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Amenities, walkability, Tesla's Supercharger Location selection criteria...

Hi all,

I'm an architect and new Model S owner. My wife and I have taken a few longer trips with our Model S (mainly here in Oregon), and something has struck me about the Superchargers: So far, our experience seems to be that their locations aren't very walkable (at least the few we've been to). Some of them are pretty isolated, and are located at businesses I don't really have much interest in. I understand the businesses have a financial burden to host the Supercharger, which makes me feel 2 things: guilty for not wanting to patronize their business, and wondering why Tesla thinks their demographic would patronize their business. (Not to call out specifics, I'm just looking at the contrast between the statistical Model S owner and the statistical patron of some of the businesses where Superchargers are located, and I just see those as pretty different. Not knocking either the Model S owners or the businesses at all.)

We're planning a trip to Utah, and the research I've done on the Superchargers we'll use indicates a similar situation.

As a contrast, we've charged at a number of AeroVironment's ChaDeMo chargers along the West Coast Electric Highway (mainly along Highway 101 on the Oregon Coast). Several of them are located in downtown locations at municipal parking lots. This has been great! We park at the lot, plug in and have a ton of choices within just a few blocks, and we're close by where I can just zip back to the car and move it when its done charging if we're not ready to leave.

What has been your favorite Supercharger, and what sort of amenities would people like to see/do while they're waiting to charge?

Or another question: How far have you walked from a Supercharger to get to an amenity you wanted?
I could not disagree more. I have charged at about 40 Superchargers and almost every one is located in a shopping mall, close to "mid-to-upscale" restaurants, retail shop and so forth.

No favorites but least faves would be Macon ; most peculiar Savannah and Chattanooga - the fewest amenities Rocky Mount, aforementioned airports, Indi and Cincinnati.

Couldn't be happier with most of their choice of locations!
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It seems that the speed of charging and getting on down the road is more important than amenities--get in, get out, wham, bam...

Doesn't SC provide ~ 80% charge in 20-30 minutes, enough to get down the road to the next charger?

In Tennessee there are Cracker Barrel restaurants along the interstate with Chademo, so a Nissan Leaf can make the loop from Nashville to Knoxville to Chattanooga and back. Of course you may get tired of their menu...
So far, I have had pretty good luck with the locations. For California, Petaluma, Gilroy, Oxnard all are at good malls, shopping locations. Atascadero was a bit of a snore. But I was glad it was there and it's a sweet town.

Oxnard's chargers were way in the back of the lot. I'm not sure how safe I would feel in the wee hours.

My experience is limited.
On our Tampa to Boston road trip, we found most SC stops to be in great locations. Restrooms, food, lodging all nearby. Most within easy walking distance and just off the highway. But, we packed a cooler with all the snacks, meals and beverages we could possibly need, so all we really hoped for was a clean restroom.

Only a few were in spots that had limited amenities within walking distance.
Sorry, I spewed out a wall of text. I'll talk a bit about Tesla's job in finding appropriate sites first, and then give a few personal thoughts on what I like to see.

Over the past few years (since before there were Superchargers) I've spoken to a few people at Tesla that have had varying levels of involvement in site selection. Overall, I've been pretty impressed with the thought they've put in to it, and how well they listen to input. I believe they are well aware that an ideal Supercharger location would have things like:

  • Very easy access to and from the freeway
  • At a crossroads so multiple routes can be served
  • Good signage
  • Good lighting
  • Not a likely vandalism spot; easy to monitor
  • Cover from the elements
  • Nearby clean 24-hour restrooms
  • A good safe place to go for a walk
  • A place to walk pets
  • Nearby food (a choice of prices and styles)
  • Nearby store for supplies
  • Wifi and/or good cell reception
  • In an uncrowded parking lot where ICEing is unlikely

And that's just the stuff the owners want. Of course Tesla also has to look at things like:

