Dude, Where’s My Car (Charging Station)? How Public Charging Is a Centerpiece of a U.S. Department of Transportation Initiative

November 4, 2016 | 8:37 am
Josh Goldman
Former contributor

There are nearly 15,000 public charging stations for electric vehicles in the U.S., but there hasn’t been a great way to navigate to those spots without an app or internet access – until now.

Included in a package of electric vehicle-related initiatives from the White House is the designation of 25,000 miles of U.S. highway as “sign-ready,” meaning they are ready to get uniform signs for electric vehicle charging next to the existing signs for gas, food, and lodging. For now, the placement of the charging signs is limited to highway segments that have charging stations (existing or planned) at least every 50 miles. But this limited placement is not insignificant. 25,000 miles of highway across 35 states already qualify, and with additional investments in public charging coming from states and utilities, tens of thousands more highway miles will likely be getting charging signs in near future as well.

I admit, signs for electric vehicle charging is not as exciting as breaking a 108-year championship drought, but this seemingly simple initiative could significantly impact the electric vehicle market.

First, the physical signs for electric vehicle charging could help alleviate range anxiety. Most electric vehicle drivers likely have an app for navigating to charging stations, but perhaps some are part of my T-Mobile family, which means ¼ the cell coverage for ¾ the price. So a charging locator app isn’t necessarily foolproof. If you’re driving along a highway with charging signs, however, no phone service is no problem. Charging signs will be a physical backstop to relying on cell phones or apps, and could give electric vehicle drivers additional peace of mind when embarking on a trip that is further than a single charge.

Second, signs for public charging can instill confidence in non-electric vehicle drivers and raise public awareness toward the existing network of 15,000 electric vehicle charging stations. Just seeing signs for electric vehicle charging every 50 miles along heavily trafficked highways could be the little nudge needed to choose an electric vehicle. Although most electric vehicle charging is done at home, many consumers want to know they can charge on-the-go, and both perceived and actual access to public charging is an important consideration when thinking about whether an electric vehicle can fit your needs.

Lastly, this announcement sends a clear signal to the next Administration that continuing federal initiatives to help electric vehicles gain a better foothold in the U.S. vehicle market should be a priority. Electric vehicles are not just a foil against climate change. They also cut oil use, are cheaper to fuel and maintain, and simply offer a better driving experience. For more on why electric vehicles are smart solution, check out our web content here.