A new electric vehicle owner, frustrated with dealer know-how, vehicle availability, public charging and EV policy, raises a question that needs to be asked: are we doing enough to overcome growing pains in Canada’s EV ecosystem?
A short time ago, Electric Autonomy Canada received a letter from Pauline Richards, a new EV owner in Waterloo, Ont. We felt her points are so important to the future of Canada’s EV ecosystem that we’ve published her letter in its entirety below.
Richards summarizes her experiences and impressions as a new EV owner, which began with a road trip from Ontario to the east coast. Some of her concerns are about things that, over time, EV drivers adapt to and learn to deal with. Others point to barriers preventing more Canadians from becoming new EV owners today.
With Canada’s EV market at a critical inflection point, these issues deserve a closer look. Early adopters may be fine with coping, but is that approach compatible with Canada’s ambitious goals for EV adoption? Or, as Richards argues, should industry and government be doing more to ensure these barriers are addressed?
To: Electric Autonomy Canada
Re: Barriers to Electric Cars
We recently purchased our first all-electric car. Then we drove it from Waterloo, Ont., to Saint John, NB. This has given us a good overview of what it’s like to charge up a car on a long trip in Canada and I think you need to hear what our experience was like.
We were told by the car dealership to download the FLO app and we’d be fine. Well, yes and no. We couldn’t make it work at our closest fast charger in Waterloo and were told by another user that it works best with the card. This is something you have to have mailed to you at a cost of $15, so of course, we didn’t get it in time for our trip. The phone number on the charger connected us immediately to a helpful person who walked us through the process of charging and we were good to go. That time.
I checked the ONroute stations online and discovered that they didn’t use FLO. They had decided in their wisdom to go with another network called Ivy. So, I downloaded app No. 2.
Then we entered Quebec. Lo and behold the chargers there are run by Circuit Electric. App No. 3 was downloaded. We couldn’t get the chargers to work right away and had to use the phone number on the charger. Unlike FLO, calling Circuit Electric was a lot like trying to reach Bell or Rogers — on hold, cut off, etc.
Each time I downloaded an app, I had to put money on it, of course. So now I had three apps, each with $50 on them. Because of the comment at our first charging session, I also ordered cards to be mailed to me. So that’s three cards for $15 each, so far.
We were frustrated and resigned to find that chargers in New Brunswick wanted us to download yet another app. Fortunately, after trial and error not getting the 4th app to work and getting nowhere with the phone help, we discovered that the FLO app works at the NB charging stations.
Back in Ontario on the way home, we found ourselves at a charging station that uses yet another network that required us to download app No. 5.
This system is a barrier to acceptance of electric vehicles. It should be possible to pull up to any charger, tap your credit card and get a charge. Go ahead and have your own cards and apps. Give perks and incentives for having them, if you like. But it should be possible to charge anywhere without having to have a specific app.
Next beef: where the charging stations are located. In almost every instance we drove past a bank of six or eight Tesla chargers near the street, around the back of the building to the one non-Tesla charger located next to the dumpster.
To get any kind of decent charge even from the fastest chargers currently available, it takes 45 minutes to an hour. Sitting at the back of a building beside a dumpster is not where you want to spend that time. Trust me. At least we were driving in summer and had good weather for the most part. Our next trip east will take place in winter. Let’s hope the network has improved by then.
In Quebec, the charger was often in the parking lot of a Normandin Restaurant. An improvement, if it happens to be mealtime and you want to eat at a restaurant. Likewise, in NB, the occasional Irving service station with a restaurant also has a charger (next to the dumpster). But what if you want to eat a picnic or you didn’t manage to coordinate your mealtimes with your need to charge, then what?
We need chargers at all the rest areas along the major highways in Quebec as well as chargers at other places in Ontario and New Brunswick where you might want to spend some time — parks, trails, museums, downtown parking garages, etc.
Beef No. 3: The instructions on the chargers are all different and all wrong. Some want you to start the app first. Some want you to plug in first. The instructions on the charger are often different than the instructions on the screen and different again from the instructions on the app. In almost every case, if the screen on the charger said to plug in first, it wouldn’t work unless you started the app. If the screen said to use the app on your phone first, it wouldn’t work unless you plugged it in first. Through perseverance and sometimes desperation, we finally got the thing to work after several tries. It should NOT matter what order you do these things in. EVERY charger should work the same way. Please regulate this.
Our best charging experience was in Fundy National Park. At the interpretive centre there is a bank of Tesla chargers. On closer inspection, we found that two at the end were compatible with our car. There were no instructions anywhere. We plugged it in and it charged our car. No muss. No fuss. Whatever agreement the National Parks has made with Tesla, can you make it everywhere, please?
When it comes to vehicle ownership, my suggestion is that you stop providing incentives for people to purchase electric vehicles. There aren’t any available, anyway. We lucked out in getting a used car that had just been purchased by the dealer at auction. To get a new one requires waiting one to two years.
Before it makes sense to incentivize getting an electric vehicle, the supply issue needs to be addressed. PLEASE do not just give the car companies money. They’ll just line their CEO’s pockets and the supply problem will remain. Find out exactly what the problems are in getting the cars made and address them directly.
The last issue that needs to be addressed is the purchase price. We are in the very fortunate minority who can afford a $50,000 car, and that’s only because of an inheritance. The vast majority of Canadians cannot. The fact that an electric car will save money over time is not enough. The average Canadian has much more immediate demands on their money, especially in these times of rising prices on everything.
The people who can afford an electric car do not need a tax incentive. Use the money towards getting more reasonably priced electric vehicles into the market.
In conclusion, to get people to make the change to electric cars, these are the barriers that need to be addressed.
Sincerely, Pauline Richards, Waterloo, Ont.
Yep!! All great and valid points. We’re new EV owners too and frustrated by the charging system – have pulled up to a Level 3 station only to get a minimal charge (e.g. 29 kWh rather than the promised 350 kWh)
Excellent points. As a new EV owner in BC (purchased in March’21), I took a cross-continent trip in May ‘22 and would have had a similar experience had I not been in a Tesla. Truly the Supercharger system is superior and should be a model for all the others. Of course we have to deal with what is out there already in terms of physical chargers but… [it should be]… no different than point of sale devices being able to accept all credit and debit cards and do it in the same order: swipe; accept charge; PIN; receipt.
As for Tesla’s Parks Canada chargers: this is an example of a government agency using its (justified) authority to say to a private company: yes, you can support your EV customers on our lands, but you must also support other brands of EVs with your chargers. That sort of pressure could be applied nationwide to any charger on Provincial Highways land, or any charging network accessing government funds to expand.
I’m sorry to hear about your experience.
We own.a Tesla X and the travel and charging experience has been pleasant.
You stop, typically on a shopping mall at the edge of the highway with plenty of options for restaurants and shopping. You get out plug the car, unplug when done and leave.
I find that all the other networks are difficult, cumbersome and charge exorbitant fees.
Excellent article and comments. We have the same experience as a new owner. We have 10 apps and 5 RFID cards, half the time neither work. We need regulation by the Federal government and buy in from all these private charging companies to adopt one standard for chargers, instructions, payment via credit card. This has to be simplified and having chargers that actually work and are not in disrepair would help too!
Excellent article, Pauline. We too have a Bolt EV. Great car with home charging but we were very disappointed with the less than 50 kWh charge speed we go on a road trip. No one seems to warn people that a slow charging battery is fine for home charging but a liability on the road.
We want to replace our Bolt with the new Equinox EV when they become available; mainly for the 150 kWh charge speed. Ultimate range turns out to be not as important. Who knew? Probably somebody, but not us.
We feel your pain. Been there, done that. We bought our VW e-Golf in 2019. We like the car, but do not like the charging frustrations. Here in BC, the BC Hydro chargers want $20 for a card, so we decided to forgo that and use the app. Big mistake. As you have found out, cards work better than apps; so true. We once spent 50 minutes at a BC Hydro Fast Charger on the phone with a tech support person trying to get a charge started because of course the app wouldn’t start it. He had to get another person on another line and the two of them worked away at it. Eventually it started, but oh how painful. The charge was done in 15 minutes after the 50 minutes of “support”. Had we gone to a Level 2 charger, it would have been faster.
The relatively small community we live in doesn’t have many chargers – of any speed. We chatted up the mayor about this one day and discovered that he doesn’t think there is a need for any more because there aren’t many electric cars around. Strange – we see plenty of them all the time, following each other around town looking for an available charger, LOL. With that attitude, how are things going to get better? We need more understanding of EV issues by our elected officials.
Planning a trip on Vancouver Island, where we live, is a major undertaking because outside the major population centres, chargers are pretty thin on the ground. It’s a real issue – not just how to get somewhere but also back home because there is no charger anywhere on the route. We really have to know how many kilometers we plan to drive before we head out and we must start with a full charge. It’s frustrating.
We long for the day when our car knows our credit card number and we just plug in at any charger, charge and have the cost show up on our credit card bill. It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? One day ….
Good points, thanks for writing this. Here in BC there seems to be more compatibility as several networks honour each other’s cards, however I agree that just paying with a credit card should be an option, do that pre-paying an RFID card is not required. Also, here in BC, BC Hydro is installing 1, or maximum 2 chargers at a time. How foolish! Prepare for the near future and install at least 6 or 8 like Tesla.
Hopefully Canada will follow the EU’s lead – ‘Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation’ (AFIR) – and mandate the requirement of debit and credit card acceptance at charging stations. Yes, it would be nice someday to have the car identity itself through a digital (cryptographic) signature for payment, but for now there should at least be the option of using a credit/debit card as with a gas pump. The EU also requires charging stations every 60 km along major roads.
Your points are bang on, Pauline. Here are my comments and strong suggestions to both policymakers and auto-manufacturers:
Policymakers: not a cent more of public money should be handed out as incentives and grants to any organization to build public chargers without a set of minimal performance standards with such parameters covering over minimal uptime, ease of use, accessibility, proper location, safe, convenient, simple to use, etc.. Violate any of these and the money has to be given back. Could that result in fewer charger deployments? You bet. But the ones that do get installed will be better rather than the hit & miss network out in the field today.
Every single public charger must employ the ‘plug & charge’ protocol which mimics how Tesla’s Supercharger network works. No app. No credit cards. No RFID cards. Nothing. Just plug into the car and find a comfortable place to relax for 30 – 45 mins. One’s EV must be the defining/unique piece of equipment for their owner that the charging networks can identify and hence automatically settle in the back-office re outstanding charges.
As for affordable EVs, they are coming. We all just need to be a bit more patient.
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