“Range anxiety” is not a phrase that was around when I was learning to drive, although an equivalent concept existed. Back then, we called it “running out of gas,” and after doing so once or twice I learned the value of watching my gas gauge and of keeping my tank above a quarter full.
I haven’t run out of gas for more than 30 years now, but after getting our first electric car back in 2014 I soon learned all about range anxiety. I had an appointment in South San Jose, and elected to take our Honda Fit EV, which optimally had a range of about 80 miles. I had neglected to completely charge the car before I set off, making the return journey a real eye opener. Although I did make it home, barely, I drove with the climate control off and was as gentle on the accelerator as I could be. And the whole way I was thinking about where I might exit Interstate 280 to find a public charger.
Finding a public charger was a bit of a problem back then, mainly because they were so few and far between. I own my own home, however, so when we first got the car I had a Level 2 charger — one that could fully charge our little car in a handful of hours — installed in my garage. I also opened an account with ChargePoint, one of the companies who manage some of the electric chargers you see in public garages and parking lots.
Over the years, we’ve gotten quite comfortable with the electric car lifestyle, and we love it. But we admittedly have a few advantages. The first is our home charger, which is not something available to everyone living in an apartment. I’ve toured a number of Redwood City’s newer apartment buildings and although they typically provide a few chargers, I’m guessing there aren’t nearly enough. This forces many residents to charge them at work — assuming their workplace has chargers, and assuming they aren’t being used — or at one of a limited number of public chargers.
Our next advantage is that we have a second, gasoline-powered car. When my wife and I discussed going electric, we knew that range would be an issue, and that we’d need another car for longer trips. But we also knew that some 90 percent of our car trips were short, to places like the grocery store or to friend’s houses. Those trips indeed turned out to be perfect for our short-range Honda Fit EV, and that car quickly became our daily driver. Nowadays, our second car only leaves the garage two or three times a month, either when we need to take a longer trip, or on the rare occasions when my wife and I need to drive in separate directions at the same time — which is something we try to avoid doing.
Having a ChargePoint account is a third advantage, albeit a limited one. We quickly realized that it doesn’t provide access to all of the public chargers you see around town. ChargePoint manages the chargers in the garage beneath Redwood City’s Century Theater, the chargers in the Marshall Street garage, and the chargers behind the main branch of the public library. But the chargers in the Sequoia Station parking lot are from a company called Volta, while the chargers across El Camino Real in the Whole Foods parking lot belong to a company called EVgo. To use those other chargers, I’d need accounts with those companies. And I’m just not that excited about creating more accounts.
The other issue with public chargers relates to availability. There are more of them than there once were, but still not enough. In the theater garage off Jefferson Avenue, there are only three. Ditto with the Marshall Street garage. When those chargers were first installed, we could occasionally make use of them, but nowadays, with so many electric vehicles on the road, they’re rarely available.
Thankfully my wife and I rarely need a public charger these days, thanks to good habits and a home charger. Thanks to those, and to the fact that we recently replaced our beloved Honda Fit EV with a Chevy Bolt, which has nearly triple the range.
When Honda created the Fit EV, they only did so in limited quantities. To keep things simple, they all were identical, including the color: they only came in what we dubbed “Electric Blue.” It was a color we had to grudgingly accept, but over the years we came to love it. So much so, that when it was time to pick out our Chevy Bolt, we chose the same color. These days we happily roam the entire Bay Area in our little electric hatchback — our little “Rhapsody in Blue.”
Greg Wilson is the creator of Walking Redwood City, a blog inspired by his walks throughout Redwood City and adjacent communities. He can be reached at greg@walkingRedwoodCity.com. Follow Greg on Twitter @walkingRWC.