One of Seattle’s car-sharing companies, ReachNow, just cut the ribbon on the first of 20 new electric-vehicle charging stations it plans to build across the city. The $1.2 million investment, which ReachNow CEO Steve Banfield says should roll out over the next year, will more than double the number of publicly accessible “fast chargers” in Seattle — and make it a lot easier to boost the number of electric vehicles in ReachNow’s fleet. “We’re constantly looking at what the right mix is for the fleet,” he says, which is about ten percent EV right now. “More infrastructure certainly opens up possibilities for us.”
Each of the 20 new stations will be able to accommodate about five electric cars, making the total 100 when all is said and done. And fast means pretty fast: One of these chargers can fully charge an electric car in about 30 minutes.
The first new charging station, announced at a chilly press event on Monday morning, is at the Woodland Park Zoo. That’s in part because the Zoo has a ton of visibility — at 1.3 million visitors annually, it has the “highest attendance of any cultural institution in the Puget Sound area,” says President and CEO Alejandro Grajal — and in part because it is particularly interested in sustainability. It was the first zoo in North America to receive LEED Gold certification, for instance.
Another North American first: The new EV station is built into an existing streetlamp, a specific BMW-led technology that was, until Monday, not publicly available anywhere on the continent.
Banfield was flanked Monday by Mayor Ed Murray, who lauds the new EV-station launch as a big part of his Drive Clean Seattle initiative, which promised public-private partnerships as part of its grand plan to make Seattle more electric-car-friendly — and thus more eco-friendly, as EV cars can plug into Seattle City Light’s carbon-neutral grid.
“There are [some EV] chargers in the city” right now, says Banfield, but “they’re installed in parking garages, in corporate buildings… they’re only for tenants of that building. They’re not available to anyone who might need to plug in.” Having more public-charging spots is “a huge benefit,” he says. “That means they’re accessible to us at ReachNow, and they’re also accessible to anybody that owns an electric car.”
Now, for the non-EV-car-owning person, this may all seem a little elitist (electric cars are hardly cheap; nor are cars). But the idea really is big for car-sharing, Banfield says. If there are more EV charging stations around, then ReachNow as well as other local car-sharing companies like Car2Go and Zipcar can more easily increase the number of plug-in hybrids and EVs in their fleets, so even those without cars can get in on the hype.
Infrastructure like this is a big deal: Car2Go had to switch its all-electric fleet back to gas-powered cars in San Diego last year because that city didn’t have enough EV charging stations to make the idea work.
ReachNow has about 700 vehicles in Seattle, and between 80 and 90 of those are electric. And the standard rental price is the same whether you’re renting a gas-powered vehicle or battery-powered one, which, at $0.41 a minute and $80 a day, is comparable to other local car-sharing rates. To Banfield, this signals accessibility. “To use our service, the requirements are pretty simple,” he says. “You’ve got to be 18 years old, have a valid credit card, a valid driver’s license in good standing… and the willingness to pay 41 cents a minute. That’s a pretty low bar.”
Also, for what it’s worth, “Seattle is one of the top cities in the country for people purchasing electric cars,” Banfield says. That includes the City of Seattle, which wants to increase the ratio of EVs in its own municipal fleet, and has even gone so far as to join 30 other cities in asking the auto industry to pick up the pace on EV trucks, vans, and other heavy-duty vehicles.
“Seattle is home for us, it was where we launched, where we continue to build our business,” Banfield says. “A lot of the things we do and the investments we make” will happen in Seattle first.
Watch for more EV stations popping up across the city in the next year, then. ReachNow is still trying to figure out where best to put them, as convenience is key for any transit-related development to be successful. “We want to put chargers where people want to go,” he says, “not just making people go where the charger is, but making sure there are chargers where people want to be.”