Curbside EV Charging In NYC Is A Huge Success

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New York City has a goal of being “net-zero” by 2050. No matter how people might tussle over the meaning of that phrase, it is intuitively obvious to the most casual observer that it’s not going to happen if there are zillions of vehicles powered by infernal combustion engines on its roads by then. Curbside EV charging may be part of the solution.

The city that never sleeps began installing public curbside EV charging stations in 2021 as a way to encourage the adoption of plug-in hybrid and electric cars. More electric vehicles mean less air pollution, but densely populated cities like New York, with its more than eight million inhabitants, face a challenge that suburban and rural communities do not. Roughly 80% of EV charging takes place at home or at work, but half of all New Yorkers do not have a particular place where they can park and plug in their cars where they live or work. The only way they can charge the vehicles the city wants them to buy is if there is curbside charging equipment available.

Curbside EV Charging From FLO

In 2021, the city signed an agreement with FLO, a Canadian company that specializes in curbside chargers, to install and maintain 100 curbside chargers for the pilot program, as well as chargers located in front of municipal buildings to charge electric vehicles owned by the city. The installations were completed in January of 2024. The street spots for the general public cost $2.50 per hour, or $1 per hour at night, which covers both parking and charging. They are located in all five boroughs, with the majority of them in Brooklyn.

The Level 2 chargers can provide an EV with a full charge in about four to eight hours, depending on the car’s battery size, and offer an alternative to expensive private sector chargers that are concentrated in Manhattan. Some of the parking garages that have chargers available charge as much as $25 just to allow cars inside.

“If you’re going to require a massive transition for people to move towards EVs, you have to provide them access to cheap options with EV charging,” Amaiya Khardenavis, an analyst at Wood Mackenzie, told Bloomberg. “When you have a curbside charger, it just makes the economics of owning an EV much cheaper.”

In the three years since New York City began installing curbside chargers for electric cars, demand for the spaces has boomed. “We expected moderate demand,” with usage rates around 15%, said Roy Rada, project manager for e-mobility innovation at Consolidated Edison. In fact, it has been “exponentially higher.” The 100 chargers that FLO installed so far are online 99.9% and the New York City Department of Transportation says the average utilization rate across the entire system has been 72% so far in 2024.

FLO has a “very aggressive maintenance program involving both regular check-ins as well as alarms” that helps it keep the chargers in working order, said Travis Allan, its chief legal and public affairs officer. It also operates a dedicated parts depot in New York to allow it to quickly swap out components. “I think that this project is going to be a model for many other cities because it has achieved very high reliability of the stations,” he said.

Mostly Pluses With A Few Minuses

The pilot has had lower rates of theft and vandalism than the partners had expected. The program has also come in under its $13.4 million budget, Rada said. The biggest issue has been drivers of conventional cars blocking access to the curbside chargers with their gasmobiles. In the first 18 months, the chargers were “ICEd” about 20% of the time. Hefty fines and aggressive towing seem to have helped get the message across that cars with infernal combustion engines are not welcome to park in spaces reserved for curbside charging.

Because of the success of the curbside charging program, the citywide charging pilot that was originally expected to end in July will now likely extend an additional year. That will allow the DOT and Con Ed to continue gathering data on demand. They are also beginning to plan for a larger, post pilot program expansion. Last September they requested expressions of interest from EV charging companies. The details of the extension are expected to be finalized in April, Con Ed said.

“Across usage, availability, awareness, everything has exceeded our original expectations when we first started this project,” Rada said in an interview. “Let’s take our learnings here, let’s start the next rollout, so we can make this more accessible to more people in our city.”

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Clueless Drivers Block Curbside Charging Locations

Enforcing the “EV charging only” parking regulation has been difficult, Con Ed said in its fourth quarter progress report in 2023. Last year, the NYPD said it issued a total of 2,197 summonses for parking violators using the spots. That’s been the biggest frustration for New Yorker Thomas Vaughn, who likes to park his Volvo XC60 T8 plug-in hybrid at one of the curbside charging spots on East 67th street when consulting for Manhattan’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

“I could park here for $10 or I have to park inside a parking garage for $40 or $50.” He estimates that during the last two years he has found conventional cars blocking the EV-only spaces near the hospital at least 50 times. As Vaughn was speaking with Bloomberg, a Volkswagen Jetta was monopolizing an adjacent EV spot.

It’s gotten so bad that some plug-in owners call up their other EV-driving friends to come take over when they’re about to leave, he said. But availability still falls woefully short of demand. Although some homeowners charge in their own driveways or pay to use parking lots or garages with connections, drivers of the city’s 53,564 registered EVs simply want more.

“We wish there were more chargers, but there are very few in the city,” said driver Antoine Schetritt, who uses curbside charging whenever it’s available. “You go to a European city, there are lots of chargers, so the infrastructure here is very behind.” But when he can find a charger, the $2.50 per hour is much appreciated because it is far less than paying for a parking garage in the city. Plus he often finds one close to his home. “It’s a very slow charger,” he said. “The reason I use it is that I don’t really have alternatives that are close by.”

The city DOT has already received 32 responses from companies interested in participating in the next stage of expansion. Current partner FLO plans to submit a plan as well. The DOT said it is seeking innovative designs that are cheaper, smaller, and easier to install for the next stage. The expanded program aims to focus on neighborhoods with a “high number of taxi and for-hire vehicle drivers, few off-street parking options, and a range of income levels,” DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez said.

No matter what happens next, scaling up will be key. According to a study by Con Edison and the city, New York will need to support 1.5 million EVs by 2050 in order to achieve its net-zero greenhouse gas emissions pledge. “It’s relatively easy to do a hundred now,” Rada said. But to reach those kinds of levels, “a lot of things have to change.”

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