  • Proper spacing between Superchargers (there are several sub-elements to that)
  • Cheaper land is better
  • Plenty of available power
  • Easy (or at least cheap) to install the necessary components
  • Inexpensive power (especially for commercial peak power rates)
  • Utilities, government agencies and site hosts that are easy to work with
  • Room for expansion
  • Suitable for future plans (which may include things like cover, solar, battery backup, etc)

And of course they have to find sites like this very quickly, in many disparate parts of the world, while being understaffed. And almost no potential site hosts have any inkling as to the value proposition, nor do they have anybody who's looked in to it or even somebody whose job description clearly covers it - so you are often starting below ground, first even trying to figure out who to talk to; and anybody you get referred to doesn't really want to talk to you. Having done many site searches myself (some for EVSEs, some for EV events), I have an inkling as to just how difficult this job is. Perfect sites simply don't exist, so you have to live with compromises. Having visited 72 different Superchargers, they clearly are not finding sites that meet all of the above criteria. In fact many are missing enough that I think it is clear they can do better, but with time and financial restrictions considered, I don't think they are doing too bad on balance.

The two biggest mistakes I think they are doing are:

1. This is entirely speculation, but I think they put too much emphasis on free land, and are getting sub-optimal sites as a result. I could be wrong as to their reasoning - it could be any of the other reasons above. If my guess is correct, as time goes on I hope this will improve. I think other problems caused by just grabbing the free places will cost them more in the end. They have plenty of other costs; a small fee for the land in exchange for other benefits seems well worth considering. I think (still speculation!) they are finding, for example, hotels to be easier marks; presumably because they tend to have lots of parking and get a high rate of return when patronized. Hotels are GREAT for L2 charging as with the Destination Charger program, but pretty lousy for Superchargers unless they also have a restaurant and are within walking distance of other services.

2. Not worrying enough about ICEing. I know they don't want to upset ICE drivers (which is actually a good goal) and they have many other things to balance, including some potentially huge costs to move power to some place less likely to be ICEd. But my feeling is that no matter how much money they put in to the network and how carefully they monitor it, its usefulness can easily, unpredictably and repeatedly be completely blown by ICEing. It doesn't take many instances to make people feel the network is not reliable - look how much effort they put in to towing people when Harris Ranch went down; they don't really have a solution for ICEd locations. Note, however, that this is all a matter of degree - they are aware of the problem and taking some steps. After about 150 Supercharges, I have never been ICEd. In fact I have never waited for any reason. Tesla is not doing a perfect job, but they are doing pretty darn good all things considered.

More personal thoughts follow:

I think one way to ameliorate the problem is to have a clear listing of nearby services with each Supercharger on the map. Especially as Superchargers become more numerous, this will take much of the pressure off having each site to be perfect. It's not a big deal if there's not a restaurant you like at one stop if another stop 50 miles away has more choices.

Personally, I don't mind walking at all - in fact a good walk when stopping to charge has long been near the top of my list, though with Supercharging the nature of the walks is very different than it was when I took L2 road trips. I tend to like malls because they typically have restrooms AND food choices AND shopping AND cover AND connectivity. The biggest issue is whether it's a mall with sufficient parking and appropriate siting so that ICEing is unlikely. Of course, even with malls you can run in to the problem where everything is closed when you get there...I can picture a few nice mall Superchargers in my head, but can't remember their physical locations.

The "service plazas" in the NE United States are great - they are kind of like mini-malls on toll roads, designed for easy access. They have food, restrooms, connectivity, great lighting, convenient spacing, are available 24 hours, and sometimes small shops. I'd love to see that model spread, though there are issues (like the gas station & convenience store lobby in my state that threatens to sue if the state considers putting services at rest areas on the highways - that's why we don't have DC stations at rest areas even though some of them would be great sites and the state would have been happy to do it).
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In the future, Tesla should probably locate superchargers that are a bit off the beaten path. There are a few urban superchargers that are monopolized by shoppers. Would much rather have a supercharger in the middle of nowhere, with minimal co-tenancy, so that it takes the casual local shopper user out of the equation. Same reason why I support putting J-plug or HPWC EVSE's at the worst parking spots, only people that need it will likely use it, rather than front, center preferred parking. There was a time when EVSE's needed to be front and center to bring awareness but now that time is gone.
On a survey about supercharger locations, I recommended having a picnic table or seating nearby. I like to get our of the car and have lunch or a snack or read. So far I think my favorite supercharger location is Blanding Utah. It is located in the town park. The park has a visitor center and museum of local history. The volunteers in the visitor center are knowledgeable about local roads and attractions. In inclement weather they offered us a private room for our picnic lunch.

