Electric vehicle charging station at Vince Lombardi Service Area
As a light sprinkle of rain petered out on Black Friday, I made my way into the Wawa parking lot in Cherry Hill just in time to catch Jomy Mutthathil who was making a pit stop to charge his electric vehicle. Mobile Electric Car Charger
The white Tesla glistened behind the Long Islander, who was traveling for Thanksgiving, as he spoke with Christina MacKinnon, an “EV newbie” from Philly, who’d been renting one for a short trip up to Connecticut.
“He knows so much about this, always instructing people during our travels,” Mutthathil’s wife Lisa chimed in.
After lauding some of the electric vehicle benefits he’s experienced, Mutthathil turned to talk to me about a more ephemeral positive.
“You come to the superchargers and there’s a lot of sharing of knowledge and helping people,” he says.
After a summer when gas prices hit a peak in New Jersey and with state’s incentive program to get more electric vehicle drivers on the road being renewed, I hopped in my admittedly gas-powered Subaru to hear from EV drivers like Mutthathil. What did they dig about their environmentally-friendly commutes? What is the Garden State — which as of June has more than 80,000 registered electric vehicles compared to 338 in 2012 — doing right or wrong on the EV front? And are the nearly 1,000 electric vehicle charging stations in place statewide justifying their installations?
Three days, several iced coffees and five charging stations that range from a highway pit stop in Ridgefield to a suburban parking lot in Cherry Hill later, here’s what I learned.
Long Island resident Jomy Mutthathil, 49, charging his Tesla at an electric vehicle charging station in Cherry Hill, NJ. Steven Rodas | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
The signs along the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway tell you where you can pull off for a hotel, where to get a Starbucks and where to fuel up — but not if the service area provides an electric vehicle charging station.
There are several apps that will help you there but no signs on those major highways — which would be welcomed in some residential areas too, said John Hartzell. The 50-year-old Beacon, New York, resident said he stumbled upon an electric vehicle charging station near Leonard Park in Jersey City about four months ago on his way to work. Besides letting him know it’s there, he thinks signs could perform another function.
“Most of the time it’s free, but there have been like six or seven times where there’s a car that parks here and doesn’t use it,” said Hartzell. “There’s no sign that says, ‘Hey, this is an electric charging parking spot, don’t park here.’”
Not all chargers are equal and you may find a charger that you can’t access. After tracking down an EV charger via Google Maps on my way to Cherry Hill, I ended up at a Mercedes Benz auto dealership and was told that several ChargePoint charging stations were only accessible to drivers who had an electric Mercedes Benz. (A perk of purchasing the luxury vehicle, I was told).
The average price for a new electric vehicle in August 2022 is more than $66,000, according to automotive price advisor, Kelley Blue Book. However, that is above the industry average and more in the realm of luxury prices, according to Cox Automotive. Last fall, the average price of an EV was about $56,000.
That said, if I was in my electric car, chances are I’d have to find another station.
“Generally speaking, PlugShare is my go-to,” said Maria Davidis at the Vince Lombardi Service Area in Ridgefield as she was traveling from Philadelphia the day before Thanksgiving.“You can do a trip planner, where you put in what trip you’re going to take and ... then you can see where the charging stations are along your route and plan accordingly.”
Maria Davidis, a Philadelphia resident, displays a map of electric vehicle charging stations on her phone at the Vince Lombardi Service Area in Ridgefield on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2022. Steven Rodas | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Another common issue, some drivers said, is thinking you’ve found a station only to discover it only supports Tesla. While Tesla vehicles come with adapters that allow you to plug into non-Tesla charging stations, it doesn’t work the other way around.
“I can’t pull into a Tesla spot and charge my car because the connection is different,” said Hartzell, whose car runs on both gas and electric.
Additionally, newly-minted electric car drivers may want to get with the lingo while they’re tracking down their neighborhood charger. There’s Level 1, Level 2 and DC fast chargers. The U.S. Department of Energy says Level 1 ports add 2-5 miles of range per hour of charging, Level 2 adds 10-30 miles per hour of charging and DC fast between 100 and more than 200 miles in as few as 30 minutes of charging.
“The average all-electric vehicle range was 260 miles in 2020, with some exceeding 400 miles,” the federal agency says. “Larger batteries and growing access to charging are increasingly addressing ‘range anxiety,’ or the fear of running out of charge.”
