Plugged In: Watts Across the Water - EV Charging in the US and Canada

8 minute read

Up to a third of non-Tesla EV drivers have failed to charge their vehicles due to out-of-order chargers or long queues, according to a recent study by J.D. Power. The study also highlighted that being unable to charge at public chargers has now overtaken ​“range anxiety” as drivers’ greatest concern about EVs - a well-founded fear, as Parkopedia’s In-car Payments Product Manager, Ian Auty from our London Head Office, recently found out on his latest long-distance EV trip. 

My EV trip was a 1050-mile journey from Washington DC to Boston, Montreal and back to Boston. Having read about the Parkopedia team’s previous EV experiences, including Parkopedia CEO Eugene Tsyrklevich’s Portugal trip and my colleagues Jaap, Kyle and Vitaly’s EV impressions, I wanted to ensure I was as ready as I could be for the trip ahead, by installing a selection of EV charging mobile apps in advance.

Installation for several of these went smoothly. However, since I was a British national planning an EV trip in the US, some apps wouldn’t accept my cards, address and phone number. I managed to find a way around this, but it took some time and was far from seamless. The greatest issue I found is that non-US app store users are unable to install local US charging apps, despite many occasions when they might need to access these, potentially preventing them from being able to charge on their travels.

On Day 1, my US colleague Kyle Ammann picked me up from my hotel in a 2023 Kia EV6. We planned to get to our meeting with Blink Charging in Washington DC, and then on to Boston. We set off with 250 miles of range and plenty of time to get there. This initial part of the journey went smoothly, and when we got to Blink Charging’s offices we parked at one of the company’s own charging stations to charge during our meeting which went smoothly. 

Charging at the Blink Charging offices

Following this, we set off on our 430-mile trip to Boston. As we were travelling, our car informed us that we would not make it to our destination with our current charge state, and offered a single charging station 36 miles away. We decided to take our chances, and 90 minutes later, at 40%, we found another charging station thanks to the ‘A Better Routeplanner’ app. Upon arrival, we found four 150kW chargers (although the route planner said they were 9kW) each with two cables which showed as eight in the app. There were only four parking spaces, one of the four chargers was broken and there was a queue for the others. We phoned support to attempt a remote start on the broken charger but to no avail. We ended up waiting our turn, charged to 83% using the credit card reader for payment and set off again.

We reached New York with 20% charge and searched for a charger with the same app. We arrived at another charging location with four chargers (advertised as eight) and four parking spaces. This time two out of four chargers were broken and there was another queue. Pushing our luck, we drove on to a Tesla location that could also support our CCS plug type. We found a huge queue for the 15 Tesla superchargers, and many Tesla drivers who expressed their discontent at seeing a non-Tesla EV queuing, stating that this was a "Tesla-only location for Tesla owners". We left again, this time with 14% charge. After another attempt to charge at a location with two broken chargers and two with a massive queue, we finally arrived at our fourth charging station, with only 7% charge, and managed to pay by credit card and charge to 100%. 

More queues at the EV charging station

We continued our journey and reached the outskirts of Boston with 20% charge. As we needed to charge before getting into the city, we used the Kia in-vehicle charge point finder and were informed that there were only two charging stations available within a 30-mile radius. This proved to be inaccurate as we drove past a Kia showroom, complete with two EV stations in the forecourt which did not show up in our navigation system but potentially not classed as public charging stations. At midnight, we plugged into a 60kW charger at a fuel station, and paid by debit card. We waited for an hour to get to 90% charge and arrived at our hotel at 2AM.

A day later, we departed for our next meeting with ChargeHub, one of our partners in Canada. We had 188 miles of range, and the route planner informed us that it was 315 miles to our end destination. Our first stop was in Lebanon, New Hampshire, a fast charger location with card payments, four (eight in the app) chargers and all of them were working. We spent around 40 minutes charging. It was 125 miles to get here from our hotel but it depleted us 160 miles of range due to cold weather, meaning we would have to make another stop to get to our destination.

The journey ran smoothly, although the harsh weather continued to impact our range -  we used about 55% of our range just covering 100 miles. We crossed the US-Canadian border and made it to a pair of charge points at Venise-en-Quebec in remote Canada. There was one 100kW charger and one 60kW. The 100kW was available, but it was remote start only using apps as there were no credit card readers present. I didn’t have an app for this CPO, so it was time to try out the roaming apps I registered for a few days ago. The charger activated successfully and reached full power quickly, and we left the car to charge as we wandered off to explore the nearby fuel station.

When we returned to the car, I received a text from my phone provider, informing me that I’d used up all of my international roaming data. I felt fairly frustrated at this point: my credit card was blocked for unusual activity due to all the charging payment attempts, I couldn’t speak with my card issuer because I didn’t have any mobile data, I was in rural Canada, it was -3C outside and I couldn’t even access my calendar to get the address for ChargeHub where we had a meeting in a few hours! Luckily my colleague Kyle had enough data and we managed to get the information that we needed to continue our journey but may not have been the case if I was alone. A few hours later we arrived at the ChargeHub offices in time for our scheduled meeting, and we plugged into one of their wall chargers for a kindly provided free charge. 

After the meeting we drove to the hotel and went to bed early to prepare for our early morning start and return trip to Boston. The next morning, we left our hotel at 8AM with 100% charge, having taken the $5 overnight charging service. However, we only had 218 miles of range based on local weather and hilly terrain, with the distance to our final destination, Boston, being 312 miles. That meant that we would need at least one more charge.

Our trip down south was not overwhelming with excitement, because our journey was running so smoothly, we decided to take a gamble and went for the more risky charging stations along our route. Stop 1 after about 100 miles had two charging stations in a hotel car park, there was no current status information in our charging apps and they didn't have a "last used" date. For all we knew, they could have been for hotel guests only, behind a barrier, broken or in use. Luckily for us, we managed to charge without any issues.

From that point onwards we had 199 miles of range and 219 miles to go, so another stop was definitely on the cards. Once again we decided to risk it and selected a charging station that would leave us with about 15 miles of range just outside Boston - but most importantly, one that had only a single charger. We were hoping to end our trip with one last ‘memorable’ charging experience, however, much to our disappointment, we arrived at the charging station with range to spare, the charger was available and working, and remote start worked on the first try. Kyle and I made it to the airport vehicle rental return in time and caught our flights back home without any issues. 

To sum it up, my first EV experience was eventful to say the least and I learned a lot first-hand about the issues that EV drivers face on a daily basis. Here are some of my key takeaways:

  1. Plan ahead, but be flexible: Range anxiety goes away really quickly once you get used to the planning element of the EV driving experience. Planning ahead and knowing how many stops you will need to make to get to your end destination ensures your journey runs as smoothly as it can. That said,  even if you start your journey with ample range, unexpected factors like limited charger availability, broken units, and long queues can dramatically impact your journey. Today, flexibility in route planning and having backup chargers is crucial for successfully dealing with unforeseen challenges.
  2. Prepare for device connectivity issues: Relying on your phone abroad can lead to unexpected data limitations and service disruptions. Backup plans, such as having offline access to critical information are vital for managing unforeseen connectivity challenges during EV journeys.
  3. Be prepared for lacking data in your head unit: The lack of comprehensive data in the head unit regarding available chargers and POIs presents a significant hurdle. Without detailed information on charger locations and availability, EV drivers may find themselves ill-prepared to plan their routes effectively. Parkopedia’s partnerships with leading charging providers, such as Plugsurfing, BlinkCharging and ChargeHub, as well as our extensive range of verified charging point data, assist EV drivers to accurately find charging points globally and significantly enhance the EV charging experience. 
  4. Don’t trust everything you see on apps: The availability of information regarding the last used and current state of charging stations is very useful when you’re planning on using a charger. However, there are some things that should be taken with scepticism, such as charger speed information and the number of chargers. Often, “two chargers” means you’re dealing with one charger that has two cables that cannot be used simultaneously.
  5. Be aware that you may not be able to access local US charging apps: Non-US app store users typically are unable to install US charging apps, which can cause issues. Having an idea of which services and apps you plan to use before you travel and making sure to download these ahead of your travel should give you a better chance of accessing the information you need and having contingency plans for any access issues.

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