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Sunday, March 4, 2012

What We Have Here Is: Failure To Communicate

My wife and I went to Manhattan this morning to meet up with some friends who were visiting from Massachusetts. We met for brunch on the Upper East Side and had a really nice time. We live about 50 miles from the city and a round trip of 100 miles without charging would necessitate extreme-efficient driving, mostly because it was in the low 40's and the range is a bit compromised when the temperatures fall below 50 degrees. However I was gong to work directly after and that's only about 20 miles from the city, so the 70 miles trip would be no problem.

When we arrived at the restaurant, there was no on-street parking available so we found a parking garage right down the block and when we approached my wife noticed a sign outside that said "Beam Electric Vehicle Charging Station". When we pulled in, straight ahead I saw the Coulomb EVSE with the ChargePoint name printed across the front of it. I didn't really need to charge but what the heck, I'm here and there's an EVSE available so I might as well grab some extra electrons.
 The garage attendants had no clue. They knew the EVSE was there, but didn't know anything about rates or if I was even "allowed" to use it. They told me they have never seen it used before but gave me their blessings to give it a try. I know Beam is big in NYC and they offer unlimited charging plans for $98/mo but I didn't know if I could just access the EVSE with my ChargePoint card. Since the unit had ChargePoint printed on it I figured I could use my ChargePoint card. Sounds reasonable, right? I guess it's not because I was denied access. When I swiped my card in front of the EVSE, it did recognize it. However it then displayed "Authorization Failed: Restricted Use Only" That's a shame because I was fine paying them the posted rate of $3.95/hr for about $1.20 in electricity. I was there two hours so the unit would have made them five dollars at least.

When I got home I went to the Beam website and saw I need to also register to their network to use Beam EVSE's, even though it says ChargePoint Network on the EVSE. As I wrote, they sell the $98/month unlimited use deal, but also a pay-as-you-go contract for a one time fee of $9.95. You then need to wait for them to mail you a card to swipe, so you can't just register with your smartphone and begin using the unit on the spot; not very user friendly in my opinion. To make matters worse, the EVSE was covered in dust, like it was never used. Here I was ready to pay to use it and they wouldn't let me. I think they should at least have some single-use swipe card at the garage that you could buy when you arrive. They could sell them in hourly increments so you can buy however much time you want the EVSE to charge for. I really don't want to have to have a half dozen swipe cards on my keychain, and you know even if I do when I really need to use a public charger I'll happen to find one that I don't have the card for.

The good news for me, is that I've been driving an EV for nearly three years now and have driven about 80,000 miles, and not once have I ever needed to use a public charging station. I'm sure the time will arise when I do, or when I will make a trip that I couldn't have otherwise taken without using a public charging station, but for now I'm really not worried about it. The electric vehicle industry will have growing pains. Right now it's like the Wild West with regard to public charging and people are making up the rules as they go along. In time things will settle down, networks will merge and hopefully someone will come along with a way to have one card work on all public charging stations regardless of the network, kind of like PayPal for public charging. Maybe the answer will be no "networks" and just have the stations work with the swipe of a credit card, seems easy enough to do that now but then the networks would lose the "one time account activation fee" and I'm sure they don't want to give that up until they absolutely have to. Sooner or later someone will come up with a better way and all the others will be forced to conform or be shuttered into obsolescence. I'll be eagerly waiting for that day. Till then, I'll be happily charging from my personal EVSE's. No problem, since they've been all I've needed so far.


  1. Just like you said, these things will work themselves out in short order. Survival of the fittest

  2. It's all very silly really. CNG stations used to have these industry specific cards but things quickly reverted to credit cards after 2000 which make the most sense for me. Yesterday I went to Ikea here and their charger was a Blink charger. Now I happen to have a Blink card activated etc. but how many access cards do I need to tote around to use a public charger? And we have two EVs so now I need two activated cards for every system? I suppose using a credit card for a free charge (which Ikea offers) is silly, but at least then you don't need each charging system's proprietary card. It will get straightened out eventually but with more EV stations coming online, the access card wallet is going to get mighty crowded.
    --saeed jaffer (wq2345)

  3. Hello Tom,

    This is Joseph from Beam Charging.

    I am very sorry to hear about your disappointing experience at one of our locations! It really upsets us at Beam to hear a story like this.

    From the pictures you have taken it looks like the 77th Street location between Lexington and 3rd Ave.

    That garage has been undergoing construction for the past 5 months and we have been constantly battling with keeping it operational and escaping damage as the floors were renovated. This does not excuse its current condition and we have taken swift action to have the station cleaned. After investigating why you were restricted from using your ChargePoint card, we found out there had been a programming problem and have since fixed it. Other users may have experience this problem as well, but failed to notify us of the issue. Thank you for pointing this out.

    Regarding the training of the attendants, we have implemented a new training program in the last few weeks and we are retraining all of our garages. We will now prioritize the referenced location for training! In addition to the multiple training sessions, as requested by our garage partners, we have posted instructions in both English & Spanish on the charging stations. This provides a “back-up” if an attendant slips through the cracks and misses our training sessions. If a customer does not have a ChargePoint RFID Card or a smart credit card, on the station door there is an 800 telephone number at the bottom of the instructions. This gives the customer the ability to start a charging session over the phone with the help of a ChargePoint or Beam operator.

    Since your visit to our Beam location, we have updated our hourly rate to $2.95 for all of our stations. Our pricing structure is continuously being adjusted based on current EV models, usage, and demand. The hourly cost has to account for the Volts, the BMW Active-E, and of course the Teslas that visit our locations. As you know the technology and charging time requirements are different for each of those vehicles.

    We also offer a $98/month unlimited charging option to avoid having the consumer feel the pain of the large technology difference between the EV of today (built last year) versus the EVs arriving in the near future. We hope to also offer other plans for those who charge less frequent as we move forward.

    Lastly, we are working with multiple entities in NYC to try and increase the intelligence of the grid. With Smart Grid technology, the grid could identify that an EV is connected and what type of on-board charger an EV would have and pricing structure could be adjusted to fit the EV. Unfortunately we are not there yet.

    We at Beam try everyday to find better ways to increase our level of service, customer support, and overall charging experience.

    The EV community is small but rapidly growing, and Beam is committed to making sure that everyone's input is recognized!

    I thank you for taking the time to point out the above issues to us. We will work very hard to rectify them and avoid a reoccurrence.

    I hope that in the near future you will visit a Beam location for a much more enhanced experience and know that your feedback has directly impacted the NYC EV charging environment in a most positive way!

    Beam Charging

    1. Thank you for the comment and the response Joseph. Yes it was a bit disappointing that I couldn't plug in, but not unexpected. I know there will be some skinned knees in the beginning but it's comforting to see Beam is proactively trying to correct issues.

      So I'm still not 100% clear on this, will my ChargePoint card activate the Beam EVSE's or do I need to oder a Beam card? I don't need unlimited charging, but when I come to the city I'd like to use a parking garage with a charger and plug in. I'll buy the card for $9.95 if necessary, but since your EVSE's are the Coulomb units and say ChargePoint on them I figure I should be able to use my ChargePoint card, no? Please clarify for me and the others following this blog.

      Thank you!

  4. Good to see the response. I will definitely visit your location in the coming weeks.