Sunday, January 24, 2016

Electric Car (EV) Charging Stations in Pittsburgh and surrounding areas

This blog lists my review of the best EV charging locations* (a.k.a as EVSEs) in Pittsburgh, PA and surroundings. This is not a comprehensive list of stations. If you are looking for a more comprehensive list of stations, the top authority, in my experience, is plugshare (also available as iOS and Android mobile applications). Plugshare beats the other popular option: chargepoint by far, in terms of being up to date, providing helpful (e.g. picture, location, number and type of chargers) and accurate information as well as user reviews/comments. Plugshare lets EV owners "check into" a location (to let other users the charger is being used), as well as sharing private chargers.

* To get some terminology out of the way: the proper name for a EV charger or EV charging station is an EVSE: "Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment". The charger is actually on board your electric vehicle, and hence called the "on-board charger".

Dowtown Pittsburgh (including North Shore)

1. Grant Street Transportation Center - Red Garage

  • Pros:
    • VIP Parking. The chargers are located immediately after entering the lot.
    • There are FOUR (4) Level 2 chargers and they are free to use (with your paid parking)! From the times I've parked there I've only seen 2 cars using them at most. Each charger has its own parking spot. 
    • At the time of this writing (Jan 2016), this station had a PlugShare of 10.
  • Cons:
    • Parking is expensive, $16 for a 6+ hrs on a weekday. However this is typical for parking downtown. Also as a downtown commuter, this parking rarely gets full.
    • You MUST enter the RED garage. There is an adjacent BLUE garage that is almost identical but they are not connected. The blue garage does not have any chargers at the time of this writing.

2. Carnegie Science Center

  • Pros:
    • Provides VIP Parking (directly across from the parking booth). Even when the lot is full and cars are sent to their adjacent lot, ask the attendant if the charger is available and they will let you in. 
    • It's free (included in the cost of the parking): $3 for Carnegie Museums Members, $5 for non-members and $7 for commuter parking.
  • Cons:
    • There is only ONE charger.
    • Even at $7 is the best deal for commuter parking with charging included downtown, however there is no guarantee it will be available for you.
    • Only convenient if you are visiting the museum.

3. Convention Center

  • Pros:
    • Free (included with the cost of parking).
    • Convenient location for downtown destinations.
  • Cons:
    • Parking is expensive (~$20 on a weekday)
    • Only 2 stations and they will usually be taken on weekdays, so you cannot rely on them being available on business hours. 
    • They are generally available on weekends.

Others worth mentioning:
  1. First Avenue Garage
    • This is likely the least expensive commuter parking ($12 for 4hr+) downtown with a free charge included. Although the garage is at one end of downtown, it is right next to the T station.
  2. USX Tower Garage
    • Charger is NOT free (and somewhat expensive). Parking is also very expensive. I believe there is only one charger here, hence the low Plugshare score (4.6), based on the comments many users have not been able to charge because it was already taken.
  3. Station Square Garage
    • Similar to the USX Tower charger, this would be very convenient except it is not free and there is only one charger.

East (Oakland, Monroeville)

1. Carnegie Mellon University Electric Garage

    • Pros:
      • 8 Level 2 charging stations + 1 Tesla HPWC.
      • FREE to charge and FREE to park (up to 4 hours).
      • Convenient location (Oakland - in between Carnegie Mellon and University of Pittsburgh)
      • Open to the public, not just Carnegie Mellon University staff/students
    • Cons:
      • Before 2015 the Electric Garage parking spots were available to the public. This means that you could park here after you were done charging or if there were no charging spots available. The parking spots (not next to the chargers) in the lot now require a parking permit which is available only to CMU students/staff. It is still pretty convenient if you only need to park for 4 hrs or less while charging.
      • In spite of having 8 stations, CMU students/staff love EV cars, so it is very common to find all chargers taken on regular business hours.

2. Bakery Square

    • Pros:
      • 4 ChargePoint Stations. This means you can check via the ChargePoint app if the stations are in use.
      • FREE (included in the cost of parking). This parking lot, as I remember is not very expensive and I believe it is free during evenings and weekends.
    • Cons:
      • This is the parking lot for Google Pittsburgh, so even though they have 4 stations the 4 stations may be in use on regular business hours.

3. Carnegie Museum of Natural History

  • Pros:
    • FREE (included with parking). Parking is relatively expensive, i.e. within average for the Oakland area.
    • VIP parking, located very close to Museum back entrance.
    • Convenient location.
  • Cons:
    • Only one station available.
    • Very close to the Electric Garage, so I would park at the Garage unless all stations were taken.

4. Pittsburgh Zoo

  • Pros:
    • FREE!
    • VIP Parking! Even on a crowded day, if the station is available, you can get a parking spot very close to the Zoo entrance.
  • Cons:
    • Only one station available

Others worth mentioning:
  1. Giant Eagle Monroeville
    • The Monroeville area seems kind of low in terms of charging stations. However if you need to head this is a good place to charge (2 stations available). Other options include UPMC East and car dealers (you should normally ask for their permission to charge).

North Area (Wexford, Warrendale, etc)

  • Pros:
    • 2 Level 2 (GE) stations available
    • FREE!
  • Cons:
    • The stations are not marked as reserved for EVs, instead they are reachable within the 4 adjacent parking spots to the charger. However on a busy day (e.g. Saturday morning) you may find all 8 parking spots next to the 2 stations taken because they are pretty close to the entrance. From my experience if I'm really in need of a charge I just need to drive around 5-10 minutes for one of the spots to free up.

  • Pros:
    • 2 Level 2 (Eaton) stations available.
    • FREE
  • Cons:
    • The Eaton stations are not compatible with Nissan Leaf 2013 and newer. This is because Giant Eagle has neglected to upgrade the firmware version on the station, they have had a sign indicating they are working on getting the system updated since 2014. You can still charge but you will need to push the reset button on the stations multiple times (can vary between 3-10 times) until it eventually will start charging.
    • Located by the Pharmacy side, i.e. not VIP parking.
Others worth mentioning:
  1. Cranberry TESLA SuperCharger
    • They have 6 super chargers. These are obviously for TESLA cars only. If you own a TESLA these are the only SuperChargers in the area. They are conveniently located near the intersection of 76 and 79, so if you are traveling by Pittsburgh this is the place to stop. They are behind a Residence Inn, next to a Quaker Steak Lube. There is a Starbucks next door as well.
  2. Eaton Warrendale
    • They have one the few CHAdeMOs (DC quick chargers) in the area. This is outside the Eaton office in Warrendale, PA, but according to the PlugShare user comments, they are open to the public and free of charge. They also have 2 Level 2 (J17772) stations. I believe they are in the ChargePoint network so you will need a ChargePoint account to use it (also free).

West (Robinson Township, Airport area)

1. The Mall of Robinson
  • Pros:
    • 4 Level 2 (Eaton) chargers with dedicated parking spots! They have 4, so it's unlikely they will be all used. This is by the way, the only mall in the area with EV chargers (Ross Park Mall should follow their lead). 
    • FREE
    • VIP parking, located next to the Food Court entrance.
  • Cons:
    • None really, except that it's a very valid excuse for my wife to spend more time at the mall =)

2. Market District Settler's Ridge

  • Pros:
    • 2 Level 2 chargers.
    • FREE
    • Unlike to the Wexford location, based on a comment on Plugshare dated Oct 2014, it appears Giant Eagle has upgraded the firmware on these units: "At long last they have fixed one of the two stations here to work with the 6.6kw on board chargers on 2013 and newer Leafs.". Subsequent comments indicate both of them have been fixed.
    • Cons:
      • These chargers are close to the LA Fitness and Cinemark theatre, so it's likely these chargers may be used by non Giant Eagle customers (also based on Plugshare comments).
    Other worth mentioning:
    1. Sunoco Pittsburgh Airport
      • This has a CHAdeMo (quick charger) in the area along with 2 Level 2 chargers. Starting in 2016 they now charge via the Greenlots app ($2/hr) for Level 2 and ($10/hr) for quick charger, which is not cheap at all. I will only consider charging here in case of emergency.
    2. Pittsburgh Airport
      • The chargers at the Airport are a joke. They are 110v outlets available only on the short term parking, so they are not practical at all unless you are staying several hours at the short term parking.

    South (South Hills, Washington, PA)

    1. Tanger Outlets at Washington, PA
    • Pros:
      • 4 Level 2 chargers
      • FREE
      • VIP Parking. This I would also consider as a con, since I was expecting ICE drivers to not respect these parking spots on heavy shopping days, but I can vouch from personal experience that these spots were not ICEd even on Black Friday (2015).
    • Cons:
      • None really, other than too convenient for shoppers =)
    Others worth mentioning:

    I will try to keep this list updated, feel free to share about other stations as they become available in your comments below!

    No comments: