Petro-Canada’s Cookstown, Ont. EV charging stations. Photo: Petro-Canada

Your drivers may need to use public EV charging stations from time to time — for instance, if their route doesn’t go exactly as planned and they need to top up before heading back to base or home. 

Public charging isn’t recommended as a primary or full-fleet solution unless it has been planned into your duty cycle (for instance, for longer-distance routes). Charging an EV battery takes considerably more time than refilling a gas tank and the existent public charging network isn’t designed to meet a commercial fleet’s full-time needs. But your drivers are likely to need to recharge on-the-go occasionally, so it’s smart to make sure everyone is prepared. We expect public charging to play a larger role in fleets as the network matures. 

What to know about fleet use of public charging

  • It’s inevitable
    Even if your fleet is set up to use home or depot charging most of the time, there will be days when a power outage, forgotten overnight session or longer-than-anticipated route will force a driver to use a public charger during a shift. 
  • Public charging should be a back-up plan
    Availability, reliability and pricing at public charging stations can be inconsistent. Drivers may arrive to find stations occupied or out of order, which can cause further delays. 
  • Tesla is different
    Tesla superchargers almost always work, and are usually available more often since they have been, until recently, exclusive to Tesla vehicles. (Several major automakers are now adopting Tesla’s North American Charging Standard.) Tesla uses seamless plug-and-charge payment, which lets a driver plug in and be billed automatically without using a credit card or account. Plus, with an adapter, Tesla vehicles can charge at public CHAdeMO and J1772/CCS stations, giving them additional flexibility. For these reasons, fleet drivers who need a light-duty vehicle and can’t use home or depot charging may find Tesla to be the best choice of EV for their needs.

How to prepare your drivers to use public charging

  • Educate drivers on charging speeds and curves
    Drivers need to understand the charging capability of the vehicle as well as the station. There’s a time benefit to charging at a 350 kW station but only if the vehicle can accept that charge. Many vehicles are limited to 150 kW or lower. Conversely, using a 50 kW charger will stretch out charge time. It’s also important for drivers to understand that charging speeds drop off dramatically after batteries reach 80 per cent. This is part of the EV’s battery management system and helps prolong the life of the battery. And, remember: electricity throughput will be slower on very cold or very hot days.
Speeds vary during a single charging session

“People expect to charge at the nameplate capacity on the charger right off the bat for the entire time and it’s a bit more nuanced than that,” explains Perry Billard, who manages the EV customer experience for Petro-Canada’s Electric Highway. “There is a warm up/cool down battery-charging curve and each vehicle is different: It’ll ramp up, hit a speed and charge, then slow back down around 70 or 80 percent. Our average time is a 25-minute session.”

  • Plan your route
    Billard recommends foresight. “If you’re a technician and know you’re not going to be able to make it to the client’s home and back, use a route planner,” he explains. “Our Electric Highway app helps people find Petro-Canada’s charging locations. PlugShare is a good app to find a broader network of public chargers. A lot of EV drivers like A Better Route Planner — it even asks what kind of vehicle you drive, so when you punch in your route, it’ll guesstimate how much battery percentage you’ll have left when you stop to recharge. If you look at your route and can see there’s a charger every step of the way, that’ll calm people’s nerves.” 
Source: A Better Routeplanner
  • Understand how to pay
    Some public EV charging stations have credit card readers, while others require an account to be set up and payment to go through an RFID card or app (some, like FLO, also require you to pre-load funds). A few vehicle models are set up with plug-and-charge technology, which allows the charging provider to charge your account automatically once connected; this is also dependent on the charging network you use being compatible. It will save some time and guesswork for your drivers if they know in advance which networks use the payment type you prefer.
Plug and Charge

Plug and Charge is the common name for a protocol that enables secure communication between an EV and a charging station so that an automated billing transaction can take place. The technology allows drivers to simply plug in and start their charging session without having to negotiate payment details — these having already been settled via a user account in the background.

  • Explain what to do if there’s a charging issue
    At some point, a driver will reach a public station only to find it’s not working or the car won’t connect. Billard always recommends trying a restart first: “If you plug in and there is an issue — say you’re too slow tapping your credit card and it times out — the charger might give you an opportunity to restart. But unplugging the vehicle is key. It’s the old computer adage of unplug it and plug it back in.” Half of the issues in a recent study out of California were payment-based, Billard explains. If your credit card didn’t work, try a different form of payment. “Can you use the app instead of the on-device payment reader? Once you’re connected it should be smooth sailing.”
Use the helpline

Most public charging stations, such as those offered by Petro Canada and Electrify Canada, have a helpline phone number posted near the card swipe pad. A customer service agent some distance away may be able to get a charger going when the station appears to be inoperable. For instance, an agent could perform a remote restart of the charger or even process credit card info over the phone in a case where the machine’s screen is faulty.

  • Recharge before you run empty
    Never drain a battery to the point of being unable to reach another station nearby. Some EVs have on-board navigation systems that will direct a driver to the next-closest station when needed and apps like PlugShare, as Billard mentions above, can be helpful as well. (PlugShare crowdsources its ratings from EV drivers, is updated regularly, and can help your employees avoid frustrating situations.) Make sure your drivers know how to use these tools before they head out on the road.
  • Report problems
    Letting charging site operators know when charging stations don’t work is important to keep our public networks healthy. “If it didn’t work, let someone know instead of just driving away,” suggests Billard. “We rely a lot on customers to let us know what didn’t work, why and when, and from there, we can track down the problem and get it fixed sooner.”

Reasons a public EV charging station may be inoperable

A list of operational problems realated to public charging stations.

In the final topic on charging, learn more about choosing the right charging infrastructure for your organization.

Want to learn more? Sign up or log in so you can track your progress, earn a course certificate and receive exclusive invitations to our live learning sessions.