Last night I drove my BMW i3 to a charging station in Pasadena, where I witnessed some of the most selfish, pathetic behavior I’ve seen in a while. (Editor’s Note: And he works on the internet all day, people! —PG). A Tesla driver saw that his fellow man was in a vulnerable position, but decided not to help in order to save some money. The Lightning owner was unhappy, and a yelling match ensued. The whole situation was absurd.
I’d just driven from Santa Monica to Pasadena to have a birthday dinner (my friend’s parents took me out to a nice Mexican spot) and to volunteer with my friend at a kitten-rescue organization. My BMW i3, equipped with a rather small 22 kWh battery that really only offers about 75 miles of range before it fires up the two-cylinder gasoline “range extender” under the rear floor, was at 3 percent. As I’m not a huge fan of spending money on gas when I don’t have to, I headed to a charging station near the pet store where my friend and I were volunteering.
It’s called the Arroyo EV Charging Depot, and it is absolutely massive, featuring 20 Tesla Superchargers and six “Power Up” chargers featuring CCS and CHAdeMO plugs.
The Arroyo EV Charging Depot at 64 E. Glenarm St. is NOW OPEN! Enjoy these new Level-3 EV fast chargers for FREE ???????????? ???? ???????????????????????????? ????????????????! pic.twitter.com/Mt6jpcGJF4
— City of Pasadena (@PasadenaGov) November 3, 2021
Here’s the setup: You can see lots of Tesla charging stations on the left; on the right side of the image are the non-Tesla chargers:
Here’s a look at the charging depot from the front; you can see the six CCS/CHAdeMO spots right here in the front. A Nissan Leaf, a Chevy Bolt, and a BMW i3 can be seen using them:
Anyway, here’s how the scene looked last night:
I pulled in, got ready to fire up a CCS charger, and a Ford F-150 Lightning pulled into a spot next to me. I had a 175 kW charger, and the Lightning driver was parked in front of a slower 50 kW charger. We chatted a bit, and I decided to trade spots with him given how small my battery pack is (and how huge his is). He’d need the extra power more than I. (Plus, my i3 can only charge at speeds up to 50 kW anyway).
The only problem was, the higher-output charger that I’d just traded was broken. Just after I offered the Lightning driver his old spot back, another high-output charger became available, so the Lightning owner put his truck into reverse and backed up:
But, before he could park at the charger (it might have been before the Lightning owner started backing or maybe slightly after — I don’t recall), a white Tesla backed in. The Lightning owner talked with the owner, saying he had no other options besides that spot; I was in the 50kW charger, and the other two 175kW chargers were broken. The Lightning owner pleaded with the owner (I cannot say how polite he was; it all happened a bit fast), saying there were many Tesla Superchargers wide open, but the Tesla owner refused to move.
The exchange between the Lightning owner and the Tesla owner escalated to shouting and cursing before the Tesla owner walked away from his now-charging car, leaving the Lightning owner with no place to juice up. I intercepted the Tesla owner just to ask him what was going on; “These chargers are only 20 cents; the Tesla chargers cost [about 50]” is roughly what I recall the Tesla driver saying before he left.
It was a pretty poor display of EV charging etiquette. And given how many Tesla owners over the years — since they’ve often been early adopters — have been coal-rolled or had charging stalls blocked by gas cars, you’d think he’d be more sympathetic.
But I wanted to know why this ended the way it did; why there’s a rate difference in charging, and what the city thinks of Tesla drivers using non-Tesla spots. Are there any rules about this?
I reached out to the city of Pasadena, and wound up on the phone with EV Program Manager Evan Johnson. He talked about how, in large part due to the many payment forms they have to facilitate, and also the fact that they aren’t maintained by Tesla (which has dialed EV charging in better than anyone), non-Tesla chargers tend to have more “fault points” and thus down-time than Tesla chargers do.
Pasadena and Tesla build joint sites. “They operate their chargers, and we operate our chargers separately,” he told me, mentioning that the Arroyo EV Charging Depot is one of the busiest in the country, with about 30,000 charging sessions each month.
When I talked with him about the situation I’d witnessed, he gave what I found was an appropriate answer for someone in his position. “Any EV is an EV,” he said. “Tesla has that CCS adapter, so for us they’re just electric vehicles…We don’t dictate what type of EV can charge at that network.”
To be sure, Pasadena banning Teslas—the most popular EV in the city—from a charging network partially paid for by city taxes would not go well, so his statement is a smart one. “We’re a utility, but we’re also part of the city. We’re trying to encourage charging,” he told me. “As a utility, we receive state funds for putting in charging programs.”
The situation between the Tesla owner and the Lightning owner in the Ford F-150 Lightning is one that Johnson said he took responsibility for. “The onus is on us,” he said. “We’re actually in design for an additional 12 [chargers]; we already put in conduit for an additional 12 chargers.” In total, that will make 18 CCS chargers—comparable to the 20 Tesla Superchargers.
“Tesla can build faster than we can. We do have plans to… be comparable in numbers,” he said, noting that the 175 kW chargers cost $85,000 apiece to install. Pasadena apparently has 35 EV charging projects, with plans to have 1,000 chargers before long.
Johnson also noted this about the situation last night: “Our stance is that an electric vehicle is an electric vehicle. I can’t dictate [who charges where]…[the driver] may be an Uber driver; they may be trying to conserve cost.”
I do agree with him. We don’t know the economic situation that the Tesla owner is dealing with. Maybe times are tight for him, and if so, I wish him all the best in resolving that. The Tesla chargers cost 47 cents per kWh during the day, while the non-Tesla chargers cost between 15 cents off-peak and 20 cents peak. So he’s saving around 27 cents per kWh. If his Tesla Model Y Long Range Dual Motor has a 75 kWh battery, and he has to charge 90 percent of it, he’s saving $18 by foregoing the Tesla Supercharger. That’s not nothing.
Sure, the Lightning owner probably only has to wait 20-30 minutes or so for the Tesla to charge (but who knows if the Tesla driver will return on time) [Edit: Per the Lightning owner, who reached out to me via email, the Tesla owner did not return for about 45 minutes. That’s approximately when the Lightning owner left. -DT] , and the Tesla owner did get to the spot first and may not have realized the Ford was on its way there, but I still wish the Tesla owner had had some sympathy for another EV driver who had no other options. I still find that unacceptable; this whole situation could have been so much better resolved. For these two grown men to resort to yelling and cursing—all over what, in LA, barely buys you a damn kale salad at Erewhon.
Figure it out, and stop being so selfish! We’re all in this together, dealing with an imperfect EV infrastructure; let’s be cool to one another.
For my part, I drove off and let the Lightning owner take my spot. My beloved i3 has a gasoline range-extender in the back, after all.
[Update (Aug 24, 2023 17:16 ET): After reading a number of comments, my view on the situation has changed a bit. Whereas my initial stance was that the Tesla driver screwed the Lightning driver over, since the Tesla driver had a bunch of open chargers and the Lightning guy didn’t, the reality is that the cost-delta between the Superchargers and CCS chargers could have been as high as $20 for the Tesla driver, and that’s not nothing. The fact that the Lightning guy was at the chargers first and happened to park at a broken one isn’t necessarily something that the Tesla driver has to concern himself with. I think it would have been nice had he shown a little more understanding given that we’re all in this EV-transition together, and infrastructure is a problem that we all struggle with. I personally would have just charged at the Supercharger with the understanding that taking that cheaper spot puts the other gentleman in a bind, but if I were in a tight financial bind myself, I’d have probably just talked it over with the Lightning driver. Though maybe he was intimidated, as the situation was indeed tense. So I’ve updated the headline and lede; I understand both people’s perspectives, here. -DT]