Most drivers I spoke with said they charge their electric vehicles between two and three times a week, but it depends on whether they were working remotely that week.
Long Island resident Jomy Mutthathil, 49, holds an adapter provided with his Tesla at an electric vehicle charging station in Cherry Hill, NJ. The adapter allows Tesla drivers to charge at non-Tesla ports. Steven Rodas | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Of the state’s 23 Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike service areas, eight have electric charging stations and half of those locations only work if you have a Tesla.
“I mean, it’s just nice to have options and Tesla isn’t everywhere so it’s good to have other options,” said Ron McInnis, 49 from Washington D.C., who charged his car at the service area in Ridgefield.
Josh Weir, a 24-year-old Uber driver from the Bronx who came to charge there about an hour later, agreed.
“I can’t find a station over there (in the Bronx, New York). I have to come all the way over here just to charge it up,” Weir said, eating a slice of pizza while his electric car charged. “That’s a good 30-minute drive.”
Throughout New Jersey there are 827 public charging locations and 107 private locations, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s alternate fuels database which does not account for chargers drivers have installed at home. While there are many stations along the state’s major highways, there are some deserts in suburban areas like northwest and southwest New Jersey, the federal database map indicates.
The DEP said the state does not choose where the electric charging stations are installed. That falls to site hosts or charging station companies. Data on usage of stations statewide was not currently available, officials said.
But more charging stations make sense, drivers said.
A South Jersey Transportation Authority spokeswoman said of the two service areas on the Atlantic City Expressway, one — the Frank S. Farley Service Plaza — has four “general use” fast electric vehicle charging stations which were activated in June. Another eight Tesla chargers at the same location were opened in May. The other service area is the expressway’s welcome center — however officials said there are no plans to add more chargers to either service area in 2023.
“New Jersey plans to fund additional charging stations in the near future, with some funding expected to come from New Jersey’s National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Plan,” said Caryn Shinske, a spokeswoman with the DEP.
Among the state’s goals outlined in the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Plan is having 400 fast chargers and 1,000 Level 2 chargers in place across New Jersey by 2025. The plan also calls for fast chargers to be installed every 50 miles along major state corridors and every 25 miles between major roadways.
Two 50kW EVgo charging stations with three available parking spaces are located at Vince Lombardi Service Area in Ridgefield on Wednesday, November 23, 2022.Julian Leshay | For NJ Advance Media
Using the EVgo app, which was popular among those I spoke with, electric vehicle drivers can “check-in” at stations where they plug their cars.
This informs others in the area that charging ports are claimed and could end up being a big time-saver, according to drivers.
Some spent between 30 and 45 minutes charging up. Others waited as much as an hour — a far cry from the typical 10 or more minutes at the pump.
Depending on the time, EV drivers grabbed a cup of coffee or a slice of pizza. Wawa offers curbside for people who stop at stations to charge.
Some drivers made a pitstop at the nearby restrooms.
“I sometimes sit and go on my phone and make business calls with clients,” said Luis Perez, a 28-year-old Fort Lee resident. “I try not to be on social media.”
A Ford Lightning, all-electric pickup truck, receives charge by being hooked up to a 50kW EVgo charging station located at Vince Lombardi Service Area in Ridgefield on Wednesday, November 23, 2022.Julian Leshay | For NJ Advance Media
It was clear New Jersey is still in an electric vehicle transition phase.
Gas-powered cars had cover from the rain and a gas attendant to help them at the pump at the Cherry Hill parking lot. Neither existed for electric vehicle drivers.
Davidis, a driver from Philadelphia, said she had seven (seven!) apps on her phone to find charging stations during her travels.
Charging your electric vehicle will always cost a fee — between $7 to $14 to fully charge depending on the model, according to solar energy company, EnergySage.
But ports that have been placed within parking decks require extra payment. Such is the case for Newport Centre Mall in Jersey City, where electric vehicle drivers are expected to pay the parking fee even when they are only visiting the mall to charge their car.
Still, not one of the ten drivers I spoke with said they regretted the decision to go electric. And they’re not going back.
“Environmental and cost savings, I would say were the two big things,” said Mutthathil while discussing why he went electric. “And they’re just fun to drive.”
Have an experience with an electric vehicle or charging station in New Jersey you want to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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