At least once a year, my wife and I like to take a trip to get as far away from city life and our responsibilities as possible. This year, we decided to take a road trip out of the Dallas area to a rural part of Oklahoma for a relaxing five day weekend. We would be staying in a secluded cabin about 30 miles north of the Beavers Bend area.
This was an area I had visited multiple times in my life. It just so happened that an Electrify America station had opened off of I-30 at a convenient point between Dallas and Broken Bow, OK. The timing was perfect: for the first time, we would make this trek in an electric car.
We had already taken our Chevy Bolt EV on a few regional trips to Austin and San Antonio. In fact, our Oklahoma trip would not be the longest distance we'd ever driven in the Bolt. Only about 210 miles separated us and our cabin rental, compared to about 290 miles between Dallas and San Antonio.
However, our San Antonio trip moved us from one urban area to another with plenty of charging options along the way. There was never any concern about range. If we reached our destination and our preferred charging station wasn't available, we could drive a few miles down the road to another one.
The distance between us and our cabin in rural Oklahoma was technically shorter, yet it felt much further. Once we left Texas, there would be no DCFC or even L2 charging available nearby. Other than the Electrify America station 80 miles away.
This wasn't our first rodeo: planning ahead reduces headaches
Assuming everything went perfectly, we would leave home and not stop until reaching the Electrify America station roughly 130 miles away in Mount Pleasant, TX. We would charge our Bolt there for about 30 minutes to ~85%. Then we would complete the final 80 miles of our route. At the cabin, we would regain 45-50 miles each night using a standard wall outlet.
However, we could not assume everything would go according to plan. Electrify America is still very new to the charging scene. Many early users had been complaining about the reliability of the stations and I had already witnessed some issues myself.
When the Denton, TX station opened up not terribly far from me, I gave it a try. My first experience had been a mixed bag. Four of the six stalls said that the credit card readers were down. One did not say it was down, but when I attempted to use it, the station failed to initiate a charge. At this point I called Electrify America to see just what was going on.
To the credit of their customer support, they were very helpful and directed me to the station I had not tried yet, saying that it had just been recently used. I gave that one a shot and indeed it worked. Once the charge began, speeds were the quickest I had ever seen on my Bolt and the interface, while a bit clunky, was very informative.
But considering the potential issues, we would not take any chances. We decided we would top off our Bolt at an EVgo station on the outskirts of Dallas. We would only be there to recover the 30 miles or so between our home and the station. This would ensure that we could arrive at the cabin after driving highway speeds even if all other charging options failed us along the way.
In addition to the standard L1 charger, we also took our 7.2 kW Clipper Creek with a NEMA 14-50 plug as an backup. If the Electrify America station was down, we could top off at one of several RV parks near the cabin that had 14-50 connections.
Electrify America card reader fails again, but customer support had it under control
Topping off at the EVgo charger on the way out of town went smoothly. In our experience, EVgo chargers are rock solid, so getting a charge was no issue.
After about 2 hours at speeds of 65 to 70 mph, we arrived at the Electrify America station with just under half of a charge. Unfortunately, most of the stations again read "Credit card - mobile pay reader currently unavailable."
We called Electrify America as I had done previously and they directed me to stall 4. The 4th stall did not have an error message, so I tried using my card. The card reader did not seem to be down, but whenever I tried it would fail.
After multiple attempts, we were about to give up and leave. But the helpful support representative was able to start the charge session remotely. Once charging began, we were again very impressed at the speed. At EVgo, the top charge rate I see is typically 46 kW. On this trip, I received peak charge rates of 53 kW according to the Bolt's dashboard.
We were understandably relieved. While I was prepared to charge at an RV park if needed, we were not looking forward to sitting around for hours on end.
Ultimately, we did end up pulling in to one of these RV parks while we ate dinner and stretched our legs. But we only stayed for a bit over an hour. I wanted to test it out in case we needed a faster charge over the five day weekend.
Electrify America app seems to solve issues with credit card readers
Despite hiccups with Electrify America's credit card readers, the trip was successful and largely stress free. If the station had been totally down, we would have had multiple backup options at RV parks. Thankfully this was not needed.
Following our trip, Electrify America launched their smartphone app. Based on early experiences, this is an absolute must download for anyone considering charging at an Electrify America station. Four out of the four times I had visited their stations, multiple units had their credit card readers out of service. This was especially frustrating since they were otherwise completely functional.
So to test the mobile application, my wife and I have tried the iPhone app only on chargers where the "Credit card - mobile pay reader currently unavailable" error is present. So far, using the app we have been able to successfully start a charge session every single time.
Not only that, but the process is much quicker than navigating the clunky user interface of the actual charging stations and praying that the card reader actually works. Having spoken to other users of the app, we aren't the only ones that have noticed much greater reliability compared to the credit card readers.
The phone app is painless to set up an account. You can choose the "pay as you go" Electrify America Pass or the Pass+ monthly subscription plan. The subscription plan has has no session fee and a lower charge per minute but a $4 monthly fee.
After our trip we were initially nervous about going any significant distance that relied solely on the young charging network. But since downloading the application and having multiple excellent experiences with their customer service, I have renewed faith in the future of Electrify America. Once the kinks are worked out with the software, they will likely become the dominate name in CCS and CHAdeMO charging.