Breaking the queue: Solutions for a better charging experience

By
Matt Bagnara
7
 min read
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Matt Bagnara is a Product Manager at Chargefox with a focus on improving driver experience.

Queuing for a charge?

Why it happens and what we can do about it.

Matt Bagnara is a Product Manager at Chargefox and passionate about improving the driver experience. His team have been responsible for recent feature improvements including Idle Fees, State of Charge and the option to provide star rating and comment after charging.

In this article Matt takes a deep dive into queuing for a charge; what really causes it, some of the myths and what we can do about it.

I often talk to EV drivers about the charging experience, and I have consistently heard feedback about having to wait at a charging station because it is in use.

Additionally, we often receive requests for ‘queuing features’ in our app. While I appreciate many of these comments, I want to dispel some myths about queuing and highlight some of the root causes and potential solutions we’re exploring here at Chargefox.

As the software platform that connects more drivers to more charging stations than any other, we recognise our responsibility to help understand driver ‘pain-points’ and introduce well researched solutions.

Recently, we introduced the option for charger owners to activate idle fees. This means drivers would be charged a fee per minute if they continued to occupy a charger after their vehicle was fully charged. This feature has been both well received and effective, encouraging drivers to move on promptly after charging to make the charger available for the next person.

Idle fees are now active at over 70 public DC stations on Chargefox, and that number is growing.

‘Park time’ - the time between when a driver completes charging and unplugs their vehicle, is lower at stations with idle fees. This means more charging and less queuing. A win/win for drivers and charger owners.

The orange line below represents ‘park time' at stations with idle fees (the dark blue line represents the rest of the DC chargers on the platform). 

In addition to idle fees, Chargefox is investing in more ways to improve charger availability and help drivers make more informed decisions about charging. 

State of Charge

An app feature that displays how long a car has been charging and the current battery percentage - empowering drivers to better understand how long a charger may be occupied. 

Charging time message

A feature where drivers can leave a public message notifying others how long they expect they will need to charge - all through the Chargefox app.

We’re listening and making improvements to help drivers make informed decisions about where and when they can most easily charge. However, no single feature is a ‘silver bullet’.

Tesla chargers with a fee per kWh at the same location at the same time were completely vacant.
The chargers with no fee (i.e free) were fully utilised, and additional people were waiting.

I recently witnessed a situation that emphasises this point. At a car park in a local shopping centre, there is a plug available on Chargefox. In the same car park, there are several Tesla Supercharger bays.

The Tesla Superchargers charge a fee per kWh, while the wall chargers are free. The free stations were fully occupied, and lots of other drivers were queuing—it was bedlam! The Tesla Supercharger bays were empty. The motivation here was cost over convenience.

If Chargefox were to introduce a queuing feature or idle fees at our station, would that help in this case? I would say almost certainly not. I suspect similar things happen at various locations for different reasons.

A queuing option within the app could provide the option for drivers to indicate they wish to charge, in a similar way to taking a number at the supermarket deli. It sounds good in theory, but the devil is in the details.

  • How do you manage this for people using an RFID card to charge?
  • What happens if a vehicle is the next in the queue but not present?
  • Should drivers be able to queue if they are not in the vicinity of the charger?
  • Is there a greater possibility for conflict at chargers due to the queuing feature?

To be clear, I’m not proposing that a queuing feature wouldn’t help alleviate some issues or improve driver experience, but it’s possible it may not solve the issue and could, in fact, create problems of its own.

So, how do we get to a future where drivers can easily find a charger to ‘top up’ without encountering the frustrations of queuing? This answer has three pillars: hardware, policy, and software.

We need a ‘horses for courses’ approach to public charging hardware—that is, the right type and number of chargers in the right locations. Sometimes, that will mean investing in lots of slower AC chargers to maximise availability, and in other cases, the same money will be spent on fewer very fast chargers to get people topped up and on their way.

We must advocate for thoughtful policy, laws and regulations to encourage and support the right investments and deter irresponsible driver behaviour.

Finally, from a software perspective, we will continue to listen to all the feedback we receive and put in the work to make meaningful change.

We recognise the responsibility of being the charging platform used by more Australians than any other and we are deeply committed to understanding and prioritising the improvements that will make the most impact.

If you are a charger host already on Chargefox looking to discuss new features or you are looking to get your chargers on Chargefox please get in touch.

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