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Owning an Electric Car in a Big City (Even New York) Is Easier Than You Think

It does take some planning, but living with an EV in NYC isn’t difficult.

hyundai ioniq electric car new york city
Ryan Brower

Doing anything in New York City takes more effort and dedication than doing it somewhere else in America. Need to buy a TV? Be prepared to schlep it home on the subway, holding it up with handles made from tape. Dog need a vet appointment? It’s going to be three weeks until you can get one. Laundry day? Be prepared to literally spend all day at the laundromat.

Owning a vehicle in NYC is not immune to this. There are plenty more hassles than most people have to deal with: parking can be impossible, traffic is maddening and erratic; even just finding a space to change a tire can be a battle. But owning an electric vehicle? Without a home garage or driveway to charge every night, it seems like an impossible undertaking.

That said — having signed a lease on a 2020 Hyundai Ioniq EV during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, I can firmly say that it has been just as easy owning an electric car in the city as it is owning a gas-powered vehicle. And, I suspect that over the long haul, it may actually become even easier (and cheaper), when you factor in the lack of oil changes, radiator issues, transmission problems and all those combustion-engine maintenance necessities.

Electric car life isn't quite as seamless as driving a gas-powered car

There is no denying that the expediency, prevalence and familiarity of gas stations are some of the biggest hurdles in the face of making the switch to electric. Believe me, none of that is made easier by being in an urban landscape where you don't have a guaranteed place to plug in every time you get home. (I have, on occasion, run an extension cord from my second-story apartment window down to the street to plug in my Hyundai. I don’t do this often, but I have done it.)

For city dwellers, it’s imperative that you figure out the charging station situation around your area ahead of time as planning is one of the most important factors in becoming an EV owner. The website / app PlugShare has played a crucial part in my trips; it offers the most comprehensive map of charging stations, along with relevant information like the status of each charger, their output and more. Anytime I leave the city to surf or go on a hike, I map out my trip and figure out where I’ll need to charge — making sure to factor time for charging into my ETA.

My Ioniq EV packs a range of 190 miles, give or take, depending on the temperature and the type of driving I'm doing. (Unlike with gas-powered cars, EVs are more efficient in-town and less efficient in highway driving.) This is more than enough for city driving — but for longer trips, it requires a little more mapping out.

Planning is key to city life with an electric car

Learning what's around you is the biggest step to take in order to assuage charging concerns. Once I became familiar with my surrounding charging options, it nearly removed all range anxiety. I have a trusty station at the Queens Center Mall a few miles drive from my apartment, and when I’m heading out to the beach the Green Acres Mall station, is one of the most reliable I’ve found. Both of these sites have potent 150-kW chargers from Electrify America.

hyundai ioniq electric car new york city
Ryan Brower

While charging companies like EVGo and ChargePoint also tend to have a presence in lots of areas around NYC, I’ve found Electrify America chargers to present the best experience thus far. It’s very clear before you plug in if the individual charger isn't working (although there can be connection issues from time to time, just like any charging station).

They tend to be empty, and cost pennies on the dollar compared to gasoline. In New York state, the cost amounts to $0.43/kWh for guests — but Electrify America’s price drops to $.31/kWh if you sign up to become one of the company's Pass+ members. Not that you really need to for urban living; I haven’t signed up for the membership, but the most I’ve paid — for an hour and a half of charging after the car went down to about 10 percent battery— was $13 and change.

hyundai ioniq electric car new york city
Ryan Brower

Charging an electric vehicle certainly takes longer than filling up with gas; I can be at a charging station anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour, depending on how much charge I had at the start (and how cold it is outside, as chilly temps increase charging times). But I’m okay with that. I usually try to bring a book, or use that time to eat lunch, or take a walk. Having this time to slow down has actually been enjoyable; it reminds me that life is not about the destination, but rather, the journey — something that's easy to forget living in New York.

Still, I recognize that is the biggest pain point for a lot of drivers: charging an electric car, even at the fastest chargers currently available, takes longer than filling up with gas. Like, a lot longer.

The chargers I mentioned regularly using both, in theory, are capable of delivering 150 kW of electricity. That's if your can slurp up electrons at that speed, however; unlike gas-powered cars, not all EVs can recharge at the same speed. The Ioniq EV can only take on power at up to 50 kW or so, and the more full the battery is (or the chillier the ambient temperatures), the further that figure drops. Mostly, the 150-kW Electrify America pumps deliver my Ioniq anywhere from 22- to 50-ish kW on a warm day.

Driving an electric car is as much about the future as the present

But it’s the prospect of what is to come — and the future of what’s already in the works — that we should be setting our sights on. Getting comfortable with these new systems now is crucial, because the more people who adopt this technology, the faster these technologies will develop.

In the future, portable battery packs may serve the same function as keeping a gas can in your car on-the-go. Battery ranges may eventually rise to near 700 miles or even beyond (that’s more than you get out of a tank of gas by the way). Batteries that can fully charge in five minutes have been unveiled, and may reach vehicles soon. In the nearer term, President Biden wants to build 500,000 more EV charging stations across the country — and for those not willing to fork out big money for a new car may be more inclined once there's enough supply to start buying used EVs in mass numbers.

For now, though, I’m ok with taking an hour to charge if my buying decisions help lead to 10-minute charges in the future. And to be an EV owner in the city, you have to be. Like just about everything over the last year, it comes down to reassessing what's important. I've adjusted what my expectations are for powering my vehicle; and for us to start making strides as a country in combating emissions, some change in how we do things is needed.

Do I have to plan in an extra hour to charge up before heading out on a trip? Yeah. And sure, electric vehicles are certainly no silver bullet for curbing climate change. But is that little bit of an hour worth the sacrifice, refocusing my priorities and placing them into a future I want to see? Most certainly.

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