Siting superchargers is more difficult than most of us realize due to the power requirements. Many locations that we may like do not have enough power available.
I've done the I-5 trip a couple times (Sacramento to Seattle) and it didn't seem bad. The 'worst' is prolly the one near Corning, CA and the Starbucks there makes it ok, except for 10pm - 6am.

For Oregon, we have ... Grant's Pass & Eugene & Woodburn I've visited. Eugene is nice enough, might get some ICE'ing from the hotel but I haven't seen any. Grant's Pass isn't too bad either, but not exactly upscale (consider the area!). Woodburn is skippable for me, I recall it being fairly sparse but a couple fast food choices nearby. I've no idea what is near the Detroit Lake one, it looks really empty but again consider the area.

Parks are not high on my list for a Supercharger. I typically want to eat something, maybe a restroom, then get on my way again.
Very good insights! I think my wife and I haven't experienced enough Superchargers yet!

I think my observations have been coming from Superchargers in smaller cities along interstates in remote areas. Winnemucca, NV is a great example. Its at the west end of town in the parking lot of a Holiday Inn Express across the street (a fast 4 lane road) from a truck stop. There's a casino at the hotel, a Chevron station, a Flying J truck stop and the city cemetery. The main drag through Winnemucca is 3 miles from off-ramp to on-ramp, east-west. A Supercharger anywhere along there is going to be easy access to I-80, and if they had picked a site closer to downtown, the number of amenities would have been much higher. We'll probably be using the Beaver, UT SC as well (haven't looked into that one yet). Out west, particularly in the rural areas, there are much fewer options: you either have to charge or not. As time passes, I'm sure it will improve, and we will probably see new SCs more optimally placed with original SCs being decommissioned. Additionally, AV has been very prolific with their ChaDeMo chargers (we've been to 4) and most have been more walkable than the 2 superchargers we've been to. (Of course, the DCFC ChaDeMo charge costs $7.50, but again, in certain areas along certain routes, its the only charge option at the moment.)

For our road trip to UT, we're thinking of taking our bikes with us. If we do that, we can easily ride our bikes elsewhere if we aren't interested in the services at the SCs we visit...

I know Tesla is currently looking at placing a supercharger in my town (because I'm the architect on one of the candidate sites). As a Model S owner, I'm not too concerned where it will go, as I probably won't use it that much. As an architect, I'd love to be involved in the placement of the Supercharger, both for the experience and for the marketing potential it can offer my firm. As someone very interested and involved in land use and community planning, I'm fascinated by the dichotomy of the long-distance supercharger reality: a car based operation putting its users into a strictly pedestrian/walking situation for an hour or so.
A few observations:
1. Many strip mall areas and suburbs just aren't meant for walking at all. That doesn't have anything to do with Tesla.
2. One of the worst walks is the bridge from the supercharger to primanti brothers in Cranberry, PA
3. supercharger locations are varied. Most that we've been to are by chains ( we're not fans), but a number have a nice restaurant in walking distance (if often the walk is through parking lots)
4. Have dropped off the wife and daughter and walked greater than .5 mile each direction to get to/from a restaurant.
5. Have been to many restaurants/hotels/bookstores for bathrooms while supercharging without actually buying anything.
6. I haven't felt inconvenienced by supercharging and think it's awesome how easy it is to EV roadtrip in a Tesla.