Friday, December 14, 2012

Flying with an Electric Car to L.A.

OK, I am not really flying an electric car, but I am trying to park an electric car while I fly. One of the least mature aspects of the Electric Vehicle movement is how to charge and store an electric vehicle while on a trip going to the airport. Many airports are starting to add chargers, but are being misled in the types of charging they should make available. There are primarily two types of charging Quick Charge that can add 100 or more miles of range to an electric car in less than an hour and casual charging that can typically charge a electric vehicle at a rate of anywhere from 4 to 20 miles per hour. Public quick charging is still hard to come by, but casual charging is becoming more readily available. Most public chargers operate at 240 volt 30 to 40 amp circuits that will charge a vehicle in the 10 to 20 mile per hour range, while charging at a standard 110 volt home wall outlet will charge the car at a rate of 3 to 4 miles per hour.

Now here is where the airport parking infrastructure is immature. Many airports are making a “green” effort to add these 30 to 40 amp public chargers that will fully charge a vehicle in anywhere from 3 to 8 hours. However this only makes sense if you are at the airport for a short time, such as picking up Aunt Betty from her flight from Milwaukee and its 2 hour delay gives you a chance to pick up an additional 15 or 30 miles of range while you wait for her flight to finally arrive.  But many of us with electric vehicles are travelling. We will be gone at least the whole day if not several days to a week. We don’t need to charge at a rate of 10 to 20 miles per hour, a standard wall outlet would be an economical choice to charge the car. No special charging station is required, just a space near a wall outlet.

San Jose Airport has installed 8 EVSE charging stations in lot 5, their most premium short term parking lot that runs $32 a day. For the equivalent of about $4 worth of electricity, you could pay $64 to park there for an overnight trip. Los Angeles International Airport also maintains a set of chargers at their terminal 6 parking structure that runs in the high $20s to park per day, but half of their chargers are in Disabled (or as I prefer to call ‘Adapted’) parking spaces. If you park an electric vehicle in these spaces without a Disabled placard, it will cost hundreds of additional dollars in fines.  LAX looks like it is going for a niche market or elite special interest group (However it really looks like they are trying not to lose revenue in more lucrative standard parking spaces by not losing a small set to restricted parking).

This week I had to fly from San Jose to Los Angeles for some meetings. Rather than pay the high rates at SJC, I wanted to try off airport parking to see if any of the lots would accommodate an electric vehicle. I first tried search Google to see if any of the lots actually catered to Electric Vehicles, but no luck, all I could find were the chargers at SJC, so then I did general searches and started calling the lots with decent rates.

I called Park and Jet from the number on their website, A man with a heavy middle eastern accent answered. He listened and said they could accommodate me and to ask for him, Elias and he would help me out. I showed up at the lot that was not very clearly marked, but luckily I took the address with me and was able to locate them. It appears this was a lot that was in competition with EZ Park Fly that EZ Park Fly is taking over. I pulled in to the front booth and Elias was there as promised, however it was not the person claiming to be Elias when I called. I let him know my situation and he was very accommodating. He had me go into a building and was originally going to have me plug in in a disabled person spot, but changed his mind and moved me to another building where he was more confident the plugs would work. Normally they would have someone park the car in the building, but since I was only staying overnight, he didn’t have an issue with me parking the car. I found a good spot next to a plug by a rollup door. I had no issue with the plug, power registered on my charger and the blue charging light was flashing on my car.  All was good.

Walking back to the front gate, I noticed they were doing improvements to the location, adding a new cashier booth where a working was busily verbally assaulting a piece of drywall (not sure why, but I think I learned a few new swear words in a foreign language). I got to the front gate and Elias let me know the van would be their shortly and struck up a brief conversation about my car. The van arrived, a little beat up, but got me to the terminal in 7 minutes. This was also my test to know how much time I should expect when calling for a pickup on my return, my expectation would be they should be able to pick me up within 300% of that time, or roughly 21 minutes.

On return to SJC, I called the number on my claim ticket and Elias was there. He instructed me where to go and the van would be there shortly. This is where I have to knock them down in rating. I waited 25 minutes and no van. I called Elias back and asked where the van was. Elias was very conscientious to get the location of the driver and call me back to let me know he was currently at the other terminal and would be there shortly. True to his word, the driver eventually made it (Total wait time was 33 minutes).

Upon arrival at the lot, I walked back to the building and I had a fully charged car. Cost was $10 a day for indoor valet plus $7 for the shuttle service. I know SJC charges the vendors a ridiculous rate to bring shuttles in, but this is the only supplier I have seen that surcharges parking for it. Still, the cost was less than half of what it would have cost in the airport to charge had I parked at SJC, but it cost me an additional 40 minutes in doing so.

Lastly, somewhere around there, I picked up a drywall screw in my rear tire. I believe it was probably in the lot as they are doing construction, but could never prove it. I went ahead and filled the tire with air at a service station nearby and repaired the tire when I got home.

So in all, it was a positive experience, but not a glowing endorsement. Elias does a very good job with customer service, but it seems like the owner could improve on the maintenance/upkeep of the vans and improve the pickup process letting customers know when their van should arrive and contact the customer if there is a delay. Also with all the EVs in the bay area, it would be a simple way to lure in a new set of clientele.

Park and Jet/EZ Park Fly
1740 North 4th Street
San Jose, CA

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