My walking was not the fault of the car; the car is great. The car is, however, part of a bleeding-edge ecosystem of apps, charging stations, employer support for sustainability, parking rules, university websites, and my commuting choices. I thought I had followed my own advice to work with all my human, organizational, and technological resources -- but it just wasn’t so.

What I Did to Prepare

  • Verified that I can get to work (47 miles) on a single charge (85 miles, 104 with special option)
  • Verified on website that my employer offers free charging with valid ($300/year) parking permit
  • Pre-registered with the charging network installed in the parking lots
  • Studied map of chargers across the different parking lots at work -- those near my office are free!
  • Bought car, downloaded apps to track charging, registered the keytag sent by charging network

What Happened

  • Drove to work and parked at free charger -- “Not Authorized” blinks after using my pre-registered tag
  • Called the charging network help number, told I need a number provided by my employer
  • Deep dive into employer’s website (using smartphone from parking lot) -- including filling out newly discovered online form to get needed secret code
  • Ate lunch while waiting on secret code
  • Walked to my organization’s parking office to learn more face-to-face and ask if code could be expedited
  • Moved car to other side of campus pay-as-you-go charger while waiting for code 
  • Got some work done (sidenote: someone unplugged car before it was fully charged -- not cool and against the etiquette of charging station use -- app messaged me, but didn’t take a picture of the perpetrator, would be useful feature)
  • Received secret code and submitted it to charging network website, saw that approval status switched to pending
  • Moved car back to free charger after receiving email of approval
  • “Not Authorized” still blinking
  • Called charging network help number and then moved car back to distant pay-as-you-go charger when told approval hadn’t percolated through all the databases to the charger and it could take overnight
  • Skipped going to the gym (I’d done some par course pull ups on one of my six walks across campus)
  • Got some work done
  • Drove home -- 16 "miles" left as it didn't have time for a full charge

What I Should Have Done

  • Realized it couldn’t be as easy as just pulling up to the charger I’ve been driving by for six months. It never is. That would be a silver/magic bullet and those don’t exist -- unicorns maybe; magic bullets, no way. No single technology, person, or organizational system stands alone.
  • Realized that electric car ecosystems are new for everyone and that the people in the parking office will have the curse of knowledge  -- they know how the system works, so communicating the practices to novices is more difficult, especially if they haven’t had to go through it themselves.
  • Gone deeper than the promotional material on my employer’s website. Yes there is free charging, but you have to be pre-approved by both the employer and the charging station network -- takes time and several loops of interaction as there is money at stake. Don’t expect the Internet of Things to come together in one day.
  • Taken note of who’s describing the process that seems so simple. The version that made it appear seamless was coming from our sustainability office, not the people who run parking and have to do the verification. The sustainability office must manage their search engine optimization better as theirs was the top result.
Systems like this are our reality and our future. As I look at my desk, I think my coffee cup is the only thing that isn’t part of a larger system of interactions. My Hint water has codes in the cap I use for promotions. My TV remote is just the beginning of three levels of service providers. Every piece of paper is tied to a website and system of deeper interactions.

What I Learned

If it looks easier than you expect, dig deeper. Think about each of the interactions across the human, technical, and organizational dimensions and what has to be happening in the background. Had I gone through a full checklist, it would have occurred to me that there had to be a way to tell the charger that I had the right to free power -- there had to be a secret code/handshake/incantation and I should have been looking for it. Then again, I did walk off my lunch.