardware – they were provided free by DBT through nudging from Nissan. But yes, DBT should rollout firmware enabling concurrent plug use.

  • Mike Whitney

    Interesting. I’ve plugged my Outlander in on one occasion at Birch Services on the M62, having a fully depleted battery. Going into the services for nothing more than a quick potty stop and a fresh Costa coffee to go, I came out to find my car unplugged and a Leaf happily charging up with the same unit.nI do wonder if there’s a little envy going on here and a sense of entitlement amongst the “pure” electric brigade.nTo tar the Outlander drivers as the villains though, at least from my perspective, is blatantly wrong.