Driving an electric vehicle (EV) through the heart of Los Angeles, a city often seen as the vanguard of environmentally conscious and tech-savvy living, should be a smooth and effortless journey. Yet, recent reports have cast a shadow over the EV experience in Los Angeles, the self-proclaimed epicenter of American electric mobility, reminiscent of the energy woes of the past during the Carter administration.

In a recent exposé by The Wall Street Journal, the spotlight was firmly placed on the state of EV charging infrastructure in the City of Angels. To gauge the reliability and efficiency of non-Tesla fast-charging stations spread across the metropolis, the investigation involved an exhaustive test of 30 stations, boasting a grand total of over 120 charging spots. The results were nothing short of alarming, revealing that at least 40 percent of these stations were plagued with various issues, leaving EV owners high and dry.

Renowned columnist Joanna Stern, herself an owner of a Ford Mustang Mach-E EV, shared her harrowing experiences during this investigative odyssey. Alongside her trusty video producer, Adam Falk, they embarked on a journey that took them from the sun-kissed beaches of Santa Monica to the luxurious confines of Rodeo Drive’s parking garages, visiting numerous non-Tesla DC fast-charging stations in a robust Rivian R1T pickup truck. The outcome was disheartening, as Stern encountered problems at 13 out of the 30 stations they visited, far surpassing the 40 percent issue rate. She aptly summed up the situation with an exasperated “Oof.”

The challenges Stern encountered during her fact-finding mission can be categorized into three pivotal areas. These problems not only disrupted the charging process but also underscored the obstacles that the EV industry must confront to guarantee a seamless transition to electric mobility.

Firstly, there were the straightforward issues of non-operational charging stations. Stern came across situations where the charging stations were either out of service, displaying signs of malfunction, or had unresponsive screens. Shockingly, a whopping 27 percent of the 126 individual Level 3 fast chargers at these surveyed stations were found to be inoperable for various reasons. In some cases, a simple solution might involve a technician resetting the malfunctioning unit, but this offers little consolation to EV owners in desperate need of a charge. Furthermore, power issues could force charging units out of service, exacerbating the problem.

Another critical problem area revolved around payment rejections. At one station, Stern found herself in a situation where the credit-card reader repeatedly failed to accept multiple cards, ultimately demanding “CASH ONLY” for payment. This bizarre and inconvenient situation affected nearly 10 percent of otherwise operational stalls. Various reasons were attributed to these credit card issues, including integration problems between charging hardware and credit card reader machines, as well as the need to comply with new standards that require more dependable contactless card readers. The solution recommended by Stern and operators alike is to embrace contactless payment methods like Apple Pay or register with charging apps to facilitate automatic payment.

The third issue revolved around the “handshake” between the charging station and the EV. This technical hiccup arises due to a timeout in the communication process between the charger and the car. The industry relies on standards like the Combined Charging System (CCS) for most non-Tesla EVs, requiring a quick and reliable handshake to initiate charging. With various combinations of cars and chargers in use, a software update can disrupt this handshake and render the car unchargeable. The proposed solution is for the industry to establish a standardized protocol to avoid these compatibility issues.

While these issues are undeniably frustrating for EV owners and pose a threat to the growth of the electric vehicle market, they also underscore the need for industry-wide collaboration and infrastructure enhancements. Tesla’s recent decision to open its charging network to non-Tesla EVs in 2024 may alleviate some of these problems, but it also presents its own set of challenges related to compatibility and the need for adapters.

Furthermore, the reliability and availability of the charging infrastructure can significantly impact consumer confidence in adopting electric vehicles. These issues aren’t unique to Los Angeles, as similar problems have been reported in other regions, including the Bay Area. In some cases, electric car enthusiasts have struggled to locate charging stations, highlighting the urgent need for improvements in charging infrastructure nationwide.

California’s ambitious goal to ban the sale of internal combustion cars by 2035 adds to the urgency of addressing these charging infrastructure issues. If the state is to achieve this goal and encourage widespread EV adoption, it must prioritize the reliability and accessibility of charging stations. Otherwise, EV drivers may find themselves driving vehicles designed for the future but refueling at charging stations reminiscent of the past—an irony that may not resonate well with consumers and could impede the state’s environmental aspirations.