(p. B1) The electric vehicle revolution is nearly here, but its arrival is being slowed by a fundamental problem: The chargers where people refuel these cars are often broken. One recent study found that about a quarter of the public charging outlets in the San Francisco Bay Area, where electric cars are commonplace, were not working.
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Many sit in parking lots or in (p. B3) front of retail stores where there is often no one to turn to for help when something goes wrong. Problems include broken screens and buggy software. Some stop working midcharge, while others never start in the first place.
Some frustrated drivers say the problems have them second-guessing whether they can fully abandon gas vehicles, especially for longer trips.
“Often, those fast chargers have real maintenance issues,” said Ethan Zuckerman, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who has owned a Chevrolet Bolt for several years. “When they do, you very quickly find yourself in pretty dire straits.”
In the winter of 2020, Mr. Zuckerman was commuting about 150 miles each way to a job at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The cold winter weather can reduce the driving range of electric cars, and Mr. Zuckerman found himself needing a charge on the way home.
He checked online and found a station, but when he pulled up to it, the machine was broken. Another across the street was out, too, he said. In desperation, Mr. Zuckerman went to a nearby gas station and persuaded a worker there to run an extension cord to his car.
“I sat there for two and a half hours in the freezing cold, getting enough charge so that I could limp to the town of Lee, Mass., and then use another charger,” he said. “It was not a great night.”
The availability and reliability of public chargers remains a problem even now, he said.
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There are few rigorous studies of charging stations, but one conducted this year by Cool the Earth, an environmental nonprofit in California, and David Rempel, a retired professor of bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley, found that 23 percent of 657 public charging stations in the Bay Area were broken. The most common problems were that testers could not get chargers to accept payment or initiate a charge. In other cases, screens went blank, were not responsive or displayed error messages.
“Here we have actual field data, and the results, frankly, were very concerning,” said Carleen Cullen, executive director of Cool the Earth.
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At most gas stations, a clerk is usually on duty and can see when some problems arise. With chargers, vandalism or other damage can be more difficult to track.
“Where there’s a screen, there’s a baseball bat,” said Jonathan Levy, EVgo’s chief commercial officer.
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(Note: the online version of the story has the same date as the print version, and has the title “A Frustrating Hassle Holding Electric Cars Back: Broken Chargers.”)