By Daniel Katzive
When we published our article on Electric Vehicle (EV) ownership on the Upper West Side last week, we invited EV owners to reach out and share their experiences with owning an EV in the neighborhood. A couple of themes emerged in emails and telephone conversations with nine EV owners or prospective owners. Some provided their names and some preferred not to, so we have kept all the comments anonymous for consistency.
NO BUYER’S REMORSE
EV owners we spoke to were generally happy with their purchases. They were frank about the additional challenges that come with owning an EV (as one driver told us, “range anxiety is a real thing,” especially because he found that estimates of available miles on his dashboard did not always correspond to actual miles remaining before needing to charge again). But no one we heard from indicated that they viewed their EV purchase or lease as a mistake. There were no “don’t do it!” responses; one Tesla driver even called his car “the best thing I’ve ever bought.”
The proliferation of chargers also appears to be outpacing the rate of adoption of the vehicles themselves, at least for now, with drivers indicating it is getting easier to find an available charger, both in and outside of the city.
One current owner we spoke to had previously owned a Tesla back in 2018 and operated it as an Uber driver. He indicated he was originally attracted to the vehicle by his admiration of “Elon [Musk]’s idea of using new technology to solve environmental problems.” He said he also has owned Tesla stock.
At the time, he said, he had to travel as far as JFK airport or Tarrytown (about 20 miles up the Hudson River) to access high-speed charging. Although he loved the car itself, he gave up after about six months, in part because of the difficulty of finding charging options. He now owns a new Tesla which he parks in a garage on the lower end of the Upper West Side. He says it is much easier to find charging options today than it was four years ago, whether at garages in the city or on the road. In fact, this owner told us he recently completed a road trip out to Yellowstone National Park, charging at hotels along the way.
OWNING IN TOWN, CHARGING OUT OF TOWN
While the Rag focused on the challenges of charging an EV on the UWS in our original article, most of the EV owners we heard from indicated that they seldom charge their cars in the city. We did speak with one EV driver who used the car to commute to the West Village, but most drivers we heard from used them mainly for traveling out of town, making it easy to avoid having to charge in Manhattan.
Outside of Manhattan, many retail locations and offices have high speed chargers, some of which can charge a car in as little as 15 minutes, and EVs can also be plugged into residential 120 volt outlets for slower charging during overnight stays with friends and relatives.
The Tesla drivers we spoke with indicated that a company app makes it relatively easy to find Tesla high speed chargers along the various routes they travel. Tesla claims on their web site that there are currently more than 35,000 superchargers globally, and, according to the scrapehero data website, 1,422 of these are in the US.
While non-Tesla drivers cannot use Tesla high speed chargers, a driver of a Volkswagen EV told us that his three-year VW EV lease gives him free access to Electrify America chargers, which he says are easily accessible from major highways in the area. These high speed (Level 3) chargers can top up a battery in as little as 15 minutes, in contrast to the several hours it can take to charge with the 240v Level 2 chargers available on streets or in most garages. Level 1 charging (basically a 120v wall outlet) can take much longer.
This preference for out-of-town charging sounds a lot like the refueling habits of drivers of gas-powered cars. As we pointed out in our original article, gasoline is more expensive in Manhattan and gas stations are few and far between. Most Upper West Siders do not need a car for their daily commutes in the city; those who do own cars tend to use them to leave New York for out-of-town jobs, visits to relatives and friends, travel to weekend homes, or recreational activities. For these drivers, refueling or charging outside of Manhattan may not be inconvenient at all.
Many drivers we heard from who do sometimes charge in the city seem to deploy a flexible approach rather than relying on a single source for charging.
One Tesla driver we spoke to said he sometimes travels up to the Ridge Hill shopping center in Yonkers to plug in at a Tesla high speed charger there while doing some grocery shopping at Whole Foods or visiting other retailers.
Another recent Tesla purchaser indicated they had used the public curbside chargers on 76th Street on one occasion but at other times couldn’t access them because of illegally parked non-EVs blocking those stations. This same driver, who works in the film industry and often uses his car to reach out-of-the-way filming locations at odd hours, has also plugged in his vehicle to generators while on location and, on one occasion, experimented with dropping an extension cord out the fifth story window of his residence, though he said he would not be likely to use that method again, given the practical inconvenience and the slow pace of charging using a 120-volt residential outlet.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR EVs ON THE WEST SIDE
EV owners we spoke with are happy with their cars and have found ways to deal with the complications of charging their vehicles while living in an urban environment. But over 98% of the passenger cars registered to households living on the Upper West Side remain gasoline powered, and it is unclear how quickly adoption will spread from here.
Daniel Cohen is an Upper West Sider and founder of UCharge, a startup company working on solutions to the charging dilemma for urban residents. Cohen told us his research suggests the Upper West Side is an area likely to see strong interest in EVs relative to most other neighborhoods in the city (TriBeCa is another such area, but with far fewer residents than the UWS). Drivers are interested in EVs, he says, not just because they want to be more environmentally responsible but also because they view EVs as the technology of the future. To these drivers, “their current car feels old-fashioned.”
According to Cohen, the main hesitation he hears among prospective EV owners is “how practical is this going to be?” in terms of charging. To see growth in EV ownership really accelerate, we may need to see an increase in charging capacity, both inside and outside the city.
Upper West Siders interested in owning an EV should do their own research and think about how an EV will work in the context of their current driving habits: where do they drive, how often, how many miles, and where do they park.