NYC Tesla Supercharger Overwhelmed: Drivers Face Long Waits

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NYC Tesla Supercharger Overwhelmed: Drivers Face Long Waits

In New York City, celebrated for its towering skyscrapers and vibrant culture, there’s a glaring issue with its electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure. It’s not keeping pace with the surge in EV sales, leading to overburdened chargers and affecting the livelihoods of rideshare drivers who’ve shifted to electric.

Recently, a Tesla owner’s plea for help on X, previously known as Twitter, highlighted the severity of the situation. They posted a photo showing a congested queue at the Brooklyn Tesla Supercharger, signaling an urgent need for solutions. “SOS, here’s a photo of what is happening at Brooklyn NYC Tesla Supercharger. It’s impossible to charge the car. Help us please,” the driver requested assistance from Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO.

Curious about the reality of the situation, I decided to visit the Coney Island station, a short train ride from InsideEVs’ headquarters in Midtown Manhattan. Upon arrival, I encountered numerous rideshare drivers, who, encouraged by New York City’s regulations promoting electric vehicles for hire, have found themselves with limited charging support.

The Supercharger in question sits in a Raymour and Flanigan furniture store parking lot at Brooklyn’s southern tip. It’s neighbored by a Starbucks drive-thru and a veterinary center, with automotive repair shops lining the street. This parking lot, marked by its unsightly transmission cables and leaning wooden light poles, features 12 Tesla dispensers and four EVgo charging stalls, the latter of which were out of service, as indicated by the screens on the EVgo chargers.

EV Charging Crunch Hits Ride-Hail Drivers

As New York City shifts towards electric transportation, the emergence of long queues at EV charging stations is becoming increasingly common. Bezgod Hoja, an Uber driver from the Seagate neighborhood, frequently faces this issue at a local Supercharger. Sporting a black puffer jacket and blue jeans, Hoja shares that he often waits an hour to access a charging stall, followed by another hour to charge his white Model S P85D to at least 80% battery life.

Tesla installed the charging dispensers in March 2023 but only activated them towards the year’s end, reportedly due to prolonged city permit approvals—a process known for its delays in New York. During a recent visit, the station was overwhelmed, with 20 EVs waiting and an additional 12 charging, most sporting Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) plates. This scenario underscores the challenges posed by New York City TLC’s mandate for new for-hire vehicle licenses to be electric, aimed at promoting a greener fleet and reducing air pollution.

Despite the TLC approving over 4,700 applications for electric for-hire vehicles, the insufficient charging infrastructure presents a significant hurdle. Drivers, incentivized by federal benefits and committed to greener practices, find themselves constrained by the lack of accessible charging options, highlighting a critical gap in the city’s electric mobility infrastructure.

Nowhere Else To Go

Bezgod Hoja’s response to finding an alternative Supercharger was one of frustration. “Where?” he asked, showing a map on his Tesla’s screen that displayed lengthy wait times at every Supercharger in New York City. The closest fee-free option at JFK Airport was an hour’s drive away, and the two downtown Brooklyn stations, which require payment for parking, were 40 minutes away during rush hour, with equally long waits.

Ellie Simpson, also an Uber driver and a wedding planner, is in the same predicament. Wrapped in a cozy brown and white overcoat, she shared her struggles from the comfort of her black Model Y. “I’m a single mom of three. I’m losing an hour and a half of my earnings a day just waiting in line. That’s time I could spend making more money for my family,” she expressed, the frustration evident in her voice. This charging station bottleneck not only impacts their daily schedules but also significantly affects their livelihoods.

Ellie Simpson, seeking solutions to the Supercharger congestion, ventured to use Revel’s EV fast-charging stations, which waive parking fees. However, she encountered issues with slow charging speeds and a burdensome $40 pre-authorization hold for each session, a significant inconvenience for those managing tight finances.

Simpson, an Uber driver, notes that earnings range from $35 to $50 per hour, varying with demand. The lack of parking fees makes certain stations particularly attractive, exacerbating congestion. The necessity for more frequent charges during cold weather further compounds the issue. Recalling a recent experience, Simpson mentioned arriving at a station with only five percent battery left, which dwindled to one percent by the time she could charge.

To address overcrowding at high-demand Superchargers, Tesla introduced a congestion fee, charging $1 for every minute a vehicle remains connected after reaching an 80 percent charge. This measure aims to improve turnover rates at charging stations, especially since charging efficiency decreases as the battery nears full capacity, slowing down the process for everyone waiting.
Ellie Simpson, like many New Yorkers, faces the challenge of not having access to home charging, making public stations crucial. “Living in NYC, most of us cannot charge at home, and this station is 30 minutes from my house. So I should be able to charge to maximum capacity,” she argues. Instead of imposing congestion fees, Simpson believes the focus should be on expanding the network of freestanding stations by Tesla and local authorities to alleviate the pressure.

Simpson is also drafting a letter to Uber, expressing that the incentives for EV drivers do not make up for the significant time and earnings lost due to charging constraints. For her, participating in a rideshare program with an EV is becoming more of a hindrance than a help.

The Brooklyn Supercharger’s accessibility to non-Tesla EVs, like the Hyundai Ioniq Electric, brings its own set of challenges. Segundo, a taxi driver with a first-generation Ioniq Electric, experiences the impact of long waits and the cold weather on his job. The winter reduces his car’s range from 190 miles to 160 miles with heating, which directly affects his earnings. “Recently, a customer wanted to go to Connecticut. I agreed but requested a 30-minute charging time before heading out. They declined, and I lost hundreds of dollars,” he shares. The colder months are particularly tough, with his vehicle requiring more frequent charges, significantly limiting his driving hours compared to summer.

These stories highlight the critical need for a more robust and accessible charging infrastructure to support the growing number of EV drivers in urban areas, especially for those dependent on their vehicles for income.

Tesla and Uber are taking steps to address the charging challenges faced by drivers in New York City. Uber has begun collaborating with Tesla, sharing data on drivers’ most frequented routes to identify critical areas in need of charging infrastructure. Andrew Macdonald, Uber’s senior vice president of mobility and business operations, highlighted the importance of this partnership to Axios, stating, “The cost of ownership and access to convenient charging are the top two barriers preventing Uber drivers from going electric, and we are excited to work with Tesla to tackle both of these issues.”

Despite the efforts, frustration persists among drivers at the Tesla Supercharger in Coney Island. While three drivers expressed their dissatisfaction anonymously, not everyone shares this sentiment. Two private owners, not affiliated with taxi services, seemed less troubled by the wait, citing infrequent visits to the charger as manageable. However, for rideshare drivers who log anywhere from 100 to 300 miles daily, the need for a more expansive charging network is immediate and critical.

Bezgod Hoja, an Uber driver, urges a broader perspective on the issue, suggesting that the responsibility for accelerating EV adoption and infrastructure development lies not just with Tesla but also with city, state, and regulatory bodies. This situation underscores the complex challenge of scaling up EV infrastructure to meet the demands of a growing electric fleet, particularly for those who rely on these vehicles for their livelihoods